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2013 Winter Issue 6 (February 22, 2013)

On the Meaning of the Word EPIC

February 22, 2013
By Stuart Urback

This world, where the individual seems to be becoming increasingly unimportant, the epic (as a social phenomenon) seems to have originated from the desire to feel as big and important as the other things going on around us.

However, I would argue that EPIC is not something to be desired.  EPIC is a huge box office hit that dwarfs all others at its opening weekend*. EPIC is dreaming about creating the next big thing**.  EPIC focuses on the present instead of the future, short term instead of long term.  EPIC focuses on our primal brains and manipulates them, staring so long at the aesthetic that it loses almost anything else.  I would argue, EPIC, in fact, is the dominant cultural form, EPIC is the thing we all strive for because it’s big, flashy, and therefore, seemingly, important.  And, if it’s not EPIC, we think it’s worthless.  EPIC is a symptom of our times, not a proposed plan to change the future.

We do not play games for their EPIC moments.  EPIC moments are rare, that’s a good thing.  They are the garnish that spices up a smooth tasting drink to give it a little kick at the end.  For example, the EPIC win of the Japanese over the Americans in the Women’s World Cup final was only made EPIC because of the hours of dedicated practice leading up to the event, the heartbreak and expectations surrounding both teams, the intense preliminaries, quarterfinals, and semifinals that got both teams to the final match that final collided in an explosion of emotion and action that will be one of the defining events in sports for the decade.  It was EPIC because of all of the little things that came before it.  Games are about the little things we do that are fun.

What Games Are author argues that we play games to win.  I would agree with that statement with the caveat that we play games to win the same way we read a book to get to the conclusion.  What I am trying to say with this is that any win, (such as an EPIC Win) is preceded by a collection of thoughts, actions, and events that we decide to partake in because we enjoy them for their own purpose.  Of course it is my goal to win the game when I play baseball, but the actions of swinging the bat, throwing the ball; the sounds of ball in mitt, bat on ball all; and the emotions involved are all what make it enjoyable.  The important thing about these emotions is that they are small and sustainable.  They do not take me on large up and down swings or riddle me with anxiety the majority of the time.  The majority of the time I would not chalk them up to be all that life changing.  But they are consistent.  Every time I work at a game it adds a small piece of knowledge and understanding that I can build upon and grow.

If we are to learn anything from games, it is that creating small, sustainable (I’m talking about any type of sustainability: emotional, economic, political, environmental, etc.) impacts on the future we will be much for satisfied, happy, and solid as individuals and as a society.  Rather than creating an EPIC WIN ZOMG! we should create small sustainable systems that can provide us with many wins over the course of their lifespan (of course, with the occasional epic win here and there).  In fact, I would argue that this is one of the reasons McGonigal’s work is so compelling is because the games she creates have solid fundamental mechanics that make them enjoyable to play.  But she, as a designer is responding to the desire from people for meaning in lives that seem increasingly insignificant.

History teaches us that often the single scientist of team of scientists did not come up with a new discovery on their own with nothing more than their equipment and world class intellects.  Rather, they were helped by an often large network of co-workers, friends, family, enemies, and sponsors that, whether or not they are given credit, played an integral role in the success of the project.  By creating games that focus on intrinsic value and rewards, that cherish the small achievements that add together to create large successes we can give recognition and value to what actually create EPIC wins instead of standing in awe of the idol of the EPIC.

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