Glitches, Botches, Dreams and Reality

Dearest Rachel –

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been watching several new channels that I’m sure you would’ve appreciated were you still around, hanging out with us in the family room while YouTube was running in the background. We started looking for such channels after watching a video essay on the concept itself, and determined that we wanted to see more of what the essayist was talking about.

As much has been made over the fact that analyzing humor has a tendency to destroy it, the essay in question discussed a certain form of unintentional humor (where a joke was not meant to be, but blossomed nonetheless) created within video games when something goes wrong with the program. It may be a case of the game simply being subpar and buggy, or the player might be pushing the game to points far beyond the limits established by the development team (there’s only so much that can be thought about in the limited amount of time they’re given to build the game and bring it to market, after all – they can’t think of literally everything, especially in a sandbox-type game), or it may just be a case of a surprise encounter leading to a surprising outcome. Whatever the source, far from being a distraction from gameplay (except to the most hardcore gamers), these ‘glitches’ are a source of unexpected hilarity, resulting in a small cottage industry of compilations with millions of views each – a virtual ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos,’ if you will, except writ world-wide, because these sort of screw-ups, by their visual nature, transcend language barriers.

Granted, the essayist does not compare glitches to the likes of our beloved AFV and all that. Rather, he takes a look at the world of professional wrestling, and their concept of what they refer to as ‘botches.’ Now, you may say what you will about the fact that the storylines in professional wrestling is scripted, and the outcomes of the matches are fixed. However, the process of getting to that point, where a predetermined winner is declared, the sheer athleticism – and even acting ability, although the latter is served up with a gargantuan slice of ham – involved precludes any cries of ‘fakery.’ Punches may be pulled, yes, and we’ve established that the outcomes are predetermined (and the backstage drama is, in fact, staged for the most part), but the sweat and impacts are real, as is the effort involved in making everything worth according to script.

Which is where this essay comes in, because sometimes, life doesn’t follow the script. A punch that was supposed to be pulled isn’t, resulting in injury – and an unscripted reaction. Pyrotechnics fail, or at best fizzle out, resulting in a silly scenario ensuing, rather than something that was supposed to be dramatic. Even an entranceway given too much wax can result in an unplanned trip and fall, causing an athlete to slide under the ring, to eternal comic glory.

This is the stuff of live productions; you simply can’t plan for everything that might go wrong. Indeed, it can be considered the stuff of real life, as ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy,’ to quote some famous general whose name I can’t remember (which begs the question of how famous he really is). And, amusingly enough, this carries over into the virtual world, where things go wrong in a myriad of ways, leading to both the humor of the unexpected as well as that of the absurd.

Of course, glitches in video games by their very nature can crank the absurdity to levels far beyond what nature and reality can manage. People and animals can bend in ways that were never intended by our Creator (or by theirs, if you think of a dev team in such terms). Characters can phase through each other as if one or the other – or both – were ghosts. And anyone can die, suddenly, in the most ridiculous ways, but by virtue of being, well, virtual, no harm is done. They can simply respawn in a matter of moments, while gasping in wonder (and perhaps irritation, if they had been doing well in the game up until that point), yelling at their fellow teammates, ‘did you see that? What the **** just happened?’

All of which brings me to the one dream I had last night that I can remember (and can relate – some dreams just aren’t meant for this sort of thing, and I’ll leave it at that). Basically, it would’ve looked for all intents and purposes like one of the many glitches Daniel and I have been watching over the past few m evenings, except that, in the dream world, it felt like real life, and as a result, was less funny and more terrifying.

I found myself driving through a decidedly urban setting, although it would be hard to distinguish it from doing so in the middle of a canyon; when you come down to it, a bank of skyscrapers can be hard to distinguish from the cliffs of a mesa, save for the overall color palette (grays, blues and greens as compared to yellows, oranges and browns) and the preponderance of traffic by the former. So it might very well have been the latter, after all. Be that as it may, I was driving along on ground level, if I could call it that, and could see ahead of me a highway not so much crossing my path as set some fifty or sixty feet above me, far more than necessary in a typical urban setting. Even in a layered setup like a directional interchange, the clearances are generally little more than fifteen feet – you could have easily had three other roads suspended between my level and this highway in the approaching distance.

As I was taking this in, I also realized that said highway had been broken off. Not unfinished, but broken, as if torn apart by an earthquake or some other disaster, because the road ended in a rough and jagged outcrop. Had it been unfinished, the end would’ve been straight and smooth. But in either case, this road simply ended in mid air. And for whatever reason, I could see several cars driving along it, heading for the drop-off. I could barely keep my eyes on the road I was driving, so intent was I on seeing what would happen with those cars headed for certain doom – particularly since the drop would quite likely land them squarely in the middle of the road I was traveling, and I had no desire to have them fall upon me. I suppose in retrospect, I should’ve just hit the accelerator, and gotten past that point before those cars were likely to fall. But you know how it is; it’s hard to turn your eyes away from a wreck in progress, even as you realize that there’s nothing you can do about it.

The first car – a sporty orange model – actually managed to stop just as its front tires went off the road. Its center of gravity placed it still on the existing road, but it was teetering between safety and eternity. I didn’t see how the driver could safely get herself out. And yes, I knew who it was somehow; it’s a long story, and probably comes from the fact that this woman – a member of the Supreme Court – has been in the news quite a bit lately, both for her own erroneous statements as well as those of people reporting on her. Bear in mind, it’s dream logic. Regardless of whether I might agree with her political positions or not, this was not a fate she or anyone else deserved, but I couldn’t turn away from the scene.

As I approached the point on the ground where the car might land were it nudged off, the second car on the upper road came to the edge, and I think it did nudge the orange roadster. At that point, I did not see what happened, because the dream had ended, thankfully.

But it left me realizing how, while Daniel and I have been amused watching cars spin like tops in various glitched situations, observing something that felt so much more like real life was not the same, and not at all amusing. It wasn’t even as if I was in danger, but the idea that someone could come sailing down on top of me from that height – and while I might have time to get out of the way, there would be no way for them to survive – was an absolutely terrifying thing to witness. Even as a dream.

I wonder if I should check with Megan, and see how she’s doing these days.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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