In Defense of the Dumb

Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin is apparently a thing.  A joint effort between Square Enix and Koei Tecmo’s Team Ninja that’s apparently remaking the OG Final Fantasy as a gritty action game.  E3 had a trailer for it, and the game… doesn’t really look all that good.  But it does look incredibly dumb, which actually makes it pretty endearing to me.  Let’s talk about that instinct for a bit.

If you’ve been around this space for a while, you know I like plenty of dumb things.  Godzilla.  Platinum’s action games.  Your girlfriend.  Like Final Fantasy Origin, there’s a certain quality to their particular implementation of simplicity and lack of complexity that makes them hit me so much better.  And I’m struggling to place what that quality is.  I believe there’s a certain amount of intention involved.  I’ve said before, that I like dumb things, but I don’t like stupid ones.  As for what makes the distinction between dumb and stupid, well, it’s really subjective.  But I think with me, intention plays a lot into it.  The media I classify as dumb aren’t necessarily trying to be dumb, but they aren’t trying to be super complex or deep.  They’ve set a low bar for certain aspects of their stories, themes, or atmosphere, and they hit that.  Things I think of as stupid tend to feel like they’re aiming way higher than they’re hitting.  Like they’re trying to tell some great complex story, but they really don’t have the chops for it, or they’ve established a certain logic to the plot but don’t end up following its internal rules, or they really didn’t think things through as much as they acted like they do.  But it’s mostly a feel thing, in between there.  

The big thing about dumb media are that they seem to hit on a subconscious level, where you can get a visceral, instinctual enjoyment of the content at the expense of the higher thoughts or deeper meanings there.  It works best when there’s some primary focus to the content that taps into the base emotions; often times pulse-pounding action, but it works just as well with horror, sexuality and plenty of other things that bypass the active conscious to connect directly one of those unthinkingly satisfying feelings.  And as a result, this sense works exactly because its dumb, if they demanded more thought to it, they’d change the nature of the experience entirely.  Watching Godzilla’s giant monster fights destroy half of a city wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if you were getting a full-minded about it, rather, it’d be either tragic or terrifying, as you’re putting thoughts to all the lives lost or impacted by that devastation.  Similarly, there’s a lot of video games that work because they tap into this for their action.  Bayonetta would be horrifying, slaying angels by the hundreds as you summon torture devices out of nowhere and unleash gruesome acts on all of them, if it were higher minded, and that’d make it a lot harder to enjoy its well-developed action gameplay.

And frankly, there’s an element of relaxation to dumb things as well. I don’t know about you, but I spend all the freaking time thinking. My work requires a lot of mental labor, then I come home and friends and family are constantly demanding my thoughts and my attention, and even in my off time, most of my day-to-day pursuits require a fair bit of intellectual involvement. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy it, thinking is an awesome thing in all. Especially when you’re as genius as I am. And I am an ironman, but even so, I can’t be on all the time. It’s really valuable, sometimes, to get a quiet moment, get into something that just turns the brain off and bypasses the suspension of disbelief for a while, and connects without requiring any more of that Mind Work from me. It’s refreshing, leaves me more prepared to do all those things that do require more thought.

Even otherwise serious works tap into this phenomenon, too.  The comic relief characters to provide those moments of levity, those jokes and one liners in the middle of firefights, the humor that would be ill-placed in real life but just seem to work in the context of the story?  That all counts under this, too.  It takes the mind away from an intellectual exploration of what’s going on and down into an instinctual sense of safety and levity.  It distracts your mind, at least for a moment, and draws it from just processing into outright feeling.   And, doing so, they manage the impact of their more cerebral moments, keep them from seeming too serious, too dangerous, etc.

So, let’s hear it for the dumb things.  The things that bypass the conscious thought to deliver a feeling straight to the emotional level.  And so doing, hit us in our hearts without bypassing our heads.