Notes from a Concerned Citizen

Some folks say you’re never too old to be a gamer, but hey, imho, there’s a level of hormonal and emotional maturity that you can get to if you’re lucky, where this whole idea of hunting down and killing a horde of headcrab zombies is more likely to induce a few yawns and possibly even a brief episode of REM sleep, rather than evoke a bunch of Hell Yeah, Bro!‘s and a few knuckle-crunching fist bumps.

Some of us, shall we say, prefer more sophisticated pleasures; like “gamics“, for instance; and, near as I can tell, there ain’t no better gamic in town than the classic web comic, Concerned, The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, by Christopher C. Livingston. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it may be the virtual world’s first post-humanoid masterpiece, albeit in a minor key (but then, everything post-humanoid would have to be in a minor key, wouldn’t it?)

Concerned is actually a parody of the first-person shooter video game Half-Life 2, so you might assume that an older Second Lifer-type like me, a complete pre-nerd non-gamer “just wouldn’t get it.” But, you see, that is the power of a masterpiece… it doesn’t require knowledge of the subject beforehand, or even familiarity with the culture it is set in. It stands alone; it is self-contained; it is beyond genre…. it gives you all you need to get high. Hey, you don’t have to speak French to enjoy Paris, do you?

In addition to the brilliance of its goofy dystopian riff, though, there are a number of interesting aspects to this work which set it apart from other graphic novels. For starters, since Mr. Livingston was not a comic book artist, and couldn’t afford to hire one, he decided to created the image entirely within a virtual world – a very shrewd move, since it is, after all, a virtual send-up of yet another virtual world.

Furthermore, it has lived out its entire existence on the world wide web (remember that?), where, to this day it remains the only way to access it. Unfortunately (for me and many fellow book lovers), it never made it to the printed page, because the original image resolution was simply too low. Finally, it was pretty much created single-handedly by someone who was a mild-mannered administrative assistant for a plumbing company by day, and a mad comic book genius by night. One for the books, I’d say.

The first issue was released on May 1, 2005, with subsequent issues published three times a week, completing its run on November 6, 2006 with a total of 205 issues. It had been put together using Garry’s Mod, a game without a goal; an almost infinitely malleable virtual environment within which users are free to create realistic scenes using their own imagination, highly expressive poseable avatars, and an amazing array of tools and special effects… in short, a poor man’s movie set.

It occurred to me while reading this that tools like Garry’s Mod, available for purchase on the cheap, are already playing an important role in the further “democratization’ of media arts by putting once exotic, esoteric and highly expensive tools into the hands of your average everyday ‘citizen with an idea.’ This will not only apply to the creation of comic books, but also lends itself nicely to the making of machinima films and other cutting-edge media, even 2D digital art. As the author of Concerned himself said in a recent interview,

When I was a kid and wanted to make a movie, I’d have to get all my friends together, get them to agree to what I wanted to do, borrow a camera from someone, maybe use the editing bay at my high school… it took a lot of coordination between all the different elements I’d need just to get something done, and a lot of relying on other people. With machinima, if someone wants to make a movie, they’ve got digital actors. They can download editing software. They can make their own soundtrack, record their own dialogue. You can make a movie, by yourself, on your computer, using tools that are often free to download. And that’s amazing.

Aaah, wish I was 25 again.

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