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The Unifying Icon

February 27, 2009

During the Renaissance, much art was devoted to Mary, the mother of Christ. However, until Mary was fully accepted as a Saint, her visage was much more rare than that of Christ himself. However, as soon as she began being portrayed more commonly, she becaming a unifying icon of all of Christianity – the loving, motherly saint.

The question was brought up at Applied Game Design that if Mary represented evidence of Christian influence on Italian Renaissance culture, what does the common use of guns in videogames say about ours? I find this question to be flawed. War has been around forever. Guns are as predominant in our culture as swords were during the Renaissance, and people were allowed to carry swords around as fashion statements back then. One could therefore make the argument that swords were just as much a centralized part of medieval/Renaissance culture as Christ and Mary, and this argument fits more with guns being a centralized part of ours.

However, that still leaves videogames without a Christ or Mary. I believe this has to do with copyright. Videogames themselves have never had a unified God figure, and if they did, he would have been copyrighted and never been allowed to be in other games legally. For instance, Mario may have his games on Nintendo, and he also had some educational games for DOS, but he was licensed. Christ was never licensed to other painters, so what we are looking for, then, is a symbol that is accepted by the culture as openly as Mary was loved and at no cost of legality. Put simply, what is the one, unifying icon of the videogame industry?

The Dopefish.

If you are unfamiliar with The Dopefish, head to www.dopefish.com. All you really need to know, however, is that since his first appearance in Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy, this little guy has been popping up in some of the most unexpected videogames, such as Max Payne, Sin, Quake, and Hitman, just to name a few.

I’m sure the first thing that came into your mind was, “That makes absolutely no sense.” Well, allow me to compare the Dopefish to one of the most popular easter eggs, if you will, of Christianity: The Green Man.

The Green Man is a Pagan symbol whose roots can be traced back to Dionysus, the God of Wine. The Green Man is often depicted as an old trickster surrounded by oak leaves and regurgitating vines, an immediate connection to the Eucharist. The exact image of the Green Man changes from Church to Church, but one thing is common: he is always hidden. Finding him is like finding an easter egg in a game. He appears even in the stained glass of Notre Dame de Paris.

So then we get back to our little, mentally handicapped fish. I honestly don’t think him being green is an accident. His easter egg appeances in games have given him the status of our Green Man. Since the release of Commander Keen, the people on the team have continued to put the Dopefish in projects they have worked on, which apparently caught on because there is no stopping him from showing up in plenty of other games. He is, as far as I know, the one common icon throughout videogames, the closest we could ever get to representations of our own version of Christ or Mary.

But what does that say about our culture?

Well unfortunately you have to think about what the human race has turned into since the invention of the internet. You can’t go one day without somebody saying, “Lawl” or “Be Arr Be.” People continuously reference, “I can haz cheezburger?” and let’s not forget the dreaded RickRoll, which made its network TV debut during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year. Our thought patterns have become as close to the Dopefish’s own “Swim, Swim, Hungry” as they ever could. It’s not as bad as us worshipping the gun, but it ain’t pretty.

So the Dopefish may not be the smartest creature around. At least he isn’t the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. He’s got the benefit of only being the SECOND dumbest creature in the universe. But there is no denying that there is something magical about finding a Dopefish or a reference to the Dopefish and cracking up hysterically. It goes to show what a great sense of humor game developers have. It also makes you realize, though, that if we were put in charge of creating a religion, the Dopefish would be the kind of God we’d come up with.

And that. Is. Awesome.

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