Dark Souls: Extra Innings
By Trevor Strunk
When you ask most people about their favorite baseball video game, they fall back on one of three stalwarts of the genre. Some will tell you that the perfect distillation of baseball into code and graphics is MLB: The Show, that white whale of a baseball game that emulates our violent cousins in the NFL. Others will insist that all those graphics and interfaces get in the way of the purity of the game, and point to Out of the Park and its annual iterations as the most elementally apt simulation of the game we all love. Still others will swear by Ken Griffey Jr. on the Super Nintendo, and this is of course the truest and most wise position for those of us pushing and just-recently-passing thirty.
But we at Short Relief accept as good Sausseurians that in this world signifiers are connected to their signifieds in the most arbitrary ways, and that not only language itself but the categories we construct to delineate our everyday experience into discrete categories are not nearly as firm as we might imagine. To risk a self-parodic philosophy question: what even is a baseball game, really?
The answer, I’d suggest, is that a baseball video game is whatever we want it to be. The sport itself is such an idiosyncratic and strange melange of older, slower aesthetics and deep-layered traditions that any really successful pop culture approach ignores the game elements almost entirely. Site favorite Pitch notwithstanding, films like Major League or Field of Dreams explicitly refocus the attention of the viewer away from on-field baseball to the foibles of the game or nostalgia, respectively. And yet both films are said to represent the feel of baseball. In other words, when it comes to popular representations, baseball the game is less important than baseball the feeling.
It is with this in mind and with all due respect to the creativity of my Short Relief comrades that I suggest that Dark Souls—FROM Software and Hidetaki Miyazaki’s infamous 2011 homage to difficulty and frustration.
I hear what you’re saying: baseball does not involve quests through depressive and dying fantasy lands. Baseball does not require any sort of sword and armor set, let alone magical powers to be played correctly. And while baseball has a class-based system in terms of defensive positions, there is not a lot of common ground between shortstops and sorcerors or first basemen and warriors.
And I agree, in many ways: Dark Souls, on its face, does not seem like a baseball game. However, consider it in terms of its core commitments. Dark Souls requires an almost pathological commitment to finding aesthetic and even personal validation in watching and experiencing failure. Sound familiar? Dark Souls insists that, even at the highest levels of play, any given player can be killed or defeated unexpectedly and shamefully by the easiest enemy. I refer the reader to the late September trap series, specifically the 2011 Red Sox-Orioles classic. Finally, Dark Souls throws its protagonist directly into a contextless, depressive world filled with dead and dying beasts who lash out continually and without context at the neophyte player controlling the hero. If you can come up with a better analogue to commenting on the internet about sports, I’m all ears.
Jokes aside, there’s something to the connection between Dark Souls and baseball, however esoteric either object might be. I think ultimately, this connection boils down to an embrace of failure and negative outcomes, an openness to defeat being the base condition of life as opposed to success. In this way, Dark Souls captures what it’s like to watch—and perhaps what it’s like to play—professional baseball in a way that other true simulators cannot match. It may not be the best baseball video game we have, but it is perhaps the most apt.
Among the most popular reactions to the death of the intentional walk as we knew it was a sort of mourning for a death of opportunity. Killing the four pitches was a way of killing a potential for weirdness, killing a piece of human spirit in the game, killing a sliver of uncertainty by rendering it automatically and eternally certain. But there is an inverse reading available here, too—not the death of uncertainty, but the birth of a new sort of certainty.
There are very, very few moments in baseball in which any one person can desire something and instantly make it so. (Save the umpire, whose whole job could revolve around this idea if he wanted it to.) A manager, of course, should have more chances at achieving this easy transition from wish to result than anyone else. This is supposed to be the double-edged sword of leadership! You decide what you want, and then other people do it and you face the consequences together! But there is always, always, always some way for the idea to get tangled in reality en route to becoming an action—maybe some way that seems impossibly remote or insane, but some way. You’re imagining a shift, but your guys don’t configure themselves exactly as you’d have liked them to. You want a bunt, but the bunt sucks. You explicitly don’t want a bunt, but a player gets cocky or desperate or otherwise unconcerned with you and tries one anyway. You call in a pinch-hitter, but he trips and breaks his nose on the way out of the dugout.
Some of these things will hardly ever, if not actually never, happen. Any sort of fundamental weirdness with intentional walks almost never happened! But it still could happen, any of it could always happen. Maybe near-total certainty can offer peace of mind, but total certainty gives not just peace but genuine satisfaction.
There are plenty of other questions here, of course—whether satisfaction of the manager should outweigh suspense for the viewers, whether that suspense was ever really valid at all, who baseball is for in the first place and who motivates change now. But for Green, for once, it’s a bubble that can’t be popped.
Opening Day Disasters
By Kate Preusser
It only represents .6271 percent of the season and there’s no significant correlation between Opening Day wins and playoff appearances, but beginning the season with a loss never feels good. However, for 15 fan bases, it’s a reality. Here are some other Opening Day horror stories to keep you company in loser-dom. It’ll be okay. Probably. (Unless you’re a Mariners fan. We’re never okay.)
- Disneyland’s soft opening in 1955, a hot day in mid-July, was pretty much a disaster. The rides broke down, the park ran out of food, the plumbing was inadequate, and there was a gas leak in Fantasyland. It was basically the Coliseum with mouse ears. Disney theme parks now gross about 2.2 billion dollars a year, so things worked out okay, I guess. You’ll get ‘em next time, Angels.
- In 2008, a much-ballyhooed new British Airlines terminal was opened at London’s Heathrow Airport. The 4.3 billion pounds (about 5.3 billion dollars) it cost to build apparently didn’t include funds for ample signage, as passengers became lost on their way to the terminal and even BA staff had trouble getting from the parking lot to the terminal. Things didn’t improve from there, with dozens of flights being canceled and mixups with baggage claim leading to three-hour waits for some passengers to get their luggage. The Dodgers, the team with the highest payroll in baseball for the past three years, have won all three Opening Day games by a combined score of 35-6. The Dodgers have also won all of those games against the Padres, which is about the biggest anti-boondoggle insurance you can get.
- In 1982, Blade Runner, a challenging and edgy sci-fi movie, was released in theaters. Also released in 1982: E.T. the Extraterrestrial, a movie so nice they named it twice. At the box office, E.T. destroyed Blade Runner, which took in a mere $6.5 million over its opening weekend and never made back its $28 million budget. Don’t worry, Braves fans. One day history will be on your side.
- The John Hancock Tower was supposed to be a touchstone for modernist architecture when it opened in 1976; instead, it became a war machine in high winds, hurling its 5×12, 500-pound window panes at unsuspecting pedestrians below. Those window panes were eventually replaced with plywood while new, non-murderous panes were created, lending a certain back-country flair to the august Boston skyline. All of this to say: put a roof on your damn stadiums, Tigers and White Sox. Then you can enjoy the pain and pleasure of Opening Day with the rest of us.