By Michael P. Williams
Boss Fight Books
Note: This is the second in a series of reviews of Boss Fight Books’s line of videogame based essays and memoirs.
There are two ways to engage in ekphrasis: you can attempt to describe, translate, and transpose a piece of art, or you can revel in that piece of art. In Chrono Trigger, Michael P. Williams chooses to drown himself in his love for the game. It is a love that is infectious even if it does have a barrier of entry. Some of the greatest examples of ekphrasis in history such as Homer’s description of the shield of Achilles or Keats’s composite of urns in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” do not require the audience to be familiar with the subject. In fact, there is no singular subject to the urn and the shield of Achilles belongs in myth right next to its owner. Williams takes a different approach. This is a book written by a lover for other lovers. If you haven’t played Chrono Trigger, you are going to be left in the dark.
Oh, but if you have played the game, if you have experienced its many worlds and characters, then you are in for a treat. Williams leads the reader through an exploration of the game in a warm, joyful manner. His keen attention to detail makes trivial elements of the game, for instance Frog’s archaic speech patterns, worthy of deep reflection and contemplation. It is these moments where Williams begins to blend the game world and the real world where Chrono Trigger becomes something greater than just an extended love letter from a passionate fan. The text transfigures itself into a portal to many other worlds, worlds both known and unknown. Williams uses the games plot, settings, and characters to meditate on disaster, Y2K, sexuality and gender, death, engagement.
Williams’s intelligence is on display throughout the book. As an American who lived for several years in Japan, his interest in the translation of a Japanese text to English goes beyond videogames and into the role translation and transcultural mappings have on our every day, increasingly global existence. He uses game studies scholars to explain ideas of engagement in one paragraph and in the next makes a snarky joke about stealing one of the villains pants and whether the villain is trans, a crossdresser, or just an accident of translation. It’s fascinating to watch Williams bring in so many topics and discourses while still keeping the game at the center.
In one particularly memorable section, Williams juxtaposes his experiences playing the game as a kid and replaying the game as an adult. Williams writes, “Even with the myriad factors that determine how personalities clash and complement, we have a host of largely immutable qualities that regulate behaviors among individuals and groups. Things like our gender, our sex, our sexuality, our race, our ethnicity, our culture, our language. The rise-above-it-all spirit wants us to believe that these things just don’t matter. Except they kind of really do” (42). The world of Chrono Trigger is one where wizards, frogmen, robots, and messiah-figures fight side-by-side to save the world from destruction. The game asks the player to collapse their differences and ignore them. Williams shows the reader how fun, insightful, and productive it can be to examine those differences.
Jacob Euteneuer lives in Stillwater, OK with his wife and two sons where he is a PhD candidate at Oklahoma State University. His stories and poems have appeared in Booth, foothills, and Hobart among others. When he is not busy reading, writing, and teaching, he is playing games with his family.
Also by Jacob Euteneuer:
Review of Earthbound by Ken Baumann
Review of Danceland by Jennifer Pieroni
Review of Mother Box, and Other Tales by Sarah Blackman
Review of Even Though I Don't Miss You by Chelsea Martin
Review of The Aversive Clause by B.C. Edwards