By Natalie Donahue
I find myself forgetting what it takes to make my life easier. Until I came across a man shoveling the sidewalk in front of our house, I enjoyed the benefits of a clear path without thinking about how it got that way. As I made my way to class, I began to wonder what campus would look like without snow plows. How long would it take for people’s feet to pound the snow flat? Would anyone organize to shovel the main artery curving out from the caf? It makes me smile to think of people wading through deep snow, legs stepping high like a marching band, their boot prints embroidering the white expanse.
The warm weather a few weeks ago gave me a taste of this hypothetical landscape. Spring’s tease flooded campus, confusing the snow plows that scrape ice off concrete. I watched snowmelt ooze like yolk on a griddle, creating pools that hid the segmented grounds. Sidewalks submerged; I gingerly followed the icy footprints of other students that paralleled the slush. Water seeped through the holes in my boots, chilly and wet. Suddenly, going to class took the same concentration that navigating a wooded area does. I leaped across puddles, arms outstretched to keep balance, eyes searching for a sturdy place to step.
Despite the inconvenience of the flood, Facebook exploded with pictures of the Knox “lakes.” At night, the shallow basins of water in front of CFA shimmered with the reflections of street lamps. One of my friends said, “It looks so cool. … It reminds me of ‘Spirited Away.’” I remember watching this anime with my parents in the theater. The images captivated me: Haku in his dragon form, body whipping the sky; the polluted river spirit, ropes of muck writhing; shadowy figures on a train with no tracks, gliding over ocean. The mysterious world of “Spirited Away” enchanted me. At Knox, role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” attract people for similar reasons. The DM creates a fantastical world for the players to explore. In this imaginary landscape, they can fight anything from giant cucumbers to winged succubus. This game provides an outlet for us to negotiate with powerful forces outside of human control. But after the players have explored new terrains and faced hostile beasts, they return to the reality of Knox College campus. The street lights extend day as they walk back to their dorm rooms to finish a paper or check Facebook.
Not all people live in the cloistered environment we do. Last night, I listened to some fellow members of Garden Club animatedly describe a movie they watched for their anthropology class. The film documented tribal men stalking a giraffe. Giraffes have three-inch thick skin and the hunters spent hours hurtling spears at the creature before it died. I had no idea giraffes could take that amount of damage and still live — they must have at least 50 health points. If the group of Knox students playing “Dungeons and Dragons” reenacted the hunt, they would have to roll dice to see if their attacks prevailed; playing for at least an hour until the fictional giraffe finally collapsed.
I think we create games like D&D because our minds hunger for challenges kin to the tribe’s experience. Fantasy novels, video games and adventure movies seduce us for the same reason. They have the power to transport us to Middle Earth or Narnia, places alive with the wildness our reality once possessed. We pay Disney to entertain us with Neverland, distracting ourselves from the spiritual and psychological damage that comes from living in a controlled environment. But instead of retreating into books, movies or video games, I hope people start using these tools to help us explore different ways we can share power with each other and the biological community. Freak weather events, like the flood on campus, can show us what a less controlled world might look like. Maybe digital media and other forms of creative expression offer an opportunity to explore the myriad ways of letting go, so the real world has more space to burn with life.