Literary criticism did not emerge out of literature, per se. The deep and intense dive into text seems to come from religion, I suspect. Signs and portents in the natural world were shrived and analyzed. The flight of birds, and the curve of entrails, became the template for text to turn from literal meaning to metaphor and allegory and an idea of how things ought to be expressed in text. Exegesis deeply felt is always the goal when reading anything. Every film is a chance to see the world brand new. Every painting and symphony can change the sensation of the world. I think of this when I encounter art that has a thin veneer of story. I analyze it in terms of scripture because the simpler things are, the more they will cut like a knife to the heart of everything.
Kingdom Rush is a long-running series of tower defense games for iPhone, Android, and all sorts of App-Stores. The armies clash by, on the one hand, building towers along a road to defend against the enemy, and on the other, marching straight down the road past the towers to push beyond the defenses. The towers, themselves, are rarely, if ever, attacked. Even then, it will be some sort of disabling magic or shroud that falls over the tower. The enemy army merely charges, all cannon fodder, all racing in lines and clumps to get past the towers. It’s a very difficult game, and a puzzle to solve every level, with degrees of challenges. It reminds me of early Warcraft, where the real time strategy elements were not so mixed up in narrative. Really, the narrative is ridiculously simple. There is the good army, and the bad army. The good army builds towers and defends the road. The bad army charges past the towers, down the road, to claim the land for evil. Call them gnolls or orcs or lizardfolk, if you like, but they are mere fodder, marching to their death relentlessly and without fear. It’s a difficult, interesting challenge, and the cartoon-ish violence is not inappropriate.
Now, I turn to the scriptural interpretation of this silly, little game. At the first level of interpretation, there is the literal. In the literal sense, the good guys must defeat the bad guys, and the player engages with the rules of the world to be a defender, not an aggressor. Even as the army of goodness is pushing into enemy territory, it is only ever as a defender. When I play chess against my phone, I often prefer to play black. It feels more moral to be the second one to move in war, and Kingdom Rush has utilized their mechanics to make even an invading army the defenders, only. In the literal sense, it is impossible to be evil, then, when the invasion of goodness is always on the defense.
The second level of interpretation, the metaphorical, I ask what the little soldiers and towers represent, what story they tell and how it relates to symbols, signs. The dark jungles do not represent a journey through darkness. Perhaps the color of the ground represents the dangers ahead, as each level closer to the final battle will lead to darker and darker colors on the map. The metaphors presented are rather minimal. There’s a few tongue-in-cheek jokes in the comic book “cut-scenes” where soldiers are unaware of the danger lurking in the shadows and hidden places around them. Really, this is a not game of subtle metaphors. Really, it is the next level of interpretation that dominates the artistic expression.
At the level of allusions, the games are packed with candy. Every single character seems to represent some other influence in the SF/F fandom. The generic soldiers could have come from any game. The elves are so Tolkein-esque, and the orcs are so Peter Jackson’s Tolkien-esque. There are little hidden Easter eggs of everything from Predator to Bugs Bunny cartoons. The language of the game really tries to establish itself as a part of the wider media-sphere of film and television. Everything is familiar. The great narrative of these wide and varied worlds of fantasy, of course, is this struggle between good and evil. By broadening the allusions outward, the game establishes a broad language of good defeating evil. The game is absolutely packed with references. Place your towers, upgrade them, and defend the paths to your heart, for evil is relentless.
In this, find the anagogical level of interpretation, of how heaven and earth are built in glory, and hell invades, always. If we are to learn from this game the order of the heavenly spheres, or whatever the cool scriptural kids are calling it these days, we see towers purchased and placed to defend the hearts of lives. The way to purchase towers is to defeat the invaders. Pushing on past great difficulty, puzzling out all the little waves of enemies and challenges, requires great thought and patience. To overcome the flood of evil charging at our hearts, we must be methodical, studious, and engage in real strategy. It is hard to defeat those things that kill our hearts in life. It is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to take great practice and skill and timing and it is supposed to be a slog into the enemy’s source of power, growing stronger along the path. At the anagogical level, I see great meaning in this little game, where a walk through life is going to be so hard, and so much darkness wants to take our hearts away, hold us back a level, invent and repeat different ways of pushing back at us. We must be bold, and smart, and decisive. We must place our treasures where it can do the most good. We march on, and on, and on… The fight never ends.
I overthink simple things, perhaps. Perhaps it is best to turn to things that are harder instead, like the veteran iron challenges…