The wheel of our attention span spins constantly, but today, more often than not, its rotations are shorter than ever before. While the wheel still spins, however, the vast majority of people desire their time to be filled to the brim with spectacle, in a desperate effort to find satisfaction. When we go to see a movie, we want explosions, pandemonium, and armies; the larger the better. If it’s a romance film, we don’t want two hours of soul-searching; we want to see a desperate chase for true love on a planet wide scale. By necessity, the hero of the piece must be larger than life, and when the proverbial boat sinks, nowadays it must always be the Titanic.
In the late 20th Century, a philosopher named Roland Barthes (author of Mythologies and The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies) attempted to explain humanity’s desire for the larger-than-life. The result was an essay entitled The World of Wrestling: an examination of the masses’ thirst for immediate spectacle through the allusion of an amateur wrestling match. Good examples of these so-called amateur wrestlers were the British Bulldogs, as they were famous above many of their brethren for their over-the-top wrestling moves. It is these excessive gestures and moves that Barthes studies in his essay, and he endeavors to prove that the public’s enjoyment of exaggerated characters and actions in the ring translates to their craving of spectacle in real life.
To prove his point, Barthes introduces us to an interesting personage from the world of the wrestling ring: Thauvin, the ugly, dishonorable, totally repugnant coward. As Thauvin enters the ring, the crowd, filled with revulsion, shouts insults and calls him ‘la barbaque’ (stinking meat), among other things. But Thauvin’s entrance is not the entirety of his function, because the public desires constant and engaging spectacle. To this end, Thauvin demonstrates his cruelty and baseness through several mediums: the forearm smash, the repulsive sneer, and the illegal knee to the groin.
Why does Thauvin draw such attention to actions that will undoubtedly earn him the undying hatred of the onlookers? To provide the crowd with the spectacle (which is bound to continue throughout the match), that they so deserve, of course. As Barthes so rightly says, amateur wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and there is no place in it for any reservations on the part of the combatants. While this lack of reservation gives brutes like Thauvin free reign, it also leads to their defeat at the hands of the ‘hero’, as well as the subsequent satisfaction of the onlookers.
At this point in the article, it has probably become apparent to the majority of the readers that I am now going to attempt to relate the nearly indecipherable writings of a Structuralist philosopher to RuneScape, and thus, the obvious question is, how? A grinning green goblin in the corner of my screen reminds me: in my search for spectacle in RuneScape, he is ever-present. Our mutual friend Yelps is as close to Barthes’ Thauvin as anyone can find in RuneScape, even in a game built around spectacle. Not content with evoking our rage from the sidelines, the Squeal of Fortune draws our attention to its grandiloquence and spectacle with almost weekly updates; much like the crowd provoking slaps and throws of Barthes’ Thauvin.
This constant presence of spectacle in RuneScape is not limited to Jagex’s hated little goblin; it is also often the purpose of some of Jagex’s more peculiar decisions. For instance, main purpose of the 10x damage multiplier that accompanied the Hitpoints to Lifepoints switch can be interpreted as an exaggeration of a perfectly useful system for the sole purpose of providing the player-base with some additional spectacle while killing monsters. Furthermore, what is Jagex’s rationale behind creating increasingly powerful weapons, if not to satisfy the masses’ incessant and insatiable craving for spectacle and satisfaction?
The wheel of our attention span spins ever slower, and as it draws to a halt it falls, as it often does these days, on the square marked with the constant and engaging Thauvin-esque spectacle that is the Squeal of Fortune. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, the purpose of spectacle is our own satisfaction, which is evident in many of the various activities RuneScape offers, such as PvP and PvM. So I’ll exit stage left with one final question to all the readers whose attention-span wheels have lasted this long: how can anyone garner satisfaction from an immortal spectacle that only ever provokes our attention and hatred, and can never be defeated? Perhaps the answer lies in Barthes’ essay The World of Wrestling.
But that’s an article for another time.