Serious, Sam

By Kieron Gillen on November 27th, 2009 at 6:24 pm.

I write this in a classy French flat, so have the proper intellectual kudos. You understand.

A great thinker, when first confronted with the teenage delirium of Doom, made one of the most astute, piercing and brilliant observations ever to be applied to a videogame. Yes, this is pretty good…. but imagine if you could talk to the monsters. Now that would be something. And it would. It would be a glorious thing, a dream only yet partially achieved, that hundreds chase. But I come not to talk of the future – I come to talk of a present. A present where hundreds chase you.

Now: Not talking to the monsters. That’s the thing. And imagine not talking to the monsters with a grand intellectual vision behind the muteness. Imagine using not talking to the monsters to illustrate the dark emptiness in the heart of the human condition. Imagine – if you will – the towering majesty of the game they call Serious Sam.

I could start anywhere. I’ll start with the clearest nihilistic j’accuse aimed at everyone – that is, with Serious Sam’s most iconic antagonist: the human-bombs. They speed across sands towards you. They scream, explode and die in their hundreds. Their blood makes the desert run red. They die and die and die and die and then die some more. Why can we not talk to the monsters?

We cannot talk to the monsters because they have no heads.

That’s Croteam’s portrait of humanity. We may wish to talk, but we can’t. Man is the beast with no head. There is no chance communication across the infinite chasm between two souls. And so, we are trapped in a cycle of violence. What other choice do we have?

This vision of life without succour grows ever darker. There is no mothers embrace in Sam’s world. We cannot hold these poor souls… because they have bombs for hands. Is there any truer analysis of the patheic squalor of human existence? That wasn’t written by a Frenchman? I say nay.

It turns darker. Yet even without a head, they scream. Even decapitation cannot remove that primal urge to vent in inchoate fury against the unfairness of existence. They scream until their final pyrokinetic death takes them from the world and gives them the blessed piece of the void. For them, hell is other people – the other person being you. And you have a shotgun.

Let us feel further into the abyss, our dumb, blind fingers finding the blackest of truths in the co-operative mode. Sixteen people can examine Croteam’s work together. And what does this grand co-operative venture bring? Only further violence. The more humans together, the greater the chaos wrought. The inevitable product of humanity’s leaning to sociability is the holocaust. Two hands shaking is the harbinger of Auschwitz. Serious Sam states that the least harm can cause from a lonely life – but even then, you are knee deep in the gore of your sins.

Think on Sam as the despairing choir rises up in their familiar mournful refrain: Where is videogames’ Citizen Kane? Where is our Michael Caine? Even where is our sugar cane? We must ignore them. Foolish, ignorant and intellectually-incontinent buffoons. They overlook the genius in our midst. Serious Sam is the logical collision between the Brother Karamazov and a Kalishnikov. It is undeniable.

Serious Sam is a major text and we all should consider with the deepness with which it was wrought. The clue is in the name. “Serious Sam”. It is very serious. I cannot say for sure why he’s called is called Sam, but I’m planning to explore the most tenable theories my forthcoming doctoral thesis. Ah – this reminds me of something incredibly insightful which Derrida once wrote – but I won’t repeat it, as it’s very deep, and you wouldn’t understand it. Much like you don’t understand Serious Sam. I pity you, in many ways.

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103 Comments »

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  1. sana says:

    cool story, bro.

    • Senethro says:

      So in your haste to get first post you couldn’t be bothered picking the right catchphrase?

    • sana says:

      Please do enlighten me about the correct catch phrase.

  2. jti says:

    Derrida is for kids, try Blanchot. ;o)

  3. Premium User Badge

    Vitamin Powered says:

    He’s Sam because he is the everyman. Notice how all the costumes are still all Sam? Because no matter how we try to individualize ourselves, we are all still marching side by side together, killing everything we come across.

    • jti says:

      Killed a mouse once.

    • Tom O'Bedlam says:

      As Sam says at the beginning, “Sam I am”. We are Sam and he is us. All of us, alone, together in our own pasts.

  4. Captain Bland says:

    Amazing.

  5. Jas says:

    Bet you a fiver Kieron is either in France, sitting next to someone French or (last resort) eating a baguette as he types.

    They have that kind of effect, the French.

  6. Jas says:

    Except when the “costumes” include Disco Dude? Or a skeleton thing? Where is your philosophy now?

    • Premium User Badge

      Vitamin Powered says:

      Because obviously the skeleton thing represents the dead everyman, the horrific truth that is only revealed after one has crossed over.

      And the disco one? Well, obviously all philosophy breaks down when confronted with Disco.

    • Jas says:

      This is why Hamlet said to Horatio “there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your Disco, Horatio”.

    • Starky says:

      The deepest darkest pit of hell is a disco club. A disco club where there is no alcohol, no drugs, and everyone MUST dance and wear their disco outfits utterly sober and with full knowledge of their actions.

  7. Captain Bland says:

    Is it EDGE who published the ‘If only we could talk to the monsters’ line, or is it a myth/joke about them?

    • plugmonkey says:

      Captain Bland – It was in EDGE. I still have the issue somewhere. I get it out when people claim EDGE has got more pretentious. It hasn’t. It started off like that.

    • plugmonkey says:

      Blimey! It’s actually replied inline! That’s the first time I’ve had that work!

  8. Psychopomp says:

    Truly moving.

  9. Feet says:

    Mooly truling.

  10. Tei says:

    I talk in weapons. My finger is my mouh. My aim-reticle is my finger. Thats how I talk to the monsters, with bullets.

  11. LewieP says:

    Does it support dedicated servers?

  12. Radiant says:

    Ok how long were you waiting to use that Karamazov / Kalishnikov line?

  13. Railick says:

    Someone should probably send an emt to KG’s location, he seems to be suffering from a word overdose.

  14. Jazmeister says:

    He’s sitting next to Rath Osserton, isn’t he french now?

  15. Gpig says:

    I always find it to read shallow, incompetent attempts to be deep like this. The writer astutely makes connections to the holocaust at one point but completely misses the post-colonial American allegory. Serious Sam is Uncle Sam and this is his foreign policy. “Monsters” running at you and exploding? I can think of another group M-word that runs at you and explodes. You can’t talk to the monsters because They don’t talk to terrorists. Now isn’t that something.

    • Bret says:

      Writing this kind of thing is key to acing English classes.

      And philosophy classes.

  16. Tei says:

    Thats why robots.txt existed, mister murdock.

  17. Railick says:

    His name is Sam because Sam is a Hebrew name meaning God’s Word for low doth he come from the hills of yore to deliver God’s word to the headless monsters of your nightmares. However unlike Moses in the game Exodus (for the NES) Sam does not fire forth deadly W’s of God’s word, he speaks God’s word with shotgun shells, a most effective replacement if you ask me.
    So if the screaming headless masses represent the inherenit violence and unhappiness of mankind then Sam and his shotgun represent God’s word filling them with peace and happiness, them exploding of course with the holy spirit upon accepting the word of God as truth. Ending their ceaseless screaming an instant of indescribable peace and happiness as those bomb hand men fulfill their ultimate Godly purpose (Which is hand exploding)
    O.o
    <edit post post> The post two posts above this explains it much better but didn’t exist when I started writing this so :) That makes a lot more sense then mine.

    Shadowcat “It hammers at my retinas like an evil woodpecker of pure energy”

  18. Wooly says:

    Oh god. I… I never knew.

  19. Kthulhu says:

    … and this is why we lock the liquor cabinet whenever any of the RPS fellows drop by.

  20. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    The higher than usual number of typos suggests copious booze. That and the joke stretched a bit too far.

    Still, yes, if we take games as being actual expressions of the philosophical beliefs of their creators, all FPS’s are existential horror games, where the player is thrust into an endless corridor where everything wants to kill you, you can only kill and there is absolutely no way to escape.

    Of course, if we take this approach, cut scenes, especially ones where you do what you can’t do in the game, become glimpses of freedom. They become GOOD things. Half Life’s refusal to leave the first person is an extra sadistic cruelty.

    But, hey, sure, imagine not being able to talk to the monsters. Nasty man, you.

    My one main memory of the original Unreal is picking some fruit near a waterfall, and watching it grow back.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vitamin Powered says:

      Obviously then Deathmatch is life stuck in the corporate treadmill; the potential for something grand and wonderful to be produced discarded in favor of endless rounds of pointless point-scoring with the same 16 other people.

    • DMJ says:

      If cutscenes are the only true glimpses of freedom then freedom is that in which control is wrested from the player, absolving him of any responsibility and guilt for his actions.

      Slavery is freedom!

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      And FFVIII is the GREATEST GAME EVER MADE.

    • Starky says:

      I think you have one too many I’s at the end of that Roman numeral, a simple mistake I assume given no sentient sane person could ever actually believe that eight was the superior Final Fantasy.

    • Starky says:

      P.S Yes I get the joke, and the reason you said it – my statement is in jest before anyone tries to “lol” at me – also, you have to hate a world which makes you feel such disclaimers are necessary.

      I blame Gaming, Gaming killed Irony it’s constant shovel-to-head whacking literalism has bread the trait out of today’s youth. And Americans obviously.

  21. kyrieee says:

    This was an odd piece

    The game, however, is great. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. The devs seem cool too. One of them hopped into my game and was very chatty

  22. Shitflap says:

    Now I can see…

  23. Kowalski says:

    This is my favouritest post for a long time.

  24. dsmart says:

    …this couldn’t get any worse. Well at least not by the time I chime in with my own nonsensical diatribe forged by the hands of headless Norsemen and fashioned after the bosoms of….oh wait, wot?

  25. Inigo says:

    I like the colours and the loud noises.

  26. rocketman71 says:

    Serious Sam is the real Doom 3.

  27. Dominic White says:

    I can only hope, wish or pray that someday, one of Kierons Marvel-published comics will read like this. It will be out there, on shelves, ready for people to pick up and read, expecting their usual monthly dose of whizzbangery.

    Heads will be blown. Across the civilized nations of the world, we wlil hear the popping, and it will mark the dawn of a new age.

    And it shall be glorious.

  28. Antialias says:

    If I wasn’t so sure you were comitting self-parody to coax out just this kind of response, I would probably post something like:

    Gosh, what overwrought pretension!

  29. Nighthood says:

    However, in not talking to the monsters we lead a soulless existance. The headless bomber killed in cold blood by the evil, unstoppable force that is Sam Stone had a family, friends, responsibilities. As soon as we lose touch with those we are killing, we lose touch with our own humanity. If we lose touch with our humanity, the only indubitable part of us, we become void, our lives become futile and wasted.

    This is why we should talk to the monsters.

  30. Juhkystar says:

    I love for RPS for these insane posts. ^.^

  31. WilPal says:

    I don’t understand what just happened, but i like it.

  32. leeder_krenon says:

    some games writers would have written this and been serious. therein lies the problem with games writers.

    great piece.

  33. Spacewalk says:

    It’s a slow day at RPS.

  34. bhlaab says:

    If only you had ghostwritten this under the name Tim Rogers

    • Dominic White says:

      Nah, Tim Rogers starts writing about a game, gets completely sidetracked, goes off on a five-page hipster travelogue, and then gives a 2/5 score at the end. Whether this is the rating he has given the game or the past several days of his life is left up to the reader.

  35. negativedge says:

    christ, can someone fire Keirron already

  36. Thants says:

    <deadpan>I am familiar with the works of Derrida.</deadpan>

  37. kyrieee says:

    I think he’s just testing us, the audience :D we passed

  38. Wooly says:

    The human bombs. They have no mouths. But they CAN scream.

  39. golden_worm says:

    When jim wrote “Kieron is off on a journey of some kind” is a post earlier I did wonder if he meant trip. Then the next peice I read is this.

    first thought was ” emergency post for times of crisis. no games news possible today”

    then I read the comments, like this :

    “So if the screaming headless masses represent the inherenit violence and unhappiness of mankind then Sam and his shotgun represent God’s word filling them with peace and happiness, them exploding of course with the holy spirit upon accepting the word of God as truth. Ending their ceaseless screaming an instant of indescribable peace and happiness as those bomb hand men fulfill their ultimate Godly purpose (Which is hand exploding)”

    by Railick and thought I’d put up my own counterpoint.
    If God is all knowing and has unlimited powers, he would have no use for words or bullets. His ultimate godly comand would be as much on the human-bombs as it is in Sam’s bullets. Their creator literally programmed them that way.

    long live this thread.

  40. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Aaaaah yourself.

  41. Funky Badger says:

    Actually, given that Croteam are, well, Croatian…

  42. Jacques says:

    *insert repeating MP3 file of headless men shouting ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh here*

  43. sinister agent says:

    OBLIVION WITH NGJ

  44. the wiseass says:

    This is the fuck why RPS is the best games Blog around!
    Also, nice example of how to turn some shallow mindless fun into a deep metaphorical disquisition.

  45. Kowalski says:

    Wow, there are some miserable bastards who read this website.

    • Vinraith says:

      It’s rather like the people screaming about “objectivity” and whatnot. I mean, if all you want is a dry reporting of information about games, there are plenty of places for that. RPS is here to be… well RPS.

  46. Rinox says:

    Daggerfall had monster languages as skills (Daedric, Orcish, Spriggan, etc.) that allowed you to talk to your enemies and pacify them, allowing you to create such classes as the Linguist:

    http://www.svatopluk.com/xroads/linguist.html

    Way ahead of its time, in so many (buggy) ways. :-)

    And yeah, RPS ftw. This ‘nonsense’ is why no other PC gaming site compares.

  47. TheArmyOfNone says:

    I don’t know if this is a parody, or seriousness. But that heightens it’s genius, I think. Nice article :)

  48. Shadowcat says:

    Lambchops beat me to it, but what are you on about, KG? Sam talks to the monsters. He talks to the very monsters you have used pictures of! Maybe he doesn’t talk at length, or particularly eloquently, but talk he does.

    However, what I’m really wondering is what happened to the heads? Those guys used to have their heads in one hand, and a bomb in the other. Why did they take away the heads?!

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      If I remember correctly, they were always holding two bombs in their hands. Couldn’t find any images of those guys holding their heads in their hands.

  49. Eddy says:

    “Foolish, ignorant and intellectually-incontinent buffoons”

    oh the irony…

    never mind though kieron, your pc gamer review for deus ex wasn’t half bad.

  50. Bret says:

    Or is that screaming caused by the human mind’s response to endemic brutality?