38/365 – Meditation Games #38 – Tragic Bonfires

Developer Credits: Torstein Vien, Dan Wakefield

Launcher Quote: “Bonfire of the Vanities

The public burning of items deemed by authorities to be objectionable.

The phrase most often refers to an event on the 7th of February 1497, where followers of the Dominican friar, Griolamo Savonarola, burned thousands of items he considered decadent or sinful, from books, modern and ancient art and irreplaceable manuscripts, to cosmetics, musical instruments and even mirrors.

This was not the first time in history, nor the last that such an event took place. The burning of Chinese scholars and their works under the Qin Dynasty 213 BC, the burning of the Library of Baghdad in 1258, the Nazi party ordering books by socialist, communist, and Jewish authors to be burned in the 1930s and the destruction of ancient architecture and treasures deemed un-Islamic by ISIS (or ISIL) can all be described as bonfires of the vanities.

There is little evidence to suggest the purification of culture these bonfires attempt to achieve has ever been successful.

But it is always tragic nonetheless.”

A solemn and somewhat ominous entry was submitted today by Torstein Vien and Dan Wakefield to Meditation Games today. Most of what I’ve seen lately has been pretty topical as far as current societal issues are concerned – LGBT rights, social liberalism, and the like – but today’s, even though the historical references are removed from today’s society, are nevertheless more relevant. Watching as you control the figures throwing more and more items onto the bonfire and seeing the shadow of the bonfire lengthen and grow stronger with every item that it was fed was a bit chilling for me, on a variety of levels. On a literal level, the destruction of works has never sat with me. We are ephemeral creatures, and the way that history has been passed on, whether that is to know the philosophy, ideas, or achievements of the time, has been to write it down, mark it, and give it more permanence than it would normally have if it was just oral history. Destroying those items, whether out of some sense of purity or out of (more likely) fear is disturbing to me, because doing so removes, as the launcher quote states, things that are irreplaceable.

On a more metaphorical level, however, I felt even more disturbed, and maybe it was because of the dark lighting, the silence of the act of destruction, or the shuffling of the people as they went to feed the fire. As the fire rose and became louder, I didn’t really notice it so much as I did the lengthening shadow that the fire began to occupy. It grew from a small blaze into what seemed to be an inferno, towering over its subjects in a growing blackness that seemed to undulate and blot out the light, eventually nearing to consume those around it. On this level, it seemed to symbolize the danger of ignorance, the blaze that sometimes accompanies intolerance and hatred, and the destruction of kindness.

Even though history has shown us that such behavior has rarely led to anything good or pure, today’s game is a reminder that it can and has repeated itself many times. It’s my hope that we avoid such behavior, that we remember that those next to us are not awful simply for being different, and that morality is not born in intolerance. Even though today’s society is extremely polarized, there is still a belief held by me that there are enough of us around not to feed the flames of intolerance, and be better – and hopefully games that send messages like this are a part of letting us know that.

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