For a lot of gamers with demanding jobs, marriages and/or families, the excitement of reading good reviews for games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is tempered by the sinking realization that they’ll never have time to play them. How do you make time for a 60+ hour game when you have a busy life?
This piece was first published on October 31, 2018.
I’m lucky that sometimes I get to play games for work, which gifts me a few days to play games I’d never otherwise fit in. But my leisure time is very limited: when I’m not working or standing around in parks with my toddler, time must be split between friends, family, my partner, books, films, TV, games, the gym (lol, who am I kidding?) and anything else I might want to do. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to being a student, but one of the few saving graces of being a young adult is that you have a lot of time for your hobbies. Why did I spend so much time binge-watching middling Netflix series? Why!?
One solution is to prioritize games that only require five or ten hours of your time, and there are plenty of those around. But if you’re efficient, you don’t have to miss out entirely on the huge games that everyone else seems to be playing. Like many working mothers, I have, by necessity, become frighteningly efficient. Here are some tips from the frontlines.
Pick one massive game
When I was a teenager, money was my limiting factor. I could afford one game every couple of months, so it had to be a good one. Now, my limiting factor is time, which I must budget just as carefully as I budgeted my money as a kid so that I could afford a Gamecube on the day it came out. That means I can’t be getting on with games that don’t respect my time, such as unnecessarily bloaty open-worlds, excessively slow-paced JRPGs or online games that involve too much grinding. Also, bouncing between a giant Assassin’s Creed game and a live game like Destiny is just going to frustrate you because you feel like you are achieving nothing in either. I recommend making a careful choice and sticking to it.
Take what you can get
One of the biggest mental hurdles for me is accepting that I am never going to have three uninterrupted hours to play a video game. Those Sundays when I could just sit in my pajamas and play XCOM for the entire day are officially gone, if not forever then for the foreseeable future. Now I look at my PS4 controller and think, what’s the point? I’ll only have to turn it off again in an hour.
Take that hour. It’s what you’ve got now. You could finish a 60-hour game in a couple of months if you can find an hour a day, or spend two months hoping that your partner will go on a trip so you can play it for a whole weekend and get nowhere.
Get a Nintendo Switch
This isn’t just Nintendo fangirlism talking: the Switch lets you use time that would otherwise be dead for playing games, whether it’s 20 minutes on the train, a lunch break, an hour while the baby’s napping or half an hour in bed before going to sleep. I played 80 hours of Breath of the Wild on maternity leave, almost exclusively in 30-minute sessions. (It’s the reason I learned to breastfeed lying down.) Even if you hate Nintendo, the Switch is now home to pretty much every significant indie of the past several years. I’ve caught up on so many excellent games in the past year and spent 40 hours playing Hollow Knight, and it hasn’t eaten significantly into time that I could have been spending with my family or at work.
If you have kids or live with a partner, play games with them
There is a golden period when kids are between about 3 and 10 when they may actually want to play games with you, or watch you play. (After that they’ll exclusively want to play with their friends, and any game you might take an interest in is automatically boring.) Keeping to kid-friendly games does rather limit your options, of course, but if you can get them into something you want to play anyway, like Ni no Kuni 2, you’re golden. This can also be an opportunity to reconnect with series like Pokémon that you might have played as a kid but drifted away from as an adult. I know one family with teenagers who all play Destiny together.
If your partner is into games and you can afford it, consider—no matter how sad this might sound—setting up a spare TV and console so you can both play your individual massive games companionably. This is how my partner and I got through all the Dark Souls games.
Bargain with your partner
If there’s a big game that you really want to play coming up, why not valiantly volunteer to stay home once the kids are in bed for a couple of nights that week so your partner can go out with their friends? If you’re extremely organized, take the kids away for a day the month before, then you can reasonably bargain for a day to yourself to play. What never works is rolling along as usual without making any special effort for your partner and then acting baffled when they object to you being essentially absent from their evenings because a new game has come out. If you make an effort in advance, they may be happy to give you some time to play in return.
Let go of guilt
One of the things I realized on maternity leave was that making time to play games was important self-care, not some guilty pleasure. I’d had a baby, not a personality transplant. It can sometimes feel like games aren’t important enough to make time for, like you should always be prioritizing work or parenting or, I dunno, learning Italian. But you need time for yourself. So go home at 5pm, or give yourself permission to spent 35 minutes with a game in the mornings rather than checking work email before you head out.
I encounter so many people who say they used to love video games but just don’t have space in their lives for them anymore, or who’ve given up on finding time to play something like Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s fine if there are other things that give you pleasure that you’ve decided to do instead. But if games are something you really love, don’t feel guilty about making time for them.
A few months ago, I was watching streamer Matt Souza play Fortnite on a custom server while I played along with his community, GodSquad Church. With a laptop earbud in one ear and my PC headset over another, I landed randomly on a hilltop near Polar Peak, only to immediately be killed by a player I didn’t see. As my screen swerved to spectate my killer, I saw their screen name: PastorSouzy, the handle of Souza. Instead of basking in his victory, as another streamer might, Souza thanked me via stream for joining the chat, adding, “I appreciate you.” Moments later, he killed another player and thanked them for playing too, throwing in a “God bless.”
It’s not the response I’d expect from a streamer or a Fortnite player, but this wasn’t exactly a regular stream. GodSquad is an online church, and the custom server was their version of a real-life church’s spaghetti dinner. GodSquad’s congregation plays games together a lot, but they also hang out on Discord or chat with each other during Souza’s near-daily personal stream. On weekends they have services, which take place on Twitch.
Over Discord voice call, Souza tells me, “I asked myself, if I’m a gamer, which I am, and I hardly ever leave my house, which I don’t, how am I gonna get the story of Jesus to people who don’t leave their house? And that’s when I found Twitch.”
Souza, 29, is the founder and lead pastor of GodSquad Church, which calls itself “the world’s first church for gamers.” The church’s values statement acknowledges issues that gamers tend to face, such as trolling and toxicity, as well as the mental health struggles or social isolation that can come from or drive people to game excessively. In my time observing the church, congregants seem to talk to each other as much about gaming as they do about religion. GodSquad has a Discord of about 2860 members, and while Souza and his wife Amanda Lee, the church’s executive and music director, are based in Virginia, the church’s other staff and congregants are scattered across the world. “The Discord is the church,” Souza says, since it’s the place “where people are doing life together,” but they also have services, streams, and occasional in-person meetups.
The Discord server is separated into different rooms where people coordinate playing video games together, discuss movies and books, and share memes, as well as make prayer requests or meet in private rooms or video chat for one-on-one prayer or pastoral counseling. I’ve spent a month observing the Discord on weeknights and after GodSquad’s services. It’s a lot more lively than your average physical church, with at least a handful of people around all the time. The server gets especially active after a service, when Souza or another worship leader invites regular viewers and newcomers to join them to chat or play games.
Services happen every Saturday evening on GodSquad’s Twitch channel, with a second service having just been added on Saturday afternoons. Besides the fact that no one’s in the same room, it’s a lot like any other church service. Amanda performs modern praise music with the lyrics shown on-screen. Prayer requests are offered up in chat or via the Discord. While it can be funny to hear people referred to by their Twitch handle, the prayers sound familiar to anyone who’s been to physical worship: jobs, relationships, health. Financial offerings are requested through Streamlabs, text, or via GodSquad’s website. The most incongruous parts of the GodSquad services I’ve attended involve giveaways, where staff members raffle off gaming swag and console shop gift cards via “Penguin points,” a personalized Twitch currency that subscribers accrue from watching Souza’s streams. There’s also a reel of top five gaming clips that the community can vote on, which is a way for congregants to share the best of their gaming moments with each other.
The sermons are usually rooted in gaming or other geeky metaphors. They’re delivered by Souza from his home office, with nerdy toys and art in the background, or from the home of one of the church’s other staff members. Sermons I’ve watched include using the idea of video game delays as a lesson in spiritual patience, completionism as a metaphor for the story of Easter, or how God’s promises relate to Avengers Endgame, complete with an assurance that there won’t be any spoilers. A recent series of talks uses the console wars as a jumping off point for discussing diversity. Souza skirted theological specifics but said “Jesus is calling you and I to deal with diversity, whether it’s racial, whether it’s political, whether it’s preferential, whether it’s philosophical, whether it’s simply Xbox versus PS4.” The sermon came down firmly on the side of diversity being a good thing, while drawing a distinction between “sin and holiness,” between ideological differences and what Souza believes God thinks is right, leaving the latter vague. I haven’t heard specific hot-button issues like homosexuality or abortion in GodSquad sermons, though a recent video stood in favor of women preaching, a progressive stance in some denominations. GodSquad seems more focused on the issues viewers face in their lives and how they relate to one’s personal relationship with God than ecclesiastical tensions that might arise in physical churches or those more firmly rooted in a specific denomination.
Sermons shift in topic between gaming and religion, surprisingly, without tipping over into cool youth pastor parody. Gaming is acknowledged as what brought people to GodSquad, but it’s never made overly important or more serious than other aspects of congregants’ lives. While the sound effects and graphics could feel a little hokey to me at times, in sermons gaming largely serves as a rhetorical anchor or a model of a bigger theological concept. Souza in particular shifts between gaming and God well, and he’s especially compelling as a preacher. He’s conversational and intellectually approachable, quick to laugh and to implicate himself in the struggles and spiritual pitfalls he explores. He comes across as warm and passionate about both the message and the people hearing it; even when I’ve been dubious about a certain message or suspicious of a turn of phrase, it’s hard not to hear him out.
Souza gets a lot of public speaking practice since he streams seven hours a day most weekdays on his personal channel. He plays Fortnite and a lot of Old SchoolRunescape. Sometimes the community raids other channels, often other Runescape streamers, filling their chat with messages of love and support. On Fridays, he hosts a segment called Real Talk where he invites viewers to ask him anything, whether that’s deep theological questions or advice about streaming. Christianity occasionally comes up in the chat, the day often begins with a prayer, and Souza falls naturally into talk of faith or Jesus from time to time. But other than that, Souza’s personal channel is a lot like any other streamer’s.
Souza has been streaming video games since 2014, but it wasn’t always as part of GodSquad. He and Amanda met while studying theology at a Pentecostal school in Massachusetts. Later, Souza worked in a brick-and-mortar Assemblies of God church in Oxford, Connecticut while gaming on the side.
At that time, Souza wasn’t public about his love of gaming, seeing it instead as an “almost secret lifestyle.” He’d played games since he was young, but as an adult, he felt it would be considered a shameful pastime, especially in contrast to his public role as a mature pastor. “I worked at a local church, suit and tie on Sunday mornings, I was Pastor Matt,” he explains. “It might sound silly, but it was almost a fear I had, if people found out I played video games… Are people going to think I’m going to be 35 and live in my mama’s basement without a job?”
In the summer of 2014, something happened that changed Souza’s mind. He was watching Twitch streamer Summit1g, not realizing at first what Twitch was, seeing it as “like a website where everyone can get together and, like, watch a YouTube video.” But then, he says, someone in chat asked a question, and Summit answered. “My mind was blown,” says Souza. “I was like, ‘He’s live, this is happening now?’” Summit’s stream in that moment had 25,000 people in it, and Souza couldn’t help but notice: “That is bigger than 99% of the churches in the world. I was like, it’s Tuesday morning!”
Souza was inspired. “I just had the thought: What if we were able to use this to influence people in a positive way, to teach them good principles about how video games and responsibilities do not need to be enemies, and also sharing with them what we have found to be life-changing, which is the power of Jesus, with other people who wanted to hear it?”
In the early days, Souza was more or less like any other new streamer. He got an Xbox, a “crappy” camera, and a “headset mic that was awful.” He made his Twitch title “A Pastor Playing Halo” and started streaming. He describes it as “literally while I’m shooting people in the face I’m telling them, ‘Hey man, God loves you.’” His early clips are incongruous—switching between talking about God’s love to cheering over a particularly good kill—but the casual chatter feels familiar, even if the subject matter might be unusual for Twitch. The channel started with three viewers, but more people started tuning in over the next year, with many of them accepting Jesus into their lives over stream.
A clip from an early stream
After over a year of streaming and gathering more viewers, Souza launched a GoFundMe to start turning GodSquad from a personal project into an actual organization. Due to various difficulties around becoming an officially-recognized church that didn’t have a physical location, GodSquad eventually came to operate under the umbrella of the church Souza had worked for in Connecticut. Souza’s home church was excited about the project—Souza tells me the response to GodSquad from the church world is “either one or the other extreme” between enthusiasm for their methods or disdain for “encouraging even more teenagers to waste their lives.” Luckily, his home church fell in the former camp rather than the latter. In March of 2016, GodSquad became a non-profit, “as real a church as any church you’ve ever walked into,” motivated by “the desire to reach people no one else was reaching, connecting with people no one else was connecting with:” gamers.
These days, when I watch, Souza’s personal streams have averaged between 70 and 100 viewers, with over 100 tuning in for GodSquad services. Souza tells me that his streams average about 7000 people every week, with about three-fourths of them being return viewers. The church has five core staff members: Souza; Amanda, who, in addition to music, manages the ins and outs of the church’s volunteers; media director Dylan “UnworthySeraph” Hoelz, who makes graphics and runs GodSquad’s website and social media; Community Care Pastor Raymond “Pastor Bos” Bosworth; and Joey “Pastor Joey” Simon, who leads the church’s small group studies under the title Level Up Pastor. Many of them stream from their own personal Twitch channels as well. Hoelz is a full-time paid staff member of the church, and Bosworth and Simon receive stipends. Souza and Amanda make money via Souza’s personal stream: “Technically my broadcast is how my wife and I make a living, and both of us just volunteer our time at the church,” Souza says. “Especially with the negative stigma of pastors and money and everything, we want to be above reproach in that area.”
There are also about 75 volunteers. Some moderate the Discord and Twitch chat. Others lead “ministry” guilds in games like World of Warcraft, where they attract other players through their behavior and high level of play and then introduce faith. If these players aren’t interested in learning more, Souza explains, they can just keep playing with the church’s guild. Volunteers must be members of the church for at least three months, and they’re interviewed over video before being accepted.
One volunteer moderator, Chris, tells me over Discord message, “I help cultivate a family friendly atmosphere for the server and Twitch chat and help resolve any conflict that might emerge within members of our server and Twitch chat. As a moderator I am expected to be available at certain times throughout the week, but there are many times where I help out even when I am not expected to, to make sure the community is being looked after.”
Chris came to GodSquad via Souza’s channel. He tells me he grew up Southern Baptist but felt alienated from the church and from God. “I hated churches, because when I showed up to church in ripped jeans and a T-shirt with a heavy metal band on it, I never felt welcomed. A pastor at one church told me to call him if I ever needed anything but wouldn’t answer the phone if I called. I felt like everyone thought that they were better than myself because they went to church every Sunday. It felt like I was surrounded by hypocrites.”
After turning away from religion, Chris says he struggled with depression, turning to “nicotine, alcohol, and women.” In September of 2017, he came across Souza’s channel while on lunch break at work. Souza was streaming a newly-launched game, and Chris stuck around. “To be honest, I thought the guy was a fake pastor that was just using a clever name to get viewers on Twitch,” Chris says. “God knew what He was doing that day. He knew how bad I needed a positive influence in my life. I became a member of GodSquad Church that day, and looking back, I’m so glad that I didn’t leave that stream and that I decided to stay.” After a year of membership, he became a volunteer because he “wanted to help people the way this community helped me.”
People don’t always have the same positive reaction to GodSquad as Chris. Some viewers just leave once they realize the stream can be religious; I’ve seen people enter chat, say, “Oh this is about God, bye” and exit. Others stick around to troll. In a service in February, Souza acknowledged the challenge of trolls coming into the community, saying, “People can come in at any time from anywhere in the world and say anything they want, literally 24/7.” The most aggressive trolling I’ve seen was a viewer dramatically overreacting to the telling of the Easter story, but I’d certainly believe there’s worse.
Unlike other Twitch channels or Discord communities, GodSquad is hesitant to ban people. Souza tells me that on Twitch they’ll often issue people 10-minute timeouts, after which many trolls will just leave. Those who get repeated timeouts, he says, will sometimes get curious and stick around or, he claimed in February, even join the church. Dealing with trolls can be trickier on Discord, where the challenges of time zones can mean that when trolling or hateful messages are left “at 4:30 in the morning, those messages stay there until someone wakes up.”
In our conversation, Souza shares a sentiment common in some denominations that people today are hostile to Christians. He chalks this up in part to what he sees as judgmental Christians misrepresenting the faith. In a recent video, he said, “Twitch is not a God-loving website, it’s a website where people are far from God… It breaks my heart to think that people hate God, but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that truth.” Whether the people trolling are doing so out of a distaste for religion specifically or just trolling for the sake of trolling, GodSquad faces a conflict of wanting to invite everyone in and then dealing with the consequences of that openness. The ease with which people can enter the church from their own homes means it’s easy for anyone to give church a shot, a strength GodSquad capitalizes on in its messaging. But it also means it’s easy for trolls to cause trouble, a situation most physical churches rarely face.
Recently, Souza has come to suspect the outward trappings of religiosity, especially on his personal channel, might hurt more than they help. He wants to reach people who aren’t Christians—one of GodSquad’s most prominent slogans is “You don’t need to believe to belong”—but most non-trolls willing to enter or stick around a stream titled “Pastor” are likely to be Christian already, or at least curious about religion. In our conversation, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be seen as a Christian streamer just looking for other Christians to hang out with. To further clarify this image, recently he changed the name of his Twitch channel and other social media and gaming handles from PastorSouzy to SouzyLive.
“I can’t share God’s love with people who refuse to enter my stream,” he said in a video describing the reasons behind the name changes. He compared his old Twitch name to starting a conversation with a friend by bringing up something they hate: “If I want to build common ground with people, it’s unwise for me to say, ‘Hey my name is Pastor Souzy and I love the thing you hate, let’s be friends.’” Whether people who pop into his streams unawares will be more likely to stick around, or whether the change will inadvertently invite more trolls, remains to be seen.
GodSquad faces other challenges unique to being an online-only church. During Saturday services I’ve watched, moderators have had to turn the chat away from games and back to the sermon more than once, like a digital version of hushing the kids in the back pews. During Runescape and Fortnite streams on Souza’s personal channel, viewers will hit him with complicated theological questions or personal issues when he’s trying to focus on gaming. Sometimes he’ll ask them to come back for Real Talk or head to the Discord. Other times, I’ve seen someone fill the chat with the story of an intense personal struggle—a heart attack, a miscarriage—and look for pastoral care a gaming-focused stream can’t necessarily provide. I’ve watched the chat fumble to respond to a person’s repeated requests for help while moderators direct them to one-on-one conversations or the Discord.
The church, in one form or another, is available to everyone all the time, which means people expect Souza to be available, too. Many streamers try to keep their viewers away from their personal lives, but Souza, by virtue of his job and unique community, has to invite it all in. Most streamers don’t go from entertaining viewers with a Fortnite stream to counseling people through their marriage or rallying the community to record a video for a congregant who’s just woken up from surgery.
Souza says, “Our church offers something that I don’t think I can say any other church on the entire planet does, which is that if you want, you can spend all day, every day, with your pastor.” The result sometimes looks to me like the internet version of The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders calling Reverend Lovejoy too often. Souza says, “No one’s going to knock on their pastor’s door at three o’clock in the morning, but people will definitely send us a Discord message at three o’clock in the morning and expect us to answer.”
The work can be “difficult and exhausting,” says Souza. “I’m definitely a small streamer, but I think I carry a weight that most streamers don’t carry.” When GodSquad was first taking off, he tried to respond to all his messages himself, but that quickly got out of hand, with people waiting too long for a response. “They’re reaching out, looking for help, and two months later their problem is over,” he laughs. “They’re no longer in need of care. I’ve made all these promises—we want to be there for you, we love you—but then they’ve waited over two months for a response.”
It’s a struggle too, Souza says, because he wants to keep his personal Twitch channel and the church separate. “To me, when you’re watching my stream, you’re hanging out with Matt. I’m not preaching a sermon, you’re just hanging out with me and who I am. In those moments when I’m talking about faith or praying for people, I’m not doing those because I’m a pastor, I’m doing those because that’s who I am.”
But even making that separation clear, by trying to keep his personal streams focused on gaming or changing his name on Twitch, can’t undo the fact that people are still hanging out with their pastor. They want his attention, like any fan might, but they bring their personal and faith issues with them. Souza plays a greater role in their lives than just an entertainer, regardless of the focus of a day’s stream. “Itcan be difficult at times to try to live up to the expectations that everyone has,” he says. “I think people can put pastors on a pedestal and think that we are perfect and all-knowing and all-mighty, and the reality is that I’m not… Everyone has bad days, streamers have bad days. On the days you feel like you need encouragement, you’re still the one responsible to be giving out encouragement.”
Souza has methods for balancing life with streaming and with the business side of GodSquad, much of which has to be conducted in the evenings after he streams. He and Amanda have a date night on Wednesdays, and they don’t work on Sundays. “It doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done, we just don’t do it.” He hangs out with friends. He makes sure to pray, read the Bible, and keep his own faith life strong—“If I don’t truly love God it’s not going to be coming out of a place of passion, it’s going to be coming out of a place of obligation.” It’s the usual streamer stuff, as well as the usual ministry stuff, rolled into one. “That’s just leadership,” Souza says, “learning to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations. It’s never going to change. It’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse… The reality is that this is what I’ve signed up for and this is what I believe that God has called me to do.”
The pressures, as well as the opportunities, are made possible by the unique nature of Twitch. Even so, GodSquad is looking to move beyond the internet and into the physical world. This summer, they’ll have their second SquadCon, an in-person gathering at a church in Richmond, Virginia. They’ve also recently moved forward on a dream Souza has had since before they even started GodSquad: to build a LAN center. It won’t be an explicitly Christian LAN center, but it will nonetheless be a place to establish outreach for people who aren’t in the church and a place for members of the church to gather.
Through fundraising, GodSquad has raised $26,000 for the LAN center—specifically, that money is to put a down payment on some land and clear the trees off it, though they’re still closing on the property itself. The process has been difficult, with GodSquad’s current lack of a physical meeting place making it hard to secure loans as a church. In a sermon about the LAN center in April, Souza spun these challenges into a lesson in patience he could share with congregants. He has dreams of having these LAN centers around the country, “a vision and a plan I hope will outlive me,” but that dream is a long way off.
Souza skydiving as part of the fundraising goals for the LAN center
This project raises the question of why a church with such a strong virtual presence would need land, especially when so many members of the community are unlikely to ever visit it. Souza says GodSquad’s community was happy to give to the effort so that other people could have what they would want: a place to game with their friends. “Gamers growing up, we all sit alone in our rooms. I believe life is better when we do it together, and I believe video games are more fun when we do it together… I think God wants us to have a desire to be together and to have a place to be together.”
GodSquad is a small Twitch channel but a large and lively church, with an active attendance few physical churches can likely boast. Subcultural churches are nothing new: There are churches for runners and cowboys, churches where dinners replace standard worship. Organizations like Game Church and the Christian Game Developers Conference have combined Christianity and gaming before. I’m not sure if GodSquad would be as effective without the gaming angle, if it were something more akin to an online-focused church like Life.Church. Sharing the common interest of gaming seems to help GodSquad’s community cohere in a way physical churches, sharing only the commonality of geography, can struggle to do.
GodSquad’s gaming metaphors might seem corny in a service, but they aren’t a gimmick, and Souza’s passion for the topic is genuine. He wants to entertain viewers in his streams, and he wants to share his passion for Jesus with them, and these two goals are united by a desire to connect with other gamers on the internet. He tells me, “There’s a quote: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…That’s what I try to do every day on Twitch: build a relationship with them. ‘Hey man, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re a real-life person, you matter and have value. We’d love to play some games together.’”
Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk tweets about a lot of stuff. He tweets about his kid. He tweets about skateboarding. He tweets about his skateboarding video games. And he tweets about people being surprised he’s Tony Hawk.
Tony Hawk, who’s 50 now, is famous for his prodigious skateboarding career. In 1999, Activision released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, a video game inspired by his skating career. The games came out more or less annually through 2015; the most recent is 2018’s mobile game Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam, the first Tony Hawk game not published by Activision. The games mostly involve playing as different skateboarders who perform tricks for points in different areas, all accompanied by an awesome soundtrack.
These days, Tony Hawk still skates, and he also runs the Tony Hawk Foundation, which helps build skate parks in low-income communities. Because it’s the 21st century, he also tweets.
Much of Tony Hawk’s Twitter is taken up by encounters in which people don’t realize he’s Tony Hawk. In one tweet, he claims a car rental worker deleted his reservation because they thought the name “Tony Hawk” was fake.
In another, a TSA agent checking Hawk’s ID wonders what Tony Hawk is up to now, to which Hawk responds, “This.”
In a recent tweet, a worker at a drive-thru is excited to meet him, but no one else knows who he is.
Sometimes, people think he looks like Lance Armstrong. Another time, someone at a grocery store asks him, “You ever get mistaken for Tony Hawk?” Someone recognizes him and then is surprised, telling Hawk that he’s “not that recognizable.” “I’m not sure what that means,” Hawk replies, “but you recognized me, so here we are.”
In one tweet, someone recognizes Hawk, inspiring a guy who overhears the encounter to say, “I haven’t seen any recent pictures of you. You’ve gotten older.” Hawk replies, “It happens.” Encounters like this, Hawk writes, are “redundant…but they’re all true.” Whether they are or not, their redundancy points to the weird experience of someone living his life after being a household name. People remember Tony Hawk, kind of, but they’re confused that mostly forgetting about him didn’t make him stop existing. Rather than being annoyed, Hawk seems cheerfully resigned to this struggle, and even occasionally plays along.
These tweets are hilarious, but I also find them touching. Like many of the people in these tweets, I’ve always sort ofknown who Tony Hawk was. When I was a kid, he would be in the magazines and video tapes my twin sister and I would get from the owners of the skate shop, two guys in their 20s I both worshipped and was intimidated by. I didn’t know about the Tony Hawk games until years later, when a group of friends from college rented a ski house that had a PlayStation and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. The game’s roster let me feel like all the cool guys I’d eye at the snowboard park pulling off tricks I could never master.
Being like these guys wasn’t just about having the guts to hurl myself off the ramps at the trick park. Looking back at my infatuation with skater dudes after I realized I was trans, they embodied a masculinity I wanted before I even knew I wanted it. When I was young, being a skater was a rebellion against the masculinity of jocks. It was a manhood that was in reach for more people, though still not for me. When I was in early transition, I’d dress like those boys I’d admired as a kid, in torn jeans and punk band T-shirts. It’s funny to look back on those feelings now that I’m 37. Tony Hawk’s tweets resonate with me because they’re anticlimactic—he’s just some guy now. It’s comforting to stop taking yourself so seriously.
Now, I mostly feel like any other old man (or any other old man who’s a queer anarchist ex-chaplain who writes about video games for a living and rails at his young staff for calling things “cringe”). Being on hormones for years made some parts of masculinity easier, and being out as trans in my work and social life helped me value things I’d once seen as deficits. I used to have a mohawk; these days, I shave my head to deal with steadily encroaching baldness. A few months ago, one of my younger colleagues told me I looked like “someone’s punk dad” when I slouched into work in my standard outfit of black jeans, a black hoodie, and a black hat.
When Tony Hawk’s self-effacing tweets end up on my timeline, they feel like more than just funny jokes about fame. They remind me that these days, Tony Hawk also looks like “someone’s punk dad.” He’s patient and finds the humor in getting older, providing another model for what my own masculinity could be.
On Twitter, Hawk is good at living through the kind of irrelevance that comes for all of us as we get older. We’ve both hit ages where the world isn’t quite as about us anymore. I sometimes joke about looking forward to the day the trans youth eat me alive, but I genuinely love watching younger people do things better than I did. Hawk doesn’t seem bothered by his slide into semi-obscurity, and he performs it with a grace and gentleness that’s rare to Twitter. It’s an attitude I can strive to emulate more than the trappings of what drew me to guys like him when I was young.
In World 8-3 — the penultimate level of Super Mario Bros. for the NES — Mario makes his final push towards Bowser’s castle. This level is a mini-masterpiece in a classic game and tells a small but important story through its gameplay.
There are eight worlds in Super Mario Bros., each composed of four levels. For Worlds 1 through 7, the first three levels of each world have checkpoints midway through. But World 8 does away with that. You must complete 8-1, 8-2, and 8-3, each in a single, straight shot to advance.
Each World 8 level presents a unique, advanced challenge. 8-1 is the game’s longest level, with a high enemy count and no powerups. Owing to the level’s length, you hurry to reach the flagpole before the timer runs down, which can lead to errors.
8-2 has bizarre tonal shifts; it’s weird enough to be a Super Mario Maker level. In its first half, you square off against winged Koopa Paratroopas and a Lakitu throwing Spiny Eggs. In its second half, you deal with more Koopa Paratroopas, oddly spaced pits, and vertically staggered Bullet Bill cannons. The level’s sole powerup is nestled between three cannons, forcing a cost-benefit analysis.
Despite their difficulty, both 8-1 and 8-2 have a 1-Up Mushroom hidden in them, which give you an extra life. As long as you’ve memorized the 1-Up mushroom locations, you can repeat these levels as many times as you need to without risking a Game Over.
Level 8-3, however, has no 1-Ups. It hardly has any coins, which means you can’t farm a 1-Up over the course of your attempts. There’s a single coin block right near the flagpole, but by that point, you’ve already beaten the level. In 8-3, your lives are finite; every attempt matters.
At the start, you’re greeted by a Bullet Bill cannon that goes off in your face. You’re given no time to get your bearings before you’re immediately on the defensive. This sets the tone for the rest of the level.
Other levels in Super Mario Bros. are fluid; the enemies move, either from right to left or back and forth on platforms, and you’re constantly moving to the right. But 8-3 is akin to trench warfare. The enemy defenses are static and send out a continuous siege of projectiles. You’re nearly the only one moving, and you gain precious ground inch by inch.
It feels as though you’re penetrating the defenses of a well-patrolled fortress—which, story-wise, you are—and the visuals reinforce this perception. 8-3 is the only place in the game with a bricked castle facade in the level’s background, which suggests that Mario is moving deeper into enemy territory.
After surmounting the first Bullet Bill cannon, then another, you run into the level’s first two Hammer Brothers. They stay in one place, though they will advance on you if you dawdle too long, and they throw out a never-ending barrage of hammers. They combine this with random jumping, which varies the hammers’ reach.
How do you defeat them? Fire Mario will do the trick, but you might not be powered up when you reach them. Jumping on the Hammer Brothers’ heads is risky; they hold the hammers over their heads for a split second before they throw them. The best way to take them out, if you’re able, is by pounding the blocks beneath them. But the easiest and safest way to deal with them is to simply run by. Throughout most of the game, taking the time to kill them simply isn’t worth the risk.
In previous levels, Hammer Brothers were largely avoidable. In 3-1, there were two of them camped out on two rows of blocks, but you got a Starman before confronting them. In 5-2, there were four Hammer Brothers. You could run underneath three of them, and even though the one situated on the stairs presented problems, you acquired a Mushroom right before confronting him. There was never a risk of dying, only of getting hit.
In 7-1, there were four Hammer Brothers: two pairs on two rows of blocks, which also made them easy to run underneath. But 8-3 finally forces the direct confrontation you’ve been avoiding.
There are eight Hammer Brothers in 8-3. The first four are situated on blocks, which means you can run underneath and avoid them. However, the final four Hammer Brothers are on flat ground. You can’t pound the bricks beneath them, or wait for them to jump to higher ground to avoid them. If you throw a Koopa shell at them, they’re likely to jump over it. You have to deal with each of them individually if you want to reach the flagpole.
One strategy is to get in close so that you’re underneath the hammers’ trajectory, then run underneath the Brothers when they jump. The Hammer Brothers’ jumps are random, so you need to react quickly when you spot an opening. Even though I’ve successfully done this before, it took me a few tries to pull it off recently.
This method isn’t reliable, especially with limited lives. Your best option, if you enter 8-3 as small Mario, is to become Fire Mario before you reach the final four Hammer Brothers. Therein lies the narrative brilliance of this level: The Mushroom and Fire Flower reside in the brick platforms that the first four, more easily avoidable Hammer Brothers are standing on! To maximize your chances of survival, you must defeat all eight of the Hammer Brothers in 8-3. Paradoxically, it’s easier to overcome eight of them than it is to overcome four.
After defeating the first pair of Hammer Brothers you need to grab the Mushroom as soon as it pops out of its block, or it’ll drop into the nearby pit.
After you defeat the second set of Hammer Brothers, make sure you don’t walk too far to the right. The screen will scroll, making the Fire Flower irretrievable.
Do all this properly, and you’ll confront the final four Hammer Brothers as Fire Mario. Then, you can chuck fireballs from halfway across the screen and defeat your enemies before they’re in range to hurt you.
And after all this, 8-3 has one final mind game to play before you reach the flagpole. For the majority of the game, Mario climbs a set of solid stairs at the conclusion of each level. The block formation is distinctive, and it conjures relief in the player’s mind. It says there are no more obstacles to contend with. It’s an image that’s been shown to the player since the first level of the first world:
But World 8 progressively undoes this security. 8-1’s stairs look like this:
Now, you are never safe, even when the goal is in sight. 8-2 reinforces this message by unevenly spacing the blocks you step on:
Finally, 8-3’s staircase is the sparest of all, composed of a few, floating blocks. Your nerves are rattled by the time you reach Bowser’s final castle; the game is literally pulling out the ground from underneath you.
In 8-3, running from your most feared enemies will make you ill-prepared for greater challenges ahead. The shortest way is not the best way. You have to stand up and defeat enemies that would be easier to avoid. You struggle at the beginning of the level to save yourself a whole lot of trouble at the end. Your courage pays off.
It’s a mini-character arc for Mario, who develops as a character and a hero. Maybe it’s a life lesson for the player. And it’s masterful, non-verbal storytelling by Nintendo, recited entirely through gameplay rather than words.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is full of distractions. There’s poker, blackjack, and dominos to play. There are animals to hunt and collectibles to find. Many of these activities seem like ways to take your mind off the main story, and you can easily ignore them to focus on the game’s more pressing matters. But one piece of side content, the vaudeville show in Saint Denis, is more than just a distraction, and it’s worth stopping to watch.
Saint Denis is a city in Red Dead 2 modelled after New Orleans. It’s a contrast to the rest of the game’s wilderness, both visually—with its crowded streets and belching smokestacks—and narratively, symbolizing the changing world that’s making the lives of the game’s main ensemble, Dutch’s gang, obsolete. One of the city’s many landmarks is the Theatre Raleur, where protagonist Arthur Morgan can see a series of vaudeville acts over the course of several nights.
For a couple dollars, you can watch a magician catch a bullet in his teeth, a woman dance with a giant snake, a honky-tonk quartet, some can-can dancers, and more. Each act is beautifully animated, with motion-capture some professional performers. The night’s lineup lasts around 15 minutes, and the performers or the content of their acts change each time you go. On occasion the show also features special acts related to stranger missions you might encounter in the world.
The evening’s entertainment is hosted by a charming but self-effacing emcee who calls himself Aldridge T. Abbington. Though the acts themselves are engaging and dramatic, through Abbington’s framing and the personality of the performers, they become something more than a night on the town. In one act, simple magician’s trick becomes a story about far-off lands, fatherhood, and survival.
Red Dead 2’s vaudeville shows address many of the same themes as the game’s story, weaving the shows into the movements of the world outside the theater. They explore how hope and imagination can transform the drudgery and dangers of daily life into something worth savoring.
The stage shows are accurate for vaudeville acts at the time. In 1899, the year the game takes place, vaudeville was reinventing itself around the country as a classy form of entertainment, separate from burlesque shows or circus acts. The acts reached for theatrical legitimacy while still trying to appeal to a broad audience, so they often skirted the line between bawdy and high-minded. This shift changed things a lot for magicians. As author Jim Steinmeyer points out in his history of magic, <a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin="B001O5CYJA" data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1833099462[a|B001O5CYJA[au|5876237249236363128[b|kotaku[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'kotaku – Red Dead Redemption 2’s Vaudeville Shows Are More Than Just An Impressive Diversion‘, ‘B001O5CYJA’);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘kotaku – Red Dead Redemption 2’s Vaudeville Shows Are More Than Just An Impressive Diversion‘, ‘B001O5CYJA’);” data-amazontag=”kotakuamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001O5CYJA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1&tag=kotakuamzn-20&ascsubtag=535fa9a66a7523d1d64771564a1ee98408652ddc”>Hiding the Elephant, vaudeville turned magicians from personalities with long acts into performers with a single hook, like card tricks or escapes. Vaudeville was meant to be at once elegant and refined, while also titillating and affordable enough to bring in someone as rough and tumble as Arthur Morgan.
The game’s vaudeville show features one magician, the escape artist Benjamin Lazarus. In his shows, Lazarus catches bullets in his teeth, vanishes from a locked box to reappear in the audience, and attempts to escape a straightjacket while he has a noose around his neck. Lazarus is a Houdini-esque figure—in fact, some of the specific feats Lazarus brags of, such as demanding the police lock him up so he can escape, are things Houdini was attempting in 1899 in an effort to transform himself from a minor theater performer into a legitimate star. While Houdini eventually became interested in grander magical pursuits than shocking audiences with escapes, Lazarus is singularly focused throwing himself against the boundaries of death. At the same time, he pushes his act away from the purely macabre by framing his feats as being about mortality itself. Lazarus spins stories that are chilling in their specificity:
Death. Madness. It is all around us.A beautiful wife of 14 years old suddenly dies of colic and pleurisy. A wealthy man goes mad and hacks his family to bits. Why? The mind is weak and yet it imprisons us all. Tonics and liquorskeep the spirit buoyant as we all suffer all kinds of maladies in this life. These days you are just as likely to die as a man of 12 years old as you are a man of 42 or more.
This framing connects Lazarus’ feats to the audience’s lives beyond the theater. His stories touch on things that his audience knows well. Arthur (and the player) do, too: Lazarus’ act features bullets and nooses, objects Arthur is all too familiar with. He defies these objects by catching the bullets, by escaping confinement. He uses them to show how, as he says at one point, “I, the great Benjamin Lazarus, will do what no man has ever done and cheat death! As if it were nothing.”
Despite his braggadocio, Lazarus’ tricks aren’t about his personal greatness. They’re about fear and agency, things Arthur and the rest of the audience struggle with daily. This is the promise of magic: familiar objects like cards and coins—or in this case, guns and steamer trunks—become vessels through which the performer tells an impossible story. Death is all around the show’s viewers, and though Lazarus claims to be the only one capable of cheating death, each of his spectators does it too, through money, power, community, or luck. Dutch’s gang cheats death through every complicated heist and ill-fated move to a new home. Dutch’s plans and Lazarus’ tricks both promise a transcendence of the ugly limits of the violence and death of Red Dead 2’s world. They don’t always succeed—Lazarus fails one of his tricks, and many members of Dutch’s gang die—but the effort feels transporting, even when it’s not successful.
Other acts also reinvent daily dangers. Abbington’s vaudeville show features a fire dancer named Antoinette Sanseverino and a snake charmer called The Mysterious Maya. Antoinette spins lit torches and swallows flames. Maya dances seductively with a huge snake or balances a sword on various parts of her body as she twirls. Both performers’ acts are set to winding, sensual music, and they wear revealing outfits. Antoinette, Abbington tells us, is from Colombia, “where they do not wear clothes,” and he says that he “can attest that she does emit fire from almost every orifice in her body.” Maya’s backstory is less clear: In one show Abbington says he met her on a steamer to Morocco, but he also says she’s from Lagras, a small town in the bayou not far from Saint Denis. Despite being more or less local, Maya’s backstory is sold as exotic: Abbington spins tales about her seducing alligators into pots and says, “If only Eve danced so well with her devil, maybe humanity would still live in a garden of innocent grandeur, rather than a pit of depravity and despair.” These stories are condescending and fetishistic, but they seem to be in service of adding some romance and mystery to the everyday dangers the performers flirt with. Fire and swamp predators are pretty familiar to Arthur and the rest of the audience. Getting attacked by an alligator in the swamp is a terrifying annoyance; Maya coming too close to a snake is breathtaking. Placed on a stage, wrapped in sexuality and an international backstory, these encounters become daring and romantic, even desirable.
Women aren’t just sexualized objects in the show, just as they play more complex roles in Red Dead 2’s society. The vaudeville show has a strongwoman, Hortensia, who rips phone books in half and has cement blocks broken over her stomach. She undermines gendered expectations of the time through her tattoos and boots, her grunts and flexing. Women play an awkward role in Dutch’s gang; they’re subservient in many instances, often tending to the daily needs of the men around them. In other moments, such as when Sadie proves herself against the Lemoyne Raiders after a fight with camp cook Pearson, or when Susan goes with Arthur to rescue Tilley, they prove themselves against the odds and against the expectations of their male companions. In the course of Arthur’s daily life, these moments are notable but fairly regular; the gang seems to have an understanding that women are just as capable as men, even if it sometimes causes clashes among gang members. Hortensia’s act both elevates and perverts this position—Hortensia’s strength is a spectacle, and she’s framed as an oddity whom Abbington says he found in Bavaria pulling a cart of manure. It also points out the game world’s gender gap specifically, turning women’s strength into something worth paying for. “What grand entertainment watching a reversal of the sexes,” Abbington says at the end of one of Hortensia’s acts, when she defeats a male challenger from the audience in a fight.
Abbington himself is perhaps the strongest force for the show’s elevation into more than just entertainment. His patter and presentation predisposes the audience to like the acts and to see them as more meaningful than they are. He’s unremarkable-looking, but he dresses in a bright red tuxedo jacket and top hat that would look gaudy but not out of place at a high society party. Abbington sells himself as a worldy rogue, spinning tales of the far-flung origins of his acts. He also shares stories of his lifelong love of the theater, which make him sound earnest, if not exactly professional. He tells us he’s “travelled the world seeking delights and amusements,” but these amusements also have uplifting qualities for the audience’s “emotional, spiritual, and psychological enhancement.” He introduces one evening’s acts with a benevolent explanation:
In an effort to bring this entertainment to even the poorest dreamer of dreams, I have determined the ticket price should be very low, and the show held without a profit to me… For it is blessing enough to bring these gifted artists to you.
Obviously Abbington isn’t actually providing these shows at a fiscal loss, and if he is it’s certainly not on purpose. But his patter frames the show as a meaningful experience earned through sacrifice for which the audience should feel grateful. This patina of sacrificing for others doesn’t feel all that different than gang leader Dutch’s air of put-upon dedication to his people. In Red Dead 2’s opening scenes, when Dutch praises the people the gang has lost, he says, “Now, if I could throw myself on the ground in their stead, I’d do it gladly.” It’s the same flair with which he offers himself up to the Pinkertons when they first come for the gang outside of Valentine. It’s a trick that predisposes his listeners to like him.
Abbington, like Dutch, needs the audience’s sympathy because he doesn’t have all that much to offer. Vaudeville isn’t high theater, and some of his acts don’t go well. To cover this up, he dresses the acts up in dreams and hope; he emphasizes their importance over what the audience might wish they were. He tells us “entertainment is a gift that will see you through the winter better than any packed larder or root cellar full of canned goods.” It’s the same as Dutch trying to feed the gang with plans, faith, and promises of a safe place somewhere out there in the wide world, even as things go increasingly wrong. “I’m nothing but a seeker,” Dutch explains himself at one point, and he constantly tries to recast the gang’s predicament as something more than the natural consequences for their crimes. At the end of the day, both Abbington and Dutch’s words are just showman’s flair to obscure reality, but they both dress up the mundane as something more transcendent.
Despite the liveliness and grandiosity with which Abbington introduces his shows, he bookends each night with a dark note. He tends to swerve dramatically into reminding the audience of their own mortality. “Each day is one less until our last, distraction is our greatest joy,” he says at one point. He ends another show by saying of the evening’s entertainments, “These are the bright spots in our lives, which often terminate without sense or meaning. We are deluded into assuming it was in any way interesting.” Yet another ends with him reminding us, “We flounder through the morass of humanity, with only bright moments like these before it all goes dim, and snuffs out in silence.”
The offhand aplomb with which these reminders are delivered seems to mock, or at least downplay, mortality. The contradiction between the seriousness and mundanity of death is reflected in Arthur’s life outside of the theater. A lot of people die in Red Dead 2, at Arthur’s hand or the hands of the game’s enemies. Arthur himself is an agent of life’s tendency to “terminate without sense or meaning,” as Abbington tells it. At any moment Arthur can massacre the occupants of a bank, train, or entire town. There are moments of levity, too. There are parties, romantic dates, fun drunken nights. The game’s grittiness and clunky survival mechanics emphasize these moments as bright spots against a dark backdrop. Abbington’s monologues, along with the vaudeville show’s acts, follow the same rhythm as Red Dead 2 itself: joy swerving into despair, then back again.
At one point in the game, Arthur can go on a date to the theater with Mary after helping her deal with her father’s gambling debts. The date is, as Abbington promises, a bright spot against an otherwise dark day, made all the more precious by Arthur and Mary’s awareness that their relationship is impossible. While watching The Mysterious Maya swirl around her snake, Arthur asks Mary, “Can you imagine doing that every day?” Mary replies, “I can’t think of anything worse.”
Maya’s act, like all the acts, are things Arthur can imagine doing every day, because he and his companions live them. He lives Benjamin Lazarus’ death-defying feats. He lives Maya and Antoinette’s flirtations with danger. He witnesses Hortensia’s strength.
And yet, with a bit of polish from Abbington and a spiffy costume, the vaudeville show makes life’s grim reality a thing of whimsy and surprise, far more successfully than Dutch ever manages to.
Lucy’s relationship to Schroeder was unfulfilling. She craved emotional validation from the one character who was least equipped to provide it. It was both humorous and sad—a contradictory message that Charles Schulz’s Peanuts conveyed so well.
This piece originally appeared 5/2/18.
Lucy debuted as a toddler in 1952. Schulz declined to reprint these early strips for many years, though he relented before his death. Fantagraphics published all of them as part of its The Complete Peanuts anthology in 2004.
Many of these early Lucy strips concerned the self-centered nature of toddlers. Toddlers, as a matter of mental development, don’t place the needs and wants of others over their own. Their selfishness isn’t deliberate or malicious; it’s simply who they are. Thus, the humor of these toddler strips stemmed from attaching adult motivations to Lucy’s babyish actions.
Over the next two years, Schulz retconned Lucy to be the same age as her counterparts, though she kept her manipulative charm. But without her childish naïveté, her behavior was no longer cute. Lucy’s peers reacted to her boldness with a mixture of surprise and disgust.
Lucy’s behavior often read as malicious, especially since her younger brother Linus was wiser and more generous than she was. Physically, she had grown, but emotionally, she was stunted. She still craved attention and immediate gratification, and she went about fulfilling these cravings through bullying and disingenuousness.
Lucy developed a crush on Schroeder in May 1953, at the beginning of her post-toddler phase. Unlike her father, who doted upon her, or Linus, who looked up to her in spite of her behavior, Schroeder ignored Lucy entirely. So Lucy imposed herself upon him. She climbed on top of his piano and stared him in the face until she broke his focus.
A 1955 strip revisited the same themes. Again, Lucy was fascinated by Schroeder’s lack of acknowledgement and felt compelled to intrude upon his space. Everyone else in her social orbit—even Violet and Patty—accommodated or folded to her tantrums. Schroeder didn’t, and that’s exactly what Lucy liked about him.
Schroeder was one of Schulz’s least developed characters, despite his long tenure with the strip. Beethoven and classical music consumed him, taking precedence over his real life friends. This hindered his character development; when the punchline to every Schroeder strip was “Beethoven,” there was little room for Schulz to develop the character’s inner life.
Over time, as Snoopy rose in prominence and Linus and Sally got older Schroeder became increasingly peripheral to the strip’s world. Meanwhile, Peanuts evolved to be less reliant on the characters’ quirks and more reliant on their chemistry with one another. Through this, Schroeder remained mostly one-dimensional. Lucy interacted with him more than any other character, even though he ignored her. She was the only person who challenged him, albeit for selfish reasons, to do something other than obsess over Beethoven.
Lucy went about this in different ways. Sometimes she would distract him from his music by presenting herself as a more entertaining alternative. This invariably failed. Other times, she denigrated Beethoven’s importance and minimized Schroeder’s piano playing. This only caused him to dig his heels in deeper.
Lucy would also strategize in the other direction: She’d take an interest in Beethoven by reading up on him and making token, misplaced gestures of support. She’d inform the neighborhood about Beethoven’s birthday, for example, but mistakenly tell everyone his name was Karl instead of Ludwig. Finally, when she had exhausted all options, Lucy would physically destroy her competition, but that didn’t work either. The things she destroyed were symbols of Schroeder’s interests, not his actual interests, and he had plenty of them.
Despite her relentlessness, Lucy was never going to find the ‘real’ Schroeder beneath his artist persona because, from all indications, Schroeder never developed an identity beyond that persona. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: when it came to Schroeder, there was no “there” there.
And thus, Lucy’s fascination with Schroeder became the most interesting thing about him. He could have easily gone the way of Shermy and disappeared from the strip entirely, had Lucy not used him as a sounding board for her own neuroses and insecurities. Many times, Schroeder wouldn’t even speak, or he would sneak out of the room and leave Lucy talking to herself. Their strips became less about Lucy wooing Schroeder and more about Lucy exploring her own emotional landscape.
Over the years, the reader empathized less with Schroeder and more with Lucy, even though she was the initial aggressor in this dysfunctional dynamic. At least she had some skin in the game—she opened herself to rejection every time she leaned on Schroeder’s piano. Schroeder was never open, and at times, he even seemed to take pleasure in his cruel reactions to her flirtations.
By 1966, Lucy’s relationship with Schroeder bordered on masochistic. She persisted in her efforts to win him over, despite his indifference. During a multi-day, extended storyline during which Lucy and Linus moved away, Schroeder realized he missed her. He couldn’t play his piano without her there. Like Charlie Brown in the storyline, the reader is irritated at Schroeder for his prior callousness and emotional constipation.
The final line of the above strip is an allusion to the play Pygmalion and its subsequent musical adaption My Fair Lady. In both the play and the musical, an emotionally abusive linguistics professor, Henry Higgins, takes an unrefined flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, under his tutelage. By the end of the play, a newly empowered Eliza declares to Higgins, “I know I’m a common ignorant girl, and you a book-learned gentleman; but I’m not dirt under your feet.”
By casting Schroeder in the role of Higgins, Schulz offers the same cutting critique. Schroeder took Lucy for granted and felt his intellect could absolve him of emotional attachment and wrongdoing. It didn’t, but even after experiencing heartbreak, Schroeder learned nothing. When Lucy moved back home at the end of the storyline, she resumed her place at the foot of his piano. Schroeder didn’t even acknowledge her until, once again, she intruded on his space.
There was one notable occasion, in 1972, when Lucy found her dignity. The Peanuts gang was playing baseball, and Lucy was next up at bat. Schroeder insulted her by proposing what he considered an impossible bet: He had to kiss her at home plate if she hit a home run. Lo and behold, she did. Schroeder looked devastated. Lucy floated on air as she rounded the bases.
Lucy saw Schroeder waiting at home plate, lips puckered and eyes closed, clearly hating every moment. She realized that kissing him would be humiliating for her. So she walked right past him instead of giving everyone a show to gawk at or giving Schroeder the opportunity to “BLEAH!” and shame her.
The final line, where Lucy claimed her act as a triumph of women’s liberation, is humorous in its hyperbole. But for Lucy, this was a significant moment of victory and personal growth. For so many years, Lucy idealized a life of domestic bliss with Schroeder. Finally, she realized that it degraded her to cajole a reluctant participant. She deserved an equal partner—far more than than the sort of Higgins/Eliza dynamic that Schroeder would provide. The only way she could win, counterintuitively, was by walking away.
Lucy evolved. Once, she was an entitled child who felt that the world owed her something. She couldn’t handle rejection and settled for negative attention. Eventually, however, she found the strength to want better for herself.
Schulz rarely gave his characters everything they wanted. But the world of Peanuts was never completely hopeless. There were always small victories and glimmers of hope scattered amongst the setbacks.