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January 14, 2013

No, No, No

In the past few weeks, various people have been linking to this page, which contains an animated startup screen for a hypothetical 16-bit video game based on Calvin and Hobbes. In case it goes away, here's a capture of it:

Untitled
People seem to love this idea. And who wouldn't? It's Calvin and Hobbes, which for many people (including me) is and forever will be the greatest comic strip of all time, the creator who walked away at his peak, the Sunday-funnies-equivalent of quarterbacking your team to a Super Bowl and then retiring on the spot. Add in the retro 16-bit look and it's just overflowing with cuteness.

But what would the actual game play be for a Calvin and Hobbes game? What would you as the player do in the game? Take a look at Wikipedia's list of video game genres and ask yourself if even one of them would lend itself to a Calvin and Hobbes game that would be anything other than terrible?

I'll save you the trouble: no, there does not exist a video game genre that would make for a decent -- even halfway-decent -- Calvin and Hobbes game.

Partly this is because Bill Watterson was so protective of his creation, so consistently unwilling to ever commercialize his characters in any way beyond the strip itself. But partly it's because the joy we derive from Calvin and Hobbes comes from interactions at which computers are -- currently, at least, and for the foreseeable future -- terrible. His best friend and his parents make wry observations about his actions that are humorous and provide insight into human nature. Computers aren't wry; they aren't humorous; and they certainly don't understand human nature.

Don't misunderstand me; this isn't some sort of "computers are mindless automatons and ever shall be" rant. Far from it. I'm convinced there's no fundamental difference between biological and electronic computing, and I'm convinced that computers will eventually reach human levels of intelligence, and possibly beyond -- hopefully in my lifetime. But we're not even close yet. That means that a Calvin and Hobbes video game would necessarily be based on existing game design paradigms, which require very little or no machine intelligence to implement.

I can imagine what would happen if a video game company got its hands on Calvin and Hobbes. We'd have a Calvin-vs-Susie snowball fight artillery game, a Spaceman Spiff shooter game, a seek-and-find game with Calvin's mutant snowmen...

I need to go take a shower now.