Cowboys and Batman

13 December 2009

When I was reading Brandon‘s round up of the year’s games at Boing Boing, I stumbled upon this fantastic quotation about one player’s experience of Scribblenauts:

For example, a friend at work solves most problems with a jetpack and a lasso, instead of a grappling gun. In his heart he’s a cowboy, and in mine I’m Batman. That the game lets both of us express that is awesome.

comment by ‘Periphera’

I’ve already linked to this in my delicious stream, but the more I think about this, the more I love it.

I loved that the way players approach problems in the game is tied to their own imaginations – I know that my solutions in that game are.

But as I thought on it, I loved the delineation of the world – into people who are Batman, and people who are cowboys.

Batman’s a toolsmith; not only does he rely on his tools (as will as prowess) to solve problems, but he manufactures new ones to fit the task. His toolkit becomes more diverse as the problems he solves do, and he’ll use any and all available technology to influence what he builds. So he’s one kind of hacker, if you like: he’ll glue anything and everything together, pick up tiny fragments of techniques, languages, platforms, patterns, and bodge them together. (Toolsmithery is a practice and metaphor I’m very fond of for hacking/coding – the first part of building anything is building the tools you need. My dad’s a model engineer, and has spent as much time building tools as building a steam engine, I reckon).

The cowboy is more pragmatic. He has one tool – a lasso, or a gun, or perhaps just a prairie stare – and he uses that to solve all problems. He’s still using wit and ingenuity, but channeled through the single tool that he’s master of. Again, another kind of hacker: one favoured tool that they’re master of, and can be applied to all problems; the best of the bash/Perl hackers I’ve met are much like this.

I talked to Webb in the pub on Friday about this. He instantly asserted that he’s a cowboy. That fits. I’m pretty sure I’m a Batman.

And now I have another lens to view the world through.

3 comments on this entry.

  • Matt | 13 Dec 2009

    I had a phase of asking people “Who or Bond”, then quickly “Which Who or which Bond?”

    Bond is a batman who gets given his tools, and then subverts them (Batman is Q & Bond?)

    The Doctor (classic version, and to an extent the RTD versions) solved problems by changing the frame, or working with the environment against the enemy (he was always re-wiring a radio telescope, or a reactor) – a cosmic ray mears.

  • Matt Webb | 14 Dec 2009

    I think another characteristic of the cowboy (at least as I understand it, and why I responded as I did) is that mostly he doesn’t act. The world runs as it runs, and interventions are rare, chosen carefully, and involve tapping the machine in just the right place with – yes – the same tool every time.

  • Tom | 15 Dec 2009

    Ah, yes – sorry, I’d forgotten that. That’s a very important part, you’re right, and I think overlaps with Jones’ statement – the Doctor is all about tapping the machine in the right place; Bond works his way through his toolkit until something works.