Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Gamers have waged an ages-long battle against public perception that video games are detrimental to the world’s youth: They’re time wasters that promote anti-social habits and glorify violence. Gamers respond to that pressure in a variety of ways, with some lashing out against their critics. That was true of several webcomics in the mid-2000s, which unleashed their invective anger on popular political targets. “Don’t f*** with us,” said one popular webcomic. Others reacted by calmly suggesting aspects that could be improved in gaming. The crew behind the Extra Credits series, for example, often examines positive aspects of gaming that can help elevate the form from its sometimes adolescent levels.
And then there’s Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time. If I were to divine a thesis from its comics, it would be “video games are good.”
Gorman’s style is whimsical, resembling the sort of illustrations you’d find in the pages of a children’s storybook. Its creamy color palette imparts an almost dreamlike state — even when scenes set in darkness are rendered in dark browns or blues. The drawings crackle with the spirit of childlike wonder, with characters from the NES and SNES eras resembling cuddly imaginary friends.
Magical Game Time is also not necessarily a gag strip. Many times, characters become deeply reflective; they think about their larger place in the world, their relationships with their parents or the girl they’re going on an adventure with. This very zen atmosphere really sets Magical Game Time apart from many video game webcomics, where loud haranguing, random twists, insider gags or violence is the punchline. Make no mistake, though, this webcomic can be funny too … but when it is, it’s always good-natured.
Gorman will throw in some animation: lines slashing across the panel during a downpour, the tiny flickers of light dancing about in a cave. The animation is included mainly to evoke a mood. Sometimes, it forces you to contemplate the serene stillness of the static panels. Characters stare out the window of a moving train, and thin slivers of light flash across their faces. Other times, it evokes sound. You can almost hear the steady beat of raindrops or the wheels meeting the road without aid of onomatopoeia.
With each strip, Gorman’s philosophy is made clear: Video games are the gateway to imagination, one that’s fertile and creative. He constructs worlds based on images from video games that very much resemble the elaborate fantasies constructed by Little Nemo‘s Winsor McCay. It’s a world of sea monsters and alien creatures and food that falls from the sky. Children don costumes and imagine themselves as robot heroes and knights. To Gorman, video games aren’t a scary thing; they’re his generation’s version of a storybook, only one where he can more easily inhabit the role of the title character.
To illustrate the importance that video games played in his life, Gorman includes a strip where he waxes rhapsodically about Final Fantasy VII. He was once a painfully shy kid, but when he played Final Fantasy, he slowly learned the value of being around other people. Step by step, he began to come out of his shell. He started to open up to his classmates, he learned to talk to girls. Can all this be attributed to playing video games? Well, Gorman seems to think so, and I have no reason to doubt him.