My first encounter with the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky was when I read The Metabarons, a comic book series that describes a lineage of superhuman warriors, the titular Metabarons. The book is lavishly illustrated by the Argentinian artist Juan Giminez, who, to his credit, manages to keep up with the maddening pace of Jodorowsky’s ideas as they escalate from weird to absolutely fucking insane within a matter of issues. This is one of my favorite comic books and a must-read for anyone who appreciates the artform.
Later, my friend and fellow independent game developer, Jonatan “cactus” Söderström, introduced me to El Topo and Holy Mountain, the two films for which Jodorowsky is probably best known, and cited them as inspirations for his mind-bending games. At this point I started to wonder what Jodorowsky thought of video games himself. Surely, someone with a mind toward the violent, the surreal, and the mystical would appreciate the possibilities of playing games.
A few interviews on the web revealed that Jodorowsky was, indeed, aware of video games and had some interest in them (apparently there was even the possibility of a Metabarons video game), but it wasn’t until I picked up the first trade paperback of The Technopriests that I realized how keenly aware he actually was. In fact, The Technopriests is very much directed toward the games industry, although in the comic it’s called the Technoguild, having been ported over to the unique sci-fi/fantasy world in which The Metabarons takes place.
(Note: the rest of this post contains spoilers.)
In The Technopriests, the mutant Albino wants to become a game creator for the Technoguild, to make “fabulous adventures in virtual worlds”. His mother admonishes him, ”Ha! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to break into that industry? Millions of young people want to be game creators — but how many actually succeed?” However, with some persistence, Albino convinces his mother to send him to a Technopriest training school.
Albino is a gifted game creator, but soon finds out the harsh reality of the Technoguild - although they have access to the best equipment, they are corrupt power-mongers who are more interested in selling games than making them. In the words of Albino, “I want to be taken away from this penitentiary school and assigned to manufacturing games! I’m not a salesman, I’m a creator!” Later, he finds himself on the Games Planet, the heart of the Technoguild, where he is introduced to the “Fifty Morons”, who are, according to his coaches, “a representative sample of our public, like the lambda consumers, with their neuroses and cherished complexes, who wish to be entertained, without ever rising above their feeble mental capacity. […] A perfect cross-section of average consumers, drawn from all planetary systems, who will contribute their greed to your games. Any game which doesn’t please them will have to be remade, until they consent to enter your creations, which will be their creations more than your own, for they will be conceived specifically for their limited souls”.
After reading this, it’s obvious that Jodorowsky has had some repulsive personal experience with the games industry (perhaps this is why we never saw a Metabarons video game?). His feelings about games themselves, however, are much more hopeful. Tinigrifi, Albino’s pet and best friend, tells him, “If the Fifty Morons are bothering you, just open their minds!”
Albino then proceeds to create what must be Jodorowsky’s vision for a great video game: “Overflowing the connection, I sent them all the wisdom, all the love, all the new and unknown splendors which were now theirs to attain. I transformed those limited individuals — those living organisms who didn’t know how they lived, why they lived, or where they were going — into real beings. Thus I created my first game, just as I had envisioned it, without the constraints of mediocrity. Sick of the endless battles, I conceived telepathic heroes who rode on wise insects as they embarked on a quest for the source of eternal life, flying over a sea of deadly blood. After they overcame their worst enemy - themselves - they could awaken their seven sacred nerve centers and discover the miraculous energy that flowed from their hearts. The fifty former morons played with great enthusiasm, opening the seven shining flowers within their own bodies. They all loved it! That night, deliciously spent, I slept like a paleo-log. An initial release of eight hundred million copies of my game would soon transform the minds of children across all planetary systems.”
Jodorowsky must have felt a great disconnect between the business of games and the art of game creation, the latter which I am now certain he holds in high regard. This comic book came out in 2004, which makes it seem prescient in light of the burgeoning indie games scene. Why have I never heard of this before? I’d be very curious to know what Jodorowsky thinks of real-life Technopriests like cactus, who, in my opinion, are making the kinds of games that he could only describe in comic books back then.
(Note: I’d like to thank Comics Factory in Pasadena, California for recommending The Technopriests to me. It was also where I bought The Metabarons way back when. Support your local comic book stores!)