We use the term “ivory tower” quite a bit in day-to-day English. And we don’t usually use it positively. The term, in modern usage, refers to a place where people gather, disconnected from reality, to wax philosophical and pseudo-intellectually wank themselves. Not exactly a pretty picture.
And yet, the term itself used to have a positive meaning. It dates back to the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, in which the titular king uses the term to describe the shapely neck of his beloved. One assumes her skin was white, her neck, long. One also assumes she was flattered, although the rest of the verse, “thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon,” casts some doubt on Solomon’s lyricism.
From there the phrase was turned, by the 19th-century French poet Charles-Augustin Saint-Beuve, to its modern meaning, a tower of ivory where smart people wank:
Hugo, strong partisan … fought in armour,
And held high his banner in the middle of the tumult;
He still holds it; and Vigny, more discreet,
As if in his ivory tower, retired before noon.
He’s basically praising the strength of will of these fellows who stand fast to their ideals in the face of conflict. Which, in itself, is a fine way to be. Don’t we generally honor folks with strong beliefs and pure ideals who hold fast to their beliefs, in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Perhaps we do, but there’s another fine saying that upsets this apple cart, slapping the ivory tower in the face with a cold, wet fish: “Go along to get along.”
If you’re an ordinary guy, going along to get along, compromising, in other words, the thought of some selfish bastard sitting up in a tower made of ivory, refusing to go along, and, consequently, not getting along, might be pretty galling. “Why does this wank get to sit up in that ivory tower not getting along?” You might ask yourself. “What a jerk.” And so forth. And so it is with the perennial intellectual vs. ordinary guy debate.
At The Escapist, we’re definitely in the ivory tower camp. Because, quite honestly, we’re pseudo-intellectual wanks. We’re quite OK with this. We refer back to Solomon, and picture ourselves as alabaster-skinned lovers of kings … or … queens. But occasionally, even up here at the tippy top of the tower, a discordant note reaches our ears, or a crack appears in the tower’s façade. So sometimes, even we must admit defeat and clamber down to go along and get along. And so it is with this week’s issue of The Escapist.
For 136 weeks we’ve been bringing you our enlightened view on games and media, each week tackling a different angle, casting the light through the prism in a slightly new way, attempting to capture the image as a whole. And yet sometimes we miss something. I know, it’s hard for us to believe as well.
This week, for Issue 137, “The Escapist Re-Visited,” we’re bringing you five articles covering topics from five issues past, each attempting to cement over a crack in the ivory tower we call home. Colin Rowsell revisits educational gaming with his interview of the director of New Zealand’s Manukau Institute of Technology, who is, coincidentally, his mother; Jared Newman tackles the topic of advertising in games with a look at advergames that aren’t trying to sell a product, but rather the opposite; Rob Hearn paints a picture of visual storytelling, weaving a tale about LucasArts’ Monkey Island games; Ray Huling explores the mythology of Robert E. Howard’s Conan; and our very own new guy, Jordan Deam shares his tale of “an everyday gamer” fleshing out that topic with a story from within the ivory tower itself. Enjoy!