When I think of a game I particularly love, I often find myself thinking of a specific moment. I doubt I’m alone in this. I did a very quick poll in the office and a colleague told me that when he thinks of System Shock 2, what he’s really thinking of is the experience of crouching in a doorway worrying about the best means to tackle what lies beyond, and I remember the developer Dan Marshall once telling me that Half-Life 2 often exists in his mind purely as that breathless race across the rooftops when the scary vans arrive at the apartment building you’re holed up in early on.
I’ve been thinking about this because over the last few nights I’ve been reading The Book of Magic: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment. The book is published under the Penguin Classics imprint, but it’s something I had no idea that Penguin Classics did. It’s an anthology: excerpts regarding magic taken from a variety of classic texts and all laid snugly together. Here’s Cicero on Divination. A few pages later and here’s Galen testing out an amulet that might cure epilepsy.
I have read anthologies before. We all have! We’ve read story collections, journalism collections, poetry collections and all that jazz. But this book has sort of stopped me for a second. It’s made me realise that, stupid as this sounds, I didn’t realise you could do this sort of thing to the classics. I didn’t realise that you could take a page here, a chapter there, and put it all together and create something so thematically rich and exciting. Harmonious, certainly, but also jarring and surprising, shocking in the juxtapositions and the revelations of underlying resonance between two distant points.