I truly wonder what Wang Xizhi (王羲之, pinyin: Wáng Xīzhī, 303–361 C.E.) would have said if he knew that one day someone will come up with the insane idea of merging the impressions of a virtual world with one of the most ancient arts in the world. Taking his uncanny character into consideration, I wager he would love it.
Let us assume that the average person’s image of computer games does not go much further than that of mindless shooting in an abandoned space base accompanied by highly annoying cyber-toned “music”. But then that same average person has not mined the realms of computer games. Thus, the reader may be surprised to learn that some games can be superior to a really good movie. Even though both television and cinema can deliver a vast spectrum of thrills and emotions, they are still based on extreme passive interaction. How often, when you watch a movie or even read a book, do you involuntarily impersonate your favourite character or imagine yourself in a different place? A well-designed computer game can give you a chance to take part and decide upon what is about to happen. In effect, the immersion can be so intense, that it leaves you hovering somewhere between dimensions, completely detached from reality.
My journey with the Elder Scrolls Saga by Bethesda Game Studios started a long time ago, back in the good old days of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and then The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. They were both spectacular games indeed, but when I discovered Skyrim, my mind exploded. The euphoric feeling that haunts me when I play it is beyond epic. The created world, the freedom of choice of one’s path, the countless possibilities of role playing, the mountain peaks wrapped in clouds, the atmosphere of unsolved mystery, the dark intimidating nights, and so on, are simply overwhelming, especially when one experiences it in 3D vision.
While playing, I realised how closely Skyrim is related to calligraphy. It is a world of its own defined by Yin (陰, yīn) and Yang (陽, yang). The way in which one enjoys and explores it is aligned with one’s personality and nature. The achievements artistically are outstanding, and the game can be appreciated on many levels, from music through the rich content to the stunning graphics. One is plunged into a fantasy journey where dragons freely roam the skies. Additionally, the community of players writes many additional computer programmes, so called MODs (i.e. “game modifications”), that further enhance the world of Skyrim, elevating if from “Wow!” to “O.M.G.!!”.
Recently I have been developing the idea of creating a movie that would merge the screenshots from “Skyrim” with amazing music by Jeremy Soule and including the mesmerising cover of the song “Dragonborn Comes” performed by Malukah, interweaving her angaelic voice and my humble calligraphy. This movie is the result of way over 300 hours spent playing the game, 3000 saved games, nearly 1000 screenshots, 20 hours of writing calligraphy, 170 large sheets of paper, over half a litre of ink, extended language consultations with the Beyond Calligraphy Japanese and Chinese editor Yuki Anada (穴田由季, あなだ ゆき), who gave me many brilliant ideas and alternatives to the phrase translations, and a few hours of movie and music editing. The result: enormous fun!
The idea behind my calligraphy art was to combine the moments that I experienced in playing the game and the places visited which I found most memorable, with the unstoppable energy and power of Far Eastern calligraphy. Art is extremely personal, and each of you will react to what you are about to see in the movie differently. I truly hope you will enjoy traveling in time and space, thorough the magical worlds of Skyrim and ink, as much as I do.
This is likely the first movie that merges such extremes, a pixel driven virtual world with a soul-thread sewn ancient art, but I assure you that is only the beginning. For the majority of Westerners, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy is often obscure, a subject not understood nor compelling to explore. This is mainly due to a lack of well written information in English, but also due the intertwined barriers of language and culture. The aim of Beyond Calligraphy is to change that, to make calligraphy appear to be less intimidating or puzzling and more understandable, to be welcoming and accessible. After all, it is an art, and similar to the screenshots that I have included in the film, it, can be appreciated purely in the realm of the aesthetic alongside the myriad of ways an individual brings him or herself to it, as viewer or practitioner.
The total of 14 calligraphy works included in the film were written in the five major scripts, from oracle bone (甲骨文, こうこつぶん, kōkotsbun) to semi-cursive (行書, ぎょうしょ, gyōsho). Enjoy and stay tuned for more movies from this series.
I would like to thank the entire Bethesda Team for a marvellous game, Jeremy Soule for his amazing music, Malukah for her enchanting cover of the “Dragonborn Comes” and for replying to my FB message despite her busy schedule, and last but not least, all the MOD creators for making the game even more addictive.
“Sky above, voice within.”
Arngeir, Master of the Way of the Voice.