It’s a common, fun thought experiment to imagine how you might go about explaining a television or a phone to a medieval peasant. The prospect is challenging, but feels ultimately achievable through the fundamental commonality of the human experience. The thought of explaining “the pending release of a Nicolas Cage film that is legally distinct from the PC game Five Nights At Freddy’s, but which is also 100% an adaptation of said game”, however, makes me want to burst into tears. There are just so many layers of pop culture context accreted in that concept, so much information that is meaningless without a full understanding of the rest, that I just can’t think where to begin.
But you know what? Let’s try. You be the peasant: I’m going to give this my best shot.
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First up, we’ll pretend you speak modern english. But other than that, you’re coming in cold.
It’s 1323 AD. You’re scrubbing the guts off a cabbage, after a wounded brigand crawled into your meagre field to die, just before dawn. Suddenly there is a blinding light, which you may well assume is Christ, and you have been transported to a featureless concrete room. I am standing there, with an expression of profound apology on my face, and this is what I say to you:
Look, I’m really sorry about this. You will not die here. You will be returned home, as soon as you have grasped the truth of what I am about to tell you. It is vital, then, that you pay close attention to everything I say.
You have been taken to a time many years ahead of your own. In this time, we have special pieces of glass, which we can command to show us dreams, whenever we please. Some dreams are the same every time, and are called movies. Some, you can change the outcome of, by controlling them with movements of your hands. These are called games. Both types of dreams are made by people.
There is a popular game. In it, you dream you are a man who must guard a hall for five nights. Beasts creep around the hall each night, trying to devour you. They are statues, which have become alive, and they have metal bones inside them. The main beast is a bear named Frederick, and the hall is named after him.
If you look upon Frederick or any of his beasts, they cannot do harm to you. But if one approaches you unseen, it will scream most loudly, and you will die in the dream. People experience this dream, over and over again, for pleasure. It is extremely popular with children.
This dream is so popular, that some people wanted to make a version of it that you could not control – a movie. They knew that if they could make this version of the dream, a lot of people would give them gold for it. But making a dream of any kind is very complex. Although they keep trying, the people have not been able to make it yet.
But then some other people, who had made many movies before, saw that many people wanted to experience this dream, that the first group of people intended to make. However, the pope forbids us from making dreams called by the same names as any which have already been made by others. Yes, the pope. That’s right, In Holy Rome. Indeed. The very same.
Now, you can make a dream which is exactly the same as someone else’s, you understand – so long as it has a different name, and things in it look very slightly different. And so, the dream made by the second group of people is still about a man who must avoid being savaged by beasts in a hall at night. But in this dream, the captain of the beasts is named William. He is some manner of stoat, and the hall is named in his honour. There is also a most frightening ostrich, which is a great bird from a distant land.
What makes this dream most exciting to people, is that the man who must guard the hall is well known to many. He is called Nicolas, and he is in many dreams. He is always different people, and yet it is always Nicolas. He is beloved for the way that he shouts and screams and laughs. Some people think he is good at being in dreams. Others think he is dreadful at it, but they still talk about Nicolas very often, and seek out the dreams which feature him.
Anyway. Next month, on February 12th, people will be able to summon The Dream Of Nicolas And The Hall Of William The Beast to their pieces of glass. Usually, they would go to a great room and watch the dream together on a huge glass. But there is a terrible plague, and the pope forbids us from meeting outside of our homes because of it.
What’s that, friend? No, I cannot say why all of this is so important, only that it is.
Very well – yes, you may return to your home now. I need a lie down, to be honest. But here: before you go, please take this special piece of glass, which has been prepared to show you the Second Dream Of The Age Of Empires. And that will fuck you right up.