Friday, March 29, 2013

"Hey Ash, Whatcha' Playin'?" - A Light Freudian Analysis

For the uninitiated, "Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?" or HAWP (found at is a web series focused on a family of video game enthusiasts who alternate between deep critical analysis and dadaist surrealism.

Produced by Ashly Burch, Anthony Burch, Ashley Davis, and Justin Yngelmo, the core formula of every episode is a executed dialectic between the Burch siblings, with occasional guest appearances by their father (colloquially referred to as Papa Burch), Davis, and other peers.

I discovered HAWP through a friend/honorary brother, who shared with me the following clip:

People are really into their video games.

From that point, I was utterly hooked. The series has a huge cult following in the gaming community, with everyone involved enjoying a moderate celebrity status. After watching two seasons in a single sitting (such is the norm of most YouTubers, I hope) while studying a lot of psychoanalysis in graduate school, I realized that HAWP's appeal derives from a rather famous and recognizable theory in our general epistemology:

"Hey Ash, Whatcha' Playin'?" is straight up Sigmund Freud.

"Hey Ash, Whatcha' Playin'?" All me. -Siggy

I'm not talking about the Freud you're probably familiar with, the one that's popularized in the media as extremely sex-obsessed, where even the cigar in that photo has "implications." What emerges more ostensibly about of HAWP is Freud's basic theory of the structure of the human psyche, which goes a little something like this. (Wikipedia's description may also help here.)

Review of the Freudian Human Psyche Theory

The human psyche comprises of three distinct yet deeply embedded and interrelated categories:

Id - When I was in college, my professor compared the id to "pure Jim Morrison from The Doors." I like to think of a toddler in their "terrible twos" (as would Freud, for that matter). 

Think about all of your most primal instincts, which actually include many of the Seven Cardinal Sits - lust, hunger, greed, wrath, sloth, etc. The id is the locus of all of those motivations, which have the potential for utmost pleasure but also terrible violence and destruction.


Ego - This word actually means "I" in Latin, and with good reason. This is the space that is considered the most grounded in "reality," where the libidinous, immediate instincts of the id are curbed in order to produce long-term gain. 

In plainer terms, this is the part of our minds where logic, deduction, negotiation, and reason exist - the place where we think, and it's the part of us that we recognize the most as ourselves, hence "ego."


Superego - Say you're hungry and you want to eat a steak. For many people, there's a part of their brain that tells them they should not do that because the steak has too many calories or cholesterol, or that it's made from an animal, or that's it's not environmental, or (it happens) they simply do not deserve the steak. We've all been there, but why do we think this way?

Some people call it "conscience," Freud tends to describe is the "internalization of social norms," and other scholars after him have different amalgamations of that core concept. The superego is that voice in your mind that regulates your decision making much like a parent would, and if you don't listen to it, you will feel terrible.


What Does This Have to do with HAWP?

The three most repertory characters in HAWP fit quite nicely into these three categories. 

Ashly is Id

Ashly Burch's persona in the show is usually impulsive, infantile, pleasure seeking, and destructive to her brother. Her logic usually makes no sense, yet she also manages to feign innocence in her actions. This is exactly what defines the realm of the id. 

Here's the most exemplary video of Ashly's libidinous demeanor. Without her brother to focus and exact abuse upon, her emotions are completely unbridled:

I lament this image, truly I do.

Anthony is Ego

Poor, poor Anthony. He's obviously the "straight man" in the series, guided by a strong, intellectualized passion for gaming as well as a fixation on sense. He does usually fall apart from the immense pressures around him, but generally he exists to keep Ashly in check while also tolerating her relentless abuse.

My favorite Anthony episode is his striking critique of Katamari Damacy, one of the weirdest yet alluring games ever created. 

Papa Burch is Superego

In early versions of the series, Papa Burch is a simple authoritarian father who oversees, mocks, and even screams his children for their obsession with games. (See the episode where Ashly was told to jump off their roof.) He prefers reading mystery novels and smoking cigars on his porch to whatever insanity his children are up to.

Over time, he too immersed into their gaming world, but he never compromises his own interests and instinct. His actions and words are never challenged, however corrupt and possibly insane he might be. Notice how Anthony never raises his voice while his father makes silly decisions while playing games:

HAWP could stand for "Hey, Ash, Whatcha Psyche?" (Okay, that's dumb, sorry.)

Together, they form a pretty complete picture of the human psyche apropos of gaming. Moreover, people tend to see a lot of parallels between Papa Burch and Ashly Burch, and rightly so. Freud claims that the id and the superego are actually deeply connected - both seemingly immutable, relentless forces that regulate the before of the ego.

Ultimately, we sympathize with Anthony's plight to raise the discourse on gaming to a sophisticated level, but at the same time a part of us delights in his misery and torment. Those parts of us are better exemplified in the other two, who seek fun and power, sometimes at the same time.

Perhaps we're all a little bit of the three when we indulge in things as seemingly frivolous as games. For some, they are just bits of code and hardware, but to others (including myself) they are rich experiences that engage all aspects of the mind.

Anyhoo, thank you for reading this post if you even got this far. Have a good day.

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