The Meaning of the Word

The Meaning of the Word

The Titanfall beta is over now, but I hope you had some time to play it while it was available. It’s quite good and spending considerable and dedicated time with the game helps isolate its real potential (and its potential problems). For the most part, I think it deserves the hype that it has gotten so far.

There are some things that I genuinely love in Titanfall. I love how easily you can get up entire buildings, adding that third and sorely missed dimension of many shooters. I love that your Titan will accommodate any entry shenanigans you can throw its way. And I love that it doesn’t feel like just another “thing,” whatever that broad label encompasses.

But the greatest thing about Titanfall is also one of the smallest things. So you’ve clambered about the level, endured an encounter or two with real pilots, killed a handful of incredibly ineffective grunts, and finally ground out your Titanfall counter. You throw your marker and you wait.


You’ve come a long way. In actual time, it’s been perhaps a few minutes, a single flake out of the entire pepper grinder. But in video games—especially quick, online first person shooters such as this—those minutes contain events that have the ability to effect other minutes or hours afterwards, even lifetimes in some cases.

It’s a short span, but you’ve crammed it full with things that you’ve done. Personally, by your hand, you’ve ended lives and saved others. You’ve captured resources and stood your ground, sent a message through your actions. So when your Titan lands and you rush up to it, your mouse clicks, your button presses, and your iron will is rewarded.

“Press X to Embark.” That’s such an interested choice of words. “Embark.” Many other games tell you to press X to enter or press X to reload or press X to interact. These—and many others—have effectively lost all meaning to us in game. We give them context because we understand what they do in the literal sense, but we forget that these words have implications beyond the animations that follow.


To enter is to breach a portal, to transfer yourself from one state of being to another. It is momentous. To reload is to prepare yourself to kill again, to gird your loins against the inhumane act of ending another human. It is violent. And to interact by choice is to show consciousness, to prove your agency and your independence. It is righteous.

Now you are embarking. It is such a striking choice of words. We so rarely see that word unless we talk about those that belong in the Age of Discovery, those that live solely for adventure. How often do you go on an adventure? Gut instinct would push you towards the zero side of the spectrum, but even each instance of a video game story or multiplayer session you undertake is an adventure. You enter the unknown to emerge from the other side still breathing, still willing. Still capable.

To embark is the same. We know that while we may not have the global reach of discovering new lands or zoological specimen, what we choose to do and not to do have enormous impact on who we are and what we achieve. It is huge.


And Titanfall acknowledges this when it asks us to embark with our Titan. It is recognizing that we worked—stumbled and fell and found ourselves again—to allow ourselves the privilege of a Titan. We have embarked, and we will again. Once our more sizable, mechanized half picks us up, we will take another unknown step out of the door and fall into the unknown.

Whether purposeful in this regard or simply an attempt to stand apart from the crowd of stock verbs, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Like the difference between using that little black, round cardboard pepper shaker we all know (and own) and the wood grain, glass-embellished full grinder, we know the importance of its variance. It speaks to our dulled sensibilities, paying recognition to our daily, weekly, and monthly journeys across the unfathomable.

We may overcome or we may be defeated, standing stoic against or with it all. We will stagger as often as we soar, trying again despite or in light of our efforts. We will waver between dedication and regret, unsure of where we lie on the timeline of purpose and discovery.

We will embark.

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