When last we left the Dark Menace, he was in his secret identity as psychology professor and wrestling game designer Tom Filsinger. He already shared with us his take on the wrestling industry and how inventing two popular wrestling card games helped lay the foundation for his book, aptly titled The Dark Menace of the Universe. But the book, like the Menace himself, has a lot more in store.
Amidst the personal recollections and design anecdotes that make up a large portion of the book lie three of its most ambitious chapters. Their names are simple — Toward a Definition of Creativity, The Creative Person and The Creative Process — belying the depth of the concepts contained within. Drawing heavily on his own experiences and sprinkling in insights from figures ranging from Peanuts creator Charles Schultz to jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton, Filsinger attempts to explain how and why people give birth to original ideas in terms anyone can understand.
It’s a heady task, but Menace pulls it off. It even goes so far as to define two separate levels of creativity. On the first, people take existing works and put their own spins on them to create something new. The second level involves creating something entirely groundbreaking, a truly rare occurrence when ideas appear almost out of thin air.
Giving credit where credit is due, Filsinger said that the biggest name in the world of wrestling has had one moment when he reached that second level, though he’s not as sure he can get there again.
“Vince [McMahon] had his Level Two idea over twenty years ago when he fought the territory system and made wrestling into mainstream entertainment,” Filsinger said. “That was a stroke of genius. Whether Vince can re-invent the wheel again is unlikely.”
The book doesn’t stop with defining creativity. It also discusses how creative people in our society often find themselves at odds with authority figures who have an interest in upholding the status quo. Here’s where Filsinger’s analysis really takes flight, because he’s not simply observing the process from afar. The struggle he went through to bring his own games to life gives him the perspective of a participant instead of merely a theorist.
In short, he knows what writers, musicians and artists of all types are up against because he’s been there himself. His advice is straightforward: don’t give up.
“No one told me how to be an entrepreneur or that I could start my own game company,” he said. “I had moral support from friends and family, but no career support, no guidance, from anyone. So going forward was a risk.
“Embracing uncertainty is the key to living a full life. A person needs to be receptive to the many roads that will open before them. Unfortunately, most people are motivated by fear of the unknown. Safety and security are by the shore. But if you seek adventure, you need to swim into the ocean.”
Filsinger embraces these ideals in his “day job” as a professor at Jamestown Community College. His book recounts the style of teaching that works best for him and why he thinks students benefit from his approach. More personal anecdotes — including an encounter with his boss at a fast food restaurant that will sound familiar to almost everyone — help explain how he designed the college’s Psychology of the Workplace program, an achievement for which he takes particular pride.
He’s also a champion of online learning, having taught courses over the ‘Net for the past five years. But even though he recognizes the benefit of computers as a method to provide quality secondary education to those who may not receive it otherwise, Filsinger isn’t sold that technology is a cure-all for everything that ails our educational system.
Indeed, the Dark Menace sees the pervasiveness of technology as his own personal kryptonite and a growing dilemma in our modern society.
“Rather than relate to people face-to-face, we’re becoming a society that relates to each other more and more through electronic mediums,” Filsinger said, underscoring the irony of an interview conducted via e-mail. “My kids have trouble tearing themselves away from their electronic toys… the computer, games, television, MySpace… you name it. The entertainment industry is the worst drug problem of our time. And like most drug problems it’s not seen as a problem. But techno-dependence leads to lethargy, loss of other interests and sometimes to depression.”
“I suffer from these symptoms too,” he admitted. “I constantly feel compelled to check my computer for updates on e-mail, discussion boards, news; there’s this constant feeling that something new might be there. I’m hooked. Instead, I should be sitting down with my 10-year-old daughter and playing checkers or telling her a story.”
That revelation isn’t in the book, but it is the type of soul-baring that makes for a good memoir. And while The Dark Menace of the Universe is more than just a memoir, it illustrates how a personal touch can make a work that might otherwise be only an educational exercise into something much more colorful. It’s in the same vein that the working title, A Creative Life, transformed into the name it bears (with a little help from friend and fellow writer John Ettorre) and the trademark phrase that ties the whole thing together.
After all, who wouldn’t pay more attention to The Dark Menace than they would to mere mortal Tom Filsinger?
“My own life story by itself is trivial and insignificant in the scheme of things,” Filsinger said. “So when I wrote the book I wondered what I could write that people would care about. When it came down to it, I realized that two main themes of my life — at least at the time of the writing of Dark Menace — were creativity and individuality. And I’ve shared this with others through my book and it’s worked. Even people who aren’t wrestling fans and game fans have enjoyed the book and been influenced by it.”
For the purposes of this column, it helps that there is a healthy dose of wrestling involved. Like a good feud inside the squared circle, if fans want more, Filsinger is willing to give it to them. Expect Champions of the Galaxy and Legends of Wrestling to continue to roll along, and don’t be surprised if the author’s alter ego returns for a sequel.
“I’d like to expand on the concept of a Dark Menace in another book and bring it to a larger market,” Filsinger said. “I wear a lot of hats… my life makes no sense at all on the surface. A psychology professor who’s a wrestling fan? That’s the wolf in me. I revel in the thought of tearing down barriers, living on the edge. That’s what being a Dark Menace is all about.”