The Power of Stories

I’ve always told myself that I want to be a writer. A friend of mine asked me a while back if I thought I honestly still wanted to be a writer, or if maybe I’d just become so comfortable with the idea of talking about being a writer that I wasn’t interested in finding a new vocation. Since then I’ve tried to ask myself, “What about stories are so important?”

I love video gaming and have since I was little. Now I’m growing up and games are too; recently I’ve picked up two new games: Bandai Namco’s Dark Souls and Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham City. I’d looked forward to both of them for months, but I’ve found no interest in playing Dark Souls, while I had to dig for the self-control to stop playing Arkham City and write this blog. They’re two completely different kinds of games with two completely different objectives, but the key difference between them for me is story.

Dark Souls lacks a real story of any kind. Its objective is to provide players what my friend calls “the thrill of pure gaming,” with no frills or nonsense to keep people from jumping right in to hardcore gameplay. Dark Souls is a good game. Arkham City, on the other hand, layers story and character development into every second of gameplay from the very beginning as players find out that an entire section of Gotham City has been walled off and turned into a survival-of-the-fittest-style no-man’s land for criminals, “Arkham City.”

An image of Batman standing over Arkham City.

Emotion and story are everywhere in Arkham City. Provided by batmanarkhamcity.com

As I sneak up on a group of 10 inmates on my way to confront the Joker, they start to talk about their lives inside the walls of Arkham City, how they fight for survival, how they fear persecution from other inmates, or confrontations with the Dark Knight himself. The inmates, who I used to pound on without a second thought, now have a soul. And now I’m thinking about ways to avoid the conflict altogether.  This is what takes Arkham City beyond a good game and makes it into a great experience.

As far as TV is concerned, it’s almost impossible to fit the words “Battlestar Galactica” into a conversation without instantly turning off 95% of the non-nerd population (Admit it: if you haven’t seen the show, you were already tempted to skip this paragraph.). Even so, I’ve never seen a better written show that so strongly portrays the “right” of both friends and mortal enemies, the paradoxes that tend to escape rhetoric and enter into our real lives every day. “Battlestar Galactica” portrays a society fighting EVERY SINGLE DAY for survival, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are hounded by an almost invisible enemy that threatens to destroy them at every turn, but more often than not it’s the infighting between allies that threatens to undo everything they’ve worked for. (Sound familiar, USA?)

There's always more than one influence, more than one answer. Image from Wired.com.

What the show DOES that our news media and constant Facebook bickering fails to do is remind us that there are no simple answers, and the more we bury ourselves in our own idea of what is “right,” the more we hurt others. The power of story hard at work.

So why do we seem to have higher standards for our fiction than our reality? My Facebook has been peppered with posts from various friends supporting “Occupy Wall Street,” “the Tea Party,” “We are the 99%,” “We are the 53%,” and varying other social change groups, each of them picking a target to demonize as a way to gather support for its ideology. The 99% are being robbed by the greedy corporations and 1% of Americans making over 250K a year, the 53% are being robbed by the lazy 47% that is unwilling to go find a job and pull itself up by its bootstraps… Each side seems to tell a story that simply villainizes other PEOPLE trying to make their way in the world, even when condemning others for precisely the same crime.

Our world is shaped by stories, the ones we tell as well as the ones we’re told. Stories can spur us to action or cool our heads, send us to far away places or bring us home. Some stories are accurate, some are biased, and some are pure nonsense. But as long as we accept ANY ONE STORY as our truth, as long as we disrespect the views, pains, and struggles of the people around us, as long as we bury our heads in the sands of our own dogmas, we will continue to fall victim to the same hatreds and violence plaguing our world today.

-Josh

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