Monday, June 09, 2008

classic stories vs mere entertainment

This started out as a response to Monique's article over at Write the Game, in which she stresses the importance of relationships in game dramas.

I think every classic novel and film is fundamentally about human beings and human relationships ( with others, with nature, with God, with past and future generations, with technology, etc). Classic stories are about us. Through the story experience, we, the audience, understand a little more about ourselves and how we as individuals relate to the world.

When we watch the movie Alien, for example, we're fascinated by the monster; but it's the human responses to the alien that make the story memorable. Otherwise, the Sci-Fi Channel's original movies would be worth watching. ;)

Consider this: Comedy (by which I mean "humorous narrative", as opposed to the literary critic's definition) has been around since the dawn of acting, literature (including oral literature), and art. Yet how many comedies are considered classics? The comedies that last beyond generations offer more than mere resolution. Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream explore relationships that cannot be fully defined or explained because they are truthfully-imagined human relationships, rather than mere stratagems in entertaining plots.

What attracts so many to Da Vinci's most famous painting every year, what is mentioned time and again in the countless critiques it has received, is the mystery of Mona Lisa's smile and gaze. The painting stands on its accurate representation of the beautiful subtlety and mystery of human emotion.

Entertaining stories leave us with answers; with certain conclusions. Classics leave us with answers, but also questions -- questions which, despite their universality or social focus, are deeply personal. Classics can be appreciated over and over again because we're never entirely sure of our own responses to them. We notice things the second time around that we didn't notice the first time. Classics grow with us. Our individual personalities and experiences, our cultural, geographical, and technological points of reference, our exposure to other artistic works -- these things change us, and so change what we see in and how we respond to those great stories. Every time we read them, listen to them, gaze upon them, play them... every time it's new, because we also are new.

Where does a soldier find the strength and immediately-present love to jump on a grenade so his comrades might be spared? What do you do when a child points a gun at you with intent to kill? Is it a betrayal of friendship to ask for romance, not knowing the nature of that friend's thoughts of you? When are you obligated to reveal your feelings, and when are you obligated to be happy or brave for another person?

Those are the sort of questions classic stories raise. They are questions without certain answers. We've been asking them for thousands of years, yet still we have only incomplete and often unsatisfying responses. Classic works often provide those partial answers. They hint at the truth we know, and motivate audiences to keep searching for the rest.

I believe that all human beings are called to perfection. None of us can be perfect, but each of us is capable of amazing feats. We should strive toward the amazing, reach for the miraculous. That calling is present in every aspect of our lives, and it includes making art. Few of us will ever create a masterpiece, but we should all aim that high. The place to start is within ourselves -- the questions that drive our lives and define our actions. We all ask classic questions. A master storyteller shares such thoughts in a presentation that does them justice.



    Another blogger following a similar thread about emotional connection in games(see Margaret's post linked via above).

  2. Great post Aaron. Ya I'm pretty much like you. I believe that relationships are the fundamental cornerstone of life, be it personal, business, or otherwise. Even deeper though, the bedrock below this cornerstone is the emotional connections that bind us all together, allowing us to share commonalities between us all (i.e. love, hate, fear, hope, etc). Thus it allows us to build bridges between us in times of conflict when more superficial things (i.e race, religion, nationality, etc) may be building walls between us.

    With regards to how this all connects within games, I honestly believe that games have the potential to teach us more about ourselves, especially with regards to community and the cultures within them. How we interact to these classic questions and situations before us, thus in turn allows us to learn more about ourselves.

    BTW if you haven't seen The Mist movie, I'd highly recommend it. It really isn't about horrific creatures in a small town, as that's just the setting, but it's more about the relationships and interaction between people and how things go astray (like values and principles) in a conflict. The ending is probably one of the best and most horrific I've ever seen in a movie, yet done so simply, as it again centers on this classic question.


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