Last week (yes, I am quite lax when it comes to writing things down), I laid in to a heated tangent about one of the absolute geekiest things you will ever hear come out of my mouth: I explained, in great detail, to my fiance why I preferred American Role Playing Games like Mass Effect and Fallout over Japanese, or J-RPG’s, like the just-released Final Fantasy 45, or whatever they’re up to now. The crux of the argument I made hinged on a couple of things which were; 1. Identity with the characters and story and how I felt American storytelling excelled in stories that grounded you somewhat in our reality. What I mean by this is that I prefer that my protagonist not be an androgynous waif like this:
But more this:
....Much more James Bond.
Also, I threw in that I don’t like melodrama, and the fact that most of the FF games now have very sappy, falsetto love themes. This led me to muse over what a game is and ruminate on why I’ve never gotten emotionally attached to a game like most overweight LARP-ing recluses of my generation. (I blame my lack of social retardation, really.)
I am also reminded of an argument I became involved in with an actor on a set last year in which we discussed why I think books trump film in terms of experience for the audience and what has the most impact on us as human beings. And lo, it was thus:
John’s Hierarchy Of Entertainment
Immediately powerful and present, the oldest of entertainments, music can recall a memory or image in the mind in mere seconds, tell a story in minutes, and stay buried in our flesh for a lifetime. It’s demands participation both to make and to listen. What I love about music is that it only truly exists in the moment that it’s created and is gone just as quickly; just like our lives are wont to be.
2. Literature & Poetry
Why books? Besides being the de-facto source of critical thought for centuries, books are the purest of experiences because we are forced to use our imaginations to bring the text to life. (That was a bit obvious, isn’t it?) I place it on top because it causes one to exercise one’s imagination and prompts deeper study and understanding. It also demands concentration, which I’m sure is why a lot of people, especially young adults and children of the newer generation, find it hard to engage in anything more than 200 pages or on the level of the classics. It’s also tops because it is essentially a pure dialogue between author and reader, it contains genres but follows no mandated structure, and can take it’s time in building whatever point the author has to make. It’s a form of leisure that doesn’t quite fit in to modern American life anymore. Luckily there are podcasts and audiobooks to fill this void, and that takes us back to the even older oral tradition.
Whilst on the subject of oral traditions; coming from a life of experience both in front and behind the stage I can say that theater is the mid-step between literature and film. It’s also the second oldest attraction on the list, if you’re not counting games like chess, etc. Theatre’s strength is in the engagement of the audience. The fact that the players and audience are breathing the same air and participating equally with the opportunity to blow the entire illusion is magnificent and largely underplayed by society.
There’s nothing like watching or being in a play when someone blows a line. It’s fucking magic. I’ve always had the urge to run up on stage during performances. It’s a weird tick that plagues me and surely would ostracize me from the theatre community if I let it happen, but the fact I can do this if I wanted and totally destroy or change the performance is what’s so appealing to me. Theatre, like a book, depends largely on imagination; especially when attending smaller theater productions. Lastly, the theatre also allows leeway as to the structure and topics of what you experience. You can get away with more, be more poetic, be more raw with emotions and have a greater impact on the shared experience because of the intrinsic mechanics of how the art form manifests. Lest we forget Shakespeare applies as literature, theatre, philosophy, and the basis for good filmmaking.
The facts that it’s a two-dimensional image that is physically separate from the audience and that stories must adhere to certain run times and be pigeon-holed in to genres are the biggest reasons why film is number four. The growing lack of creative interest by those running the industry and marginalization by the audience who’d rather pirate films than support their artists has constricted the young art form severely and left it in a stranglehold also plays in to this decision as well. There’s no room to innovate and grow. (And the 3D gimmick they’ve been pushing on us since the, what, 40’s? isn’t the answer either.) I can’t tell you what is, what I can say is that my argument for this list is that, to me, film is almost disposable and more forgettable than, say, a book. I can remember the book that made me want to become a writer, but not so much the film that prompted in me the desire to craft films. I can quote movies and deconstruct them to a point, but the endpoint of these exercises come far sooner than what I accomplish with literature or even dissecting good performances of theatre. Also, I’ve had the privilege on many occasions to watch performances adapt and grow over a run whereas a film is a one-shot deal. Unless it’s remade or ‘rebooted’, as is the trend.
5. Games (specifically Video Games)
Video games are popcorn. You consume everything until you reach the bottom of the bag and then throw it away. What else do you do with an empty bag that’s served it’s one-time use?
That’s a harsh criticism, but I’ve been a video gamer, shamefully, for two decades. What all games are are pattern recognition and short learning curves. Mario and the sort I put in the category of quick-itch relief. A difficult challenge at a quarter a pop. Then we have Final Fantasy or Mass Effect who strive to become filmic, at best, but are encumbered by being manipulated by people like me who enjoy watching the characters take suicide dips off of cliffs or desire that most of the supporting cast be summarily rounded up and shot in the face. In terms of experience, VG’s are the most encumbered and one-dimensional of this small pantheon. Mostly building on worn stereotypes and pastiches of Campbell’s Hero Cycle, how well a game can cover up the inherent monotony of the gameplay with a decent story dictates my willingness to ignore the “go fetch” quests, terrible battle schemes or sheer inanity in which I’m wasting away my life and money.
In summary: Yes, I’m a snob.
Addendum: I didn’t include art as entertainment because it’s only modern utility seems to be for parody or to distinguish class systems.
Addendum: For those who may argue these things: MMORPG’s, LARP-ing, shameless devotions to sci-fi and fantasy shows, and fascination with Nazis, housewife-made vampires and/or zombies et al. denote that you need therapy, social interaction and a treadmill.