19. Fantasy, For Me
It’s easy to look at the entertainment industry and say that what it produces is pointless or stupid (“entertainment industry” here meaning creative content such as books, music, movies, TV shows, paintings, video games, musicals, plays, and so forth; we tend to draw some arbitrary line in our minds between what we deem to be junky and useless, which falls under some less-impressive name like “entertainment,” while the stuff we value is deemed “art,” but we’ll mash it all together and call it entertainment for now). I have no hesitation with remarking on my disdain for reality TV, professional sports, Call of Duty, most pop music, most comedy movies, and anything made by Michael Bay or Stephenie Meyer.
Of course, we all have tastes such as these, and a lot of people like the things I just mentioned, even if only in a guilty pleasure kind of way. My tastes, fortunately, have broadened over time; as a kid, I tended to only consume entertainment through any medium if it was a fantasy story. I loved Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, which meant that I thought books and movies were valuable entertainment mediums while TV was not. I loved The Legend of Zelda, so I thought adventure games, especially as made by Nintendo, were the only ones that were really fun or worth playing.
Since then, I’ve reassessed some things. I love Silicon Valley, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul, for example, which made me value TV shows, and I don’t like fantasy just because it’s fantasy so much anymore (I don’t like Game of Thrones much, for example; to me, good stories are about compelling characters, and I can’t get too attached to characters who keep dying, plus I wanted to read the books first and that’s no longer an option).
But when you add it all up, fantasy is still my go-to genre. I loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I enjoyed The Hobbit movies, although they fell short of Lord of the Rings (but then again, the book does, too). I am slowly drawing near to the end of The Wheel of Time, which is a pretty good book series if you have a few years to kill reading all fourteen massive volumes, and then will be moving on to more of Brandon Sanderson and Stephen King’s excellent writing (I’m super stoked for The Dark Tower!).
Last but not least, I’ve fallen back in love with Zelda on 3DS and Wii U (I got rid of all my video games thinking I needed to grow up, and then recognized that it’s dumb to throw things away that bring you joy unless those things are addictive substances). I’m playing Breath of the Wild on Wii U, and I’m sure I’ll get a Nintendo Switch someday, but for now I’m loving being lost in Hyrule on the consoles I have, which, wonderfully for me, can play the whole library of past single-player Zelda games in addition to the new ones.
Something that Breath of the Wild brought to my attention, though, is why fantasy is my genre. Early in the game, Link gets a Sheikah Slate, which is basically a smartphone with an interactive map of Hyrule and a camera. While it’s dead useful in the game and largely unobtrusive, I don’t really like that Link has a smartphone- he didn’t need one to seal Ganon in the Sacred Realm in Ocarina of Time, now did he?
The reason fantasy stories are so great for me- be they novels, movie series, or video games- is that they take me away from the modern world, entirely. They encapsulate me in magic spells, fictional worlds, things that can’t be real, a completely different universe. Others likely look for media that’s intentionally familiar to them, and as I said before, I’ve enjoyed media that can theoretically happen, like Breaking Bad, in more recent years. But for me, fantasy is pure escapism, and that’s a good thing. It works a lot better when the fantasy characters don’t have smartphones.
Perhaps it’s my method of distracting myself from things that are stressing me out. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, so maybe it’s an alternative way for me to cope when I’m in a bad mood, and I suppose fantasy media is better than a drug addiction.
But I guess this is why I had a hard time writing fantasy novels when I was trying for so many years. I couldn’t figure out what was appealing about them to me, and now that I do realize what the appeal was, I suppose I would rather build something that can help people fix their problems than distract them from those problems, although that’s sometimes an admirable thing to do.
This is probably a description of storytelling- “distracting people from their problems”- that undervalues storytelling. Stories have great value in their ability to connect us. They allow us to feel how others feel, so we can empathize. They are the best way for us to learn- put a story behind a bunch of numbers and they become far more interesting than the numbers can ever be on their own.
Nonetheless, if I want to do something with my career, I want to clearly be able to convey why. It’s not enough for me to say that I do something “because I can’t not do it.” I need more clarity, more coherence. But storytelling, if it’s going to be a part of my life, needs to be more than just a story for the sake of a story. It needs to make people reflect and think about themselves and the world around them. It needs to do more, which is why I am slowly beginning to come to the conclusion that I want to combine the art of storytelling with software development, somehow. I feel that that can elevate both the software and the story.
…But more on that later.