Monday, January 29, 2007

21st Century Nihilism in Story Telling

I just got back from seeing the movie "Smoking Aces".

I want to talk about Nihilism in 21th Century Story Telling.

Let us start with the deep past. Let us return for a few moments to the dawn of the ages when man was young, and knew little language. Let us savor for a few moments the stories of those ancient times. They were adventures of the gods and men, and of the gods and monsters and heroes and kings and the wars of the gods and the giants... and stories of shamen climbing on the backs of birds into the lofty heavens to steal fire, or sacred knowledge of healing, from the gods and return to the world with wisdom. And let us consider who they were who within a such brief span of a few centuries suddenly invented, increadibly all at once, agriculture, mathematics, science, astronomy, writing, architecture, law, cosmology and mythology, and all of the basic foundations of our modern civilization. And now let us take a moment to reflect on how our civilization is constantly transformed, from one form of government to another, with peaks and valleys, yet represents on the whole one long continuous (though bumpy) upward sloping ascent in terms of technical progress for humanity at large. And yet technology has been our boon and our bane. We look upon it, mostly it seems, as a faustian bargain at best, and many people are just dead set against the whole idea and think we ought not have come down from the trees to begin with. Why is this? Because, friends, we have bad stories. Our bad stories are sinking our culture.

What has this to do with RPGs, and the Elthos World in particular? Well, it has been the goal of the Elthos Project to aspire toward something old fashioned and yet, it becomes increasingly clear, important in story telling. The stories themselves are important. The nature of them. The Tone. The meaning. The world view they present.

Go see "Smoking Aces". It is a movie about nihilism, and it gives its nihilistic world view with it. There are many people who will see this movie. It will harm their psyches, and they may respond to that violence with any number of adverse reactions. This is a very violent movie. Probably one of the most violent I've ever seen. But moreso, it is a bad bad story. Amazingly well filmed. A bad story.

And there are some things that can not be turned back, and some wounds that can not be healed. There are others which can, and sometimes wounds healed early can be forgotten. Our minds are wounded. Our hearts are numbed. The madness of the violence which we are exposed to in films such as this are not madenning because of the images of the violence. No, that is not what it is. It is the message of nihilism. The message of the death of honor. The death of all that is good in the world. It is the message of hopelessness. That is what this film transmits to us, the audience. We either accept that message (admiring as well the great artistry that went into its making), or we reject it.

Elthos rejects it. Elthos is not a world about nihilism. It is a world about possibilities. It is a fairytale. A walk into the shaman's doorway. It is a journey into the caverns of the underworld, and the archtypes. Upon the table of Elthos are the pathways of the celestials, the planets in their constellations. Elthos is about lifting the eye aloft toward the snowy peaks and discovering the wonders beyond.

We live in a time of grave doubt. We live in a time of bad stories. Of evil stories. Of stories that kill. The media sells us these stories and almost everyone is buying them.

Elthos is not buying their story.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the article dude!

It seemed to have a well described point about the negative reaction to violence in films and other media.


vbwyrde said...

Thanks man. I'm concerned that the nihilist element of our culture has grown too large for our own good. It's one thing to question one's morals and character, and look deeply at oneself to find our own faults; doing so should lead us toward self improvement, not the abrogation of all that is right, just and proper. I feel that games are exactly how people learn all kinds of things about morals, and Role Playing Games in particular represent a new form of story telling game in our society and so they stand as preeminent. Through RPGs we have an opportunity, during this golden age of the genre, to present stories of true worth and value to civilization. In every golden age so far, of every new art form, we find that the original adopters wound up producing the greatest art. Perhaps this is because artists tend to gravitate toward self expression in new mediums as they are discovered, and so great artists of any age will be engaged with the new mediums.

Today our world has many new mediums for artistic expression. Radio, Film, TV, RPGs, Computer Games, Animation, among those that come to mind. RPGs have captured my attention because they really represent a fundamental connection to story telling in a way that the others do not. Namely that the Player becomes part of the Art. The reason this is meaningful, I feel, is because the player identifies with their character in the RPG in a way that he or she simply can not with another medium, because only in RPGs is the Character actually the Player, like an alter ego. This identification with the character, and through the character the story, is more profound that I think most Gamesmasters yet realise; even those such as myself who have been playing and gamesmastering since the mid to late 70's when the game came out.

"My goal is to tell healing stories, and to teach people who are telling sickness stories how to sing a different tune. In Coyote Wisdom... If story and illness are connected like chicken and egg, then we cannot just diagnose the illness; we must also "diagnose" the story, meaning that we must understand the illness as something created through the mutual entanglements of relationship - entanglements of biology, culture, and spirit. Language is the vehicle for exploring these webs of connections."

- Coyote Wisdom, by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D.

My goal is to explore the domain of symbolism and learn to understand stories, our stories, our games, and our RPG experiences as reflections of our inner selves, and to understand that the stories we tell ourselves truly do influence everything about us, from our outlook, to our energy, to our health; indeed to the very core of our being.

Because I feel this way I am struggling against this current wave of nihilism in story telling.

It is not the end of the world as we know it, and at this point, I doubt anyone feels fine.

The answer is in the souls of all great epics and stories of yore, which are all around us, beneath us, within us and around us. We have, like beauty itself, but to open our eyes to behold it.