Hero’s Journey and Computer Games

We learned from Campbell that hero story encodes a natural mechanism for change and rebirth, that is part of us as human beings. Do people really use this mechanism nowadays? When I look back on my life, I think I should’ve used it more. Let me give an example that hopefully anyone who spends too much time with a computer can relate to:

We expect to solve our problems incrementally. If you want more friends, you add them one by one on facebook. If you want to lose weight you go to the gym. If you want to level up in a computer game, you slay monsters one by one until you get stronger. It is amusing how Nietzsche’s quote “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” began to mean something so trivial for computer age kids. It was intended to mean “you should go on a hero’s journey and almost die to return stronger”. But all we see is a straight line with little coins of positive reinforcements scattered around – that is so not a hero’s journey!

We expect to solve our problems by going in a straight line from where we are now to the solution. And it comes as a surprise when somebody around us manages to solve the same problems better by going in a circle: making a mess out of his own life and then emerging successful. We certainly don’t expect that to happen to us. So when we get stuck on our straight line, when there’s no coins of positive reinforcement, and instead we feel bad and life seems unfair – we give up. We don’t accept calls for adventure because it seems to us they are distracting us from the straight line of our lives.

I conclude with a set of examples, as promised. Do you recall a story of your friend who:

1) Met his love by getting awfully drunk?

2) Improved his grades after coming back from the army?

3) Was too shy to dance so someone has to drag him in?

4) Passed an exam week without sleep on energetic drinks?

5) Got around bureaucratic rules by being nice and pitiful?

6) Stood up to bullies, got beaten, but was never bullied again?

Note that the above is hard for a certain group of people: those “who spend too much time with the computer” for some reason. My claim is that socially awkward people (including myself) are less prepared to set out on a hero’s journey than average. One of the reasons being that e.g. computer games give us the wrong idea of how to achieve success. There are some indie computer games with a genuine hero’s journey though, and less transactional interaction with the world. In fact, even popular titles like Final Fantasy tended to have enough character development for 10 hero’s stories! Maybe it’s just that I never completed a sufficient portion of the game to see the hero’s story unfold, like in Morrowind for example.

Anyways, the fact is that it takes too long (and sometimes forever) to see the end of hero’s journey (“master of both worlds”) in most of western computer games, as well as >70% of TV shows and anime that have >20 episodes . So the hero’s journeys that we perceive lose their completeness, and we indeed forget what they should be.

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