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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Time management on a convention

For many of the “fringe interests”, there are conventions to make people feel they are not alone. Anime Expo have gathered 80 thousand people last year. Comic Con is coming up. Back in Russia we had LARP conventions, and the ones that are biggest around the world are probably computer game conventions. There is also DefCon in Las Vegas.

One thing that organizers do to occupy so many people is to have many events and attractions going on at once. It works as divide and conquer: the crowd is not uniform, some people have more serious pursuits, some have no idea what they came for, some are just having fun on the con. The list of con events is pretty much a slice of life, with all possible interests and ways to spend time represented. What to choose to meet new people? First, I tried to pick activities for the day that are not completely boring for me, in part so that people I meet are those I can relate to. Here are the choices that were available to me on Anime Expo:

  1. Cosplay photohunt. List of cosplay gatherings is not official, and is available here.
  2. Shopping …
  3. Panel discussions on pretty much everything. They even had scientists writing their research paper about anime organized in some sort of symposium.
  4. Karaoke.
  5. Club dancing and bars.
  6. Workshops to learn skills.
  7. Stage dance performances and singers.
  8. Cinemas and music videos.
  9. Celebrity meet’n’greet.
  10. Comedy shows and interactive shows like Dungeon master.
  11. Food court with a maze of food trucks.
  12. Museum of old computer games where you can play any.

You get the idea – once the number of people scales up to tens of thousands, the event naturally starts to imitate a big city, with all the urban infrastructure. One difference is that in a real big city you have to go to work, while here it’s entertainment all day long. Having so much entertainment packed into just a few days makes it easy to find out what is your favorite pastime. However, for me it was more like running around, trying to catch a glance of every single activity, confirm that I’m not missing out on anything. Quite a few points on the list were genuinely interesting for me, but they either ended fast or didn’t keep my attention for long. So if I’m asked – what kind of person I am, what kind of interests should I list on twitter to pick people to follow – is this an acceptable answer? That I don’t care that much about any one thing, I just want to run around and see everything?

I guess not. One should have well defined interests, to select and focus attention in this sea of 80 thousand people. Indeed, even thought I didn’t shriek in excitement when I saw any particular character cosplayed, or didn’t wait in line for 2 hours to see my favorite show/celebrity, I still had some guiding principles to direct my choices. And the lines were never a problem – I was almost always able to get into the events I want just by showing up at the doors 20 minutes after the time it starts (except only the premiere of LWA2 and Cosplay Wrestling (???)).

Of the workshops, I went to the ones about writing fan fiction. Of the panels, I went to any discussing diversity in the geek community,

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and also accidentally the one with Touhou shoot’em’up playthrough, which was an incredible feat of dexterity. I went to all comedy shows, avoiding the ones with particularly perverted theme (which were everywhere on Saturday evening). I didn’t go to dating event or to maid cafe, they are overcrowded by default. I went to watch the J-pop and the K-pop dance performances (the latter being bustling with fans, so one can hardly see the stage), then I danced at the club dance night. The latter convinced me that my current outfit is not suited for dancing, so I went on to look for party T-shirts and diode gloves in the shopping area. I was putting off exploration of the artist’s alley till the last day, and walking there is so overwhelming that I ended up not having time/energy to see more than 20% of it. Moral: visit artist alley every day for short periods instead of trying to marathon it. Besides T-shirts, I followed my interest for Art Nouveau – inspired paintings – there were quite a lot of artists borrowing from that style. I also looked out for menacing gothic helmets, but found none. Guess they didn’t get very popular. Surprisingly, I saw t-shirts with Girl Genius comic prints, even though official site doesn’t have any t-shirt in their merchandise.

Food trucks managed to keep my hunger away – the lines for them may look intimidating as they are under the sun, but ironically the trucks with healthy food never had lines in front of them. Ok, so of all these activities, which were the best to get to know other anime fans? There were a lot of really drunk folks on the dance, I could’ve interacted with them if I wanted. My anime club organized a meetup with Japanese cosplayers of the same anime, and that was a very eye-opening evening. There I met quite a lot of extremely Japanese people, and even had a chance to practice my language skills a bit. So the stereotypical ways to meet people: through friends and at the bar  – probably work best. The 21+ lounge had a rock concert every evening, so there was something to do even for those who don’t drink. Besides them I talked to a very cheerful person in line for Dungeon Master –  he even let me borrow his katana for a pic:

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Artists are always up for a chat. I addressed some of the cosplayers with “What is your character”, and also “Where did you buy those” – which was very helpful to get directions in the shopping area. As I said, I don’t get overwhelmed by fan feelings no matter what I see, but if I did, shouting the name of the character you recognize is also acceptable.

For the time management – the main advice is to avoid being overwhelmed by the visual impressions of other people’s costumes and merchandise in the shopping area. Limit your time spend walking through the hallways to 15 minutes, take breaks, even by stepping in a random movie screening room. Take a break in a shopping area for a chat with someone, or to check your phone. Twitter was not very useful during the convention, but maybe I don’t have enough twitter experience to benefit from it. Many people complained about tired feet – make sure you have good shoes, bag on wheels is also a good choice if you are to carry heavy camera around – but make sure to leave it at the hotel/bag cheek-in before the dance. Have plenty of plastic bags to keep food away from other belongings – in my case, a very tasty chicken sauce spilled over my camera and my costume and ruined a bunch of photos:

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Objectifying professor Snape

I’ve been thinking about the ways teenage fantasies can be non-offensive (non-sexist, if you wish). And I recalled a lot of fanfics about students making out with professor Snape. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Compared to, say, computer games, where player is put into position of power, free to win his sexual interest if he plays well or just figures out the game mechanics. The characters to be rescued/seduced are typically just a combination of gender markers, and are rendered powerless to change their own fate. The Snape’s character, on the contrary, possesses another set markers: absolute power, evil on the outside, deeply disfunctional on the inside. In no way is this character more realistic than the side love quests in the Witcher. Yet it manages to excite audiences to no end. Also played by an attractive actor.

Still, I suppose there is a sort of constructive answer to the whole “objectifying” problem in this. When you’re a fan of a celebrity, you don’t really “objectify” that celebrity. Instead, you may actually look into their bio, or think of how beautiful their eyes are. It is fun to rewrite the conversation my college friends had about Megan Fox etc., so that those conversation actually mention her acting) Or personality, at least.