Word Witch and Professional Daydreamer

Category: Storytelling

Mythic Storytelling, and the Everyday Hero

As an author with a brand new superhero book coming out, I’m finding myself acutely aware of any and all references to superheroes and comics. Which, let’s be honest, is so many—and I love it. I love the obsession with larger-than-life heroes, I love the spectacle, I love the hype. I am so annoyed that my schedule doesn’t work out for me to see Wonder Woman until Wednesday.

But anyway: most of the references are what you’d expect. News of another movie or TV show, or the latest update to the train wreck of what they’re doing with Steve Rogers in the comics (do NOT even get me started), or things of that nature. So I was surprised a few weeks ago, when I heard a new song that was sort of about superheroes. That’s… not really the medium I expect to encounter them in, and I was immediately charmed by the idea of songwriters getting into the game too.

The song is “Something Just Like This”, a collaborative effort between The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. For a long time, I didn’t really listen to it that closely. The cover of the single had a little kid dressed up as a superhero, and it referenced both Batman and Superman, and when it came on, I would just bob my head and keep writing. I learned the chorus pretty quickly, just through sheer repetition—but didn’t give it much thought. Something kind of comforting, I guess, typical love song lyrics where it’s like, hey, you don’t need to be a superhero to be important to me? Okay.

Not sure what made me stop and listen to the lyrics more closely. But here’s how the song starts:

I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spider-man’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

The nerd in me wants to ask exactly what, exactly, Spider-man’s “control” is supposed to be about (I mean… his powers don’t exactly control things, the way that, say, Magneto does), but moreover, I was completely dumbstruck the first time that I heard this. Because the whole point of these epic stories, throughout all of human history, is that you’re supposed to see yourself in them, and this person… doesn’t? Which makes me wonder if that’s a common thing, to not identify with mythic heroes.

Listen, I’m not saying that you’re supposed to identify with the trappings of a superhero. Obviously not. Very few of us run around punching out bad guys, and nobody shoots webbing or flies faster than a speeding bullet. That’s not the point. Superpowers are not about the powers. That’s not why we like those stories. That’s not why we keep telling those stories, over and over, from Greek myths up to the latest summer blockbuster. What superheroes are supposed to do, is remind us of our own ability to stand up to injustice. To show us our inner strength. To inspire us to do better, be better, dig deeper. Keep going, even when all hope seems lost. They’re supposed to represent the best in us.

And for a song to just completely dismiss any connection with that message, especially in today’s sociopolitical climate, is kind of disheartening, to say the least. It also guts the later part of the lyrics: “[I just want] something I can turn to / Somebody I can kiss”. Really? So not only are we not identifying with the best of ourselves, we’re not holding our dearest loved ones to a higher standard either? Fine, so you’re not looking for “somebody with some superhuman gifts”—great, good, because you’re not getting that—but literally all you’re seeking is a warm body? I don’t know about you, but I’m a better person because my husband expects me to be. We hold each other up. Inspire each other to keep going, to do good even when it’s easier not to. Relationships (not just romantic) can easily serve the same role as heroic fiction, in that regard. This is another lesson that superheroes try to teach us: that love is important, that human connection helps us keep our humanity.

If it was just another love song, I wouldn’t be disappointed in it. I’ve come to expect terrible messages from love songs, once you stop and break down their meaning on a deeper level. But superheroes are supposed to be held to a higher standard, so that we in turn hold ourselves to a higher standard. And for me, that bleeds over into media about superheroes.

I do really hope that other songwriters pick up the idea, though. Even if some of them stumble and fall, I’d love a new subgenre in music to emerge. Because seriously, how wicked cool would that be?

Gameplay, Storytelling, and the Choices We Make

Recently I downloaded a new game to my phone: Choices, by a company called Pixelberry.

I did this in part because I skimmed an interview with one of the Pixelberry team members, and it caught my attention, but mostly I downloaded it because I am a sucker for choose-your-owns. I cannot even count how many I’ve played through. Fantasy games, mostly, because that’s obviously where the storytelling method really became popularized, so I guess another thing that drew me to Choices was that a lot of their stories WEREN’T. They had one fantasy “book” (and it’s accompanying sequel) in their app, yes, but there were also several mysteries, and a number of romances. And hey, I like seeing how storytelling methods apply to genres they aren’t usually used for, you know? And it was nice to see a normally male-centric game type being marketed toward a distinctly female audience. Overall, I was really predisposed to like this app.

I’m not even going to use this space to get into my game-level disappointments with it. Things like the micropayment system it uses and how it uses it, or the fact that these really aren’t so much choose-your-own stories as… slightly tailor a predefined narrative arc to your preference. Instead, I’m going to talk about the one “book” that I played all of the way through, all 17 game “chapters” worth, a romance called The Freshman. Because, um. Wow. Buckle up, folks, this is going to get feminist-ranty.

You play the game as a young woman, who is (duh) a freshman, newly arrived at Hartfeld University. It is, like I said, a romance, so the story presents you with three love interests out of a cast of at least… I don’t know, a dozen? Rough count from memory put me at 9, and I know there are several more people I could only vaguely remember. And okay, I get it, there are only so many possible storylines that you want to write, so fine, limit me to three. We are presented with the option of romancing these characters in a neat order of progression, so that you kind of really HAVE to either pick or reject one before being presented with the option to pick or reject the next, and then the next. Or at least, that’s how it feels when you start playing the game, although you’ll soon discover that, HAHAHAH, oh, dear player, you needn’t worry about making up your mind too soon, oh no. The Game will make sure that you have PLENTY of opportunity to backpedal on your rejections. PLENTY. More than enough. So many, in fact, that by the time you finish the first “book,” you may (like me) end up screaming at your phone, “ENOUGH WITH THE MOONY EYES ALREADY, I HAVE REJECTED YOU TWENTY TIMES, HOW DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT NO MEANS NO?”

Okay, so I suppose that it’s arguable that a “normal” player will toy around with her romantic options more, as opposed to making up her mind in a split second upon first meeting said character—and may, perhaps, be holding out because she’s read about the possibility of allowing your character a same-sex relationship, and totally wants to see how they handle THAT, rather than conforming to predefined heteronormative (more like heteroSNOREative, am I right? No? Wait, come back!) storylines.

The first Potential Love Interest (PLI) that we encounter is Chris. And Chris is… I am sorry, there is no other way to say this: Chris is the epitome of every boring romantic lead EVER. He is white, he is athletic, he has zero personality, and while he appears to be a BIT of a sweetheart at first, we will soon discover that he DOES NOT TAKE REJECTION. Like, at all.

The other romantic interests are as follows: James, a black man who comes from a wealthy family and whose strict parents expect him to follow The Family Business, but who would rather be a playwright; and Kaitlyn, a nice girl who likes to PARTY!, and Have Fun(tm).

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