One of the best tools I have for provoking arguments over drinks with my friends is this phrase: “Fiction is counterproductive: It’s just the authors inoculating you with their own prejudices.” Yes, I really believe that, and yes, it applies to fiction I like, even Tolkien (great story, horrible theme) and Heinlein (who mostly got it right, but of course I would say that). We Homo sapiens are really really good at thinking teleologically, in terms of stories and characters and causes and effects, so when someone tells us a compelling story it affects and alters our thought processes just like the Snow Crash virus in the eponymous Neal Stephenson novel (see what I did there?).
This is why I could argue vehemently on newsgroups about the obvious rectitude of socialism as a teenager who’d just read a bunch of Dickens (clearly one of the greatest novelists of all time!) against a bunch of saps and rubes who’d been deluded and misled by the likes of Ayn Rand (who can’t even write a compelling sex scene!). Yeah, time has a way of exposing one’s fuckups, should one pay attention. In ten years I’ll look back on this and be amazed by what an ignorant fuckhead I was in 2012… if I’m lucky enough to retain my sense of perspective.
Then again, maybe new media are the solution to this problem. I mean, if I read a Tom Clancy novel I could be forgiven — no, stop waving that essay by Sartre, I don’t mean “forgiven” except rhetorically — for thinking that the solution to life’s problems resides in shooting the right people betwixt the running lights. On the other hand, if I’m playing a modern computer game with a sophisticated plot, like Apache Longbow — er, I mean, an educated RPG like Mass Effect — I might realize that my destiny’s in my own hands and start thinking about the varied outcomes that might occur every time I twitch instead of twatch.
Or I might not. I mean, if I miss an apex by half a foot in rFactor and lose half a mile per hour in exit velocity and drop half a car-length to the other guy at the end of the consequent straight and get passed for position, that’s my doing and I’m not going to make excuses for myself unless I’m a little bitch who plays Forza or Gran Turismo on a fucking console with a fucking gamepad or— I’ll stop being a snob now*. But if I’m playing an RPG, well, I’m participating in a story that others have written for me. This is as true of Final Fantasy VI as it is of System Shock II or KOTOR or Mass Effect 3… oh wait….
You have got to be fucking kidding me. Did you whistle-dicks wax incontinent when — spoiler warning! — Gordon Freeman got caught in an ultimatum by the G-Man at the end of Half-Life? “Oh, I wanted to defeat the alien threat and go back to my nice safe post-doc! This game sucks!” Did you quit FF VI in a huff when you got railroaded into the World fo Ruin? “Bawwww, I wanted to kill Kefka and make Figaro safe for democracy!”
It’s a story. It is fick shin. You either have to wrap your lips around the author’s throbbing shaft and rub your tastebuds against the story’s glans or come read econ texts and play racing sims with humourless nerds like me. Or, god fuckin’ forbid, grab some perspective in both hands and walk in both worlds as it suits you, recognizing them for what they are. You know, like a normal healthy H. sap. sap. might.
* No I won’t.