Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Makes Writing Worth Living?

Every time we open a book, load a game or start a movie, we're opting in for some kind of writing. Even if you're playing Tetris, it once was an idea, that would have been written down at some point. For those of us in the Western, first-world countries, writing is something we take entirely for granted. This isn't a post about illiteracy, however; it's a post about making the most of what time you have.

Not every game is going to be your Heavy Rain or Alan Wake. Not every movie is going to be Casablanca or The Princess Bride. In an attempt to save you more time so you can spend it doing things you enjoy, here is a simple check-box list you can take a look at to determine whether you're really enjoying the story you're living :

1) Do you relate to the main character?

Can you understand where the main character is coming from and, more importantly, are you interested in where they're going? If not, put the media down and walk away. You're essentially living with the Hated Ex.

2) Do you feel like you understand enough of what's going on in the story?

Do you feel like you're being drawn into a mystery, or are the character motivations clear enough to keep you engaged in the storyline? No one wants to take tea with Master Yoda, especially if he's not going to teach you to be a Jedi. Chances are, whatever you're reading/watching/playing ain't gonna, so move on.

3) Is it frustrating you?

Now, some games use frustration as a technique. I don't mean vague I-need-to-beat-this-level-or-get-a-better-score frustration. I mean killing you over and over, having a protagonist who never learns anything or just plain not going anywhere anytime soon. If you like that kind of thing, go ahead, but I like my stories to have a direction other than 'standing still'.

4) Do you laugh in a pitying way?

If you giggle inadvertently when the space captain says, in all seriousness, "They want war, we'll give 'em war," chances are it's either out of character, out of context, or just generally poorly chosen. Voice acting or animation may come into it in a game, but, generally, if you're laughing at things that aren't meant to be funny, you're either watching a B-Grade horror movie or wasting your time.

5) Did you lose track of time?

If yes, keep going, within reason. If no, that's not a bad thing, necessarily. If you ticked off every five minutes of the intervening hours, quit it. You have better things to do with your time.

6) Are you also playing Facebook/texting/reading webcomics?

If you're multitasking, it's not gripping you. Move on.

7) Did your friend like it?

If yes, accept that you may not. Move on.

8) No, they really, really, really, really, REALLY liked it!

Is this someone you're trying to impress? If yes, cut it out. Have the guts to tell the truth. If no, why are you bothering? The nature of any form of expression, games in particular, means you will never have an identical experience to someone else. Just because my friend loves Descent doesn't mean I will, and he will still hate the Sims 3 no matter how exciting I tell him interior decorating is. We're different people. That's okay.

9) Do you feel empowered by reading/watching/playing your whatever?

If you don't feel good after your jaunt into imagination, then I would argue it wasn't worthwhile. Feeling good comes in many flavours - not just the warm 'n' fuzzies, but feeling whatever you want to feel, such as feeling sad at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or angry at the end of BioShock. If you come away from a story-based interaction feeling awful - or worse, feeling nothing - then that's a sign to spend your time elsewhere in future.

10) Did it change your life?

I mean this. Has reading/watching/playing this book/movie/game made you rethink some aspect of your existence? Surely not all recreation needs to be for self-improvement... right? Considering you take in information from so many sources at so many times during all of your waking hours, yes, everything should be helping you determine either who you are or who you want to be. Planescape: Torment changed my life, but not in the same way as Confessions of a Shopaholic. Planescape set me on my current career path; Confessions made me want to go shopping, while showing me the dangers of doing just that. I learned from both of them, so if you're not learning, what are you doing?

There are arguments for experiences. I agree. You may just want to be someone else for a while. That's okay too. What's not okay is wasting your precious free time on bad or mediocre writing, just because you don't know any better. Now you do. Go forth and be joyful.

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