Going for Real

I don’t play video games.

I have friends who do, and I hope they won’t be angry with me for what I’m about to write. It applies to me, and not necessarily to anyone else. But I don’t see the point of them. I don’t want to spend time going into a secondary reality if, when I return to this reality, I haven’t brought something back — some wisdom, some sense of beauty, something that has changed me and that I can use to change the primary world I live in.

As soon as I use the term “secondary reality” here, you know I’m referring to J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories,” in which he says that when we tell stories, we are creating a secondary reality we can enter. He justifies fantasy by saying we are allowed to create things that don’t exist, that those things may indeed have a greater reality than things in our primary world. Pegasus may be more real, in a sense, than the Chrysler building. I’m not so sure about the Chrysler building, actually, because it’s developed its own mythology. But I’m pretty sure that Pegasus is more real than the stock market. Perhaps being real isn’t predicated on actually existing. Odysseus feels real to me, as does Little Red Riding Hood.

What I’m trying to get at, I guess, is that some things feel real and important, and some things don’t. Daffodils and fairy tales do. Video games don’t, and much of contemporary popular culture doesn’t either. I know this is terribly subjective.

Video games and myths are both part of the continuum of the fantastic, and indeed video games can be based on myth. Could it be, then, that what I’m talking about has to do with the difference between Carl Jung’s idea of the collective consciousness and the collective unconscious? That video games are part of the collective consciousness, while the old myths reach much, much deeper than that? I’m trying to explain this intellectually, but really what I’m trying to explain is an instinct — a sense for the relatively realness of things. I always feel a little sick when I’m in a place that feels completely unreal to me. Being a corporate lawyer was like that. My work was consequential, certainly. But it felt unreal.

My goal in life is to live as real a life as possible, which includes those things that are fantastical but feel real to me. So I want a garden with daffodils in it, the old-fashioned kind that have such a sweet scent. And I want to read fairy tales, and write them. I want to wear clothes, not costumes, but I want them to be both modern and beautiful, which really means timeless. I want to eat fruit and vegetables from my garden. I want to hear birds, and streams, and the wind in the treetops.

I live in a large city, so I can’t have everything I want right now. But I’m trying to make life as real as I can. Until I can live here:

Witch's Cottage

That, in case you haven’t guessed, is my witch’s cottage. Someday, I will live in a cottage like that, and write my books, and make magic . . .

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13 thoughts on “Going for Real

  1. I can see how you feel thus. I have also, as I also don’t play video games. (I also have no interest in any sports, or chess, or cards, to either participate in myself or to watch. Hit me with a hammer instead.) But I’ve come to know many people who do (my husband included), online and tabletop. Some GM (game master, which means setting the rules of the secondary reality), and some design, professionally, for the market.

    Believe me when I say that that secondary reality is as real to them as your fairytale stories are to you. AND color their external mundane lives brilliantly for the inner experience of having been a *designer* participant in the vid stories, in the same way the fables resonate for readers/writers. Indeed, ALL of those gamers started by being hooked on faery tales, historic myths and legends. Still are. They read voraciously. All these paths to creativity have molded who they are. . . for the better. :-)

  2. “Someday, I will live in a cottage like that, and write my books, and make magic…”

    I’m hesitant to say I’ve never heard it put in those terms before, but… I think I’ve actually never heard it said like that before: I want to make magic.

    Not just… magical stories, or a magical life. Magic itself.

    I want to make magic, too. This suddenly seems very important and meaningful. I think I’ll go away now and figure out what exactly magic looks like to me…

  3. Beautiful post – it’s rare that you see such a compact, and thoroughly honest (indeed, real) expression of what truly matters in life. Your description of what is ‘magical’ also resonates deeply with me. It’s something that hums with ‘religious’ import but is also very, very intimate and uncategorisable.

  4. Out of curiosity, can I ask for a list of games that you have experienced? I am not trying to be obnoxious or demeaning in any way, I just really am curious because the definition of what a video game is is always changing. Video games are not purely games anymore. In a way, they never were.

    I think that everyone has stories inside of them that have changed them and always seem to stay with them. Everyone has stories that speaks something true. For me, some of those stories have been brought to me through video games. To me, there is beauty in those realities and in the stories that I wandered through and I have brought so many things back from them that I treasure greatly. I realize that this is not the case for everyone and that is fine. However, I feel the need to object when I see someone writing off an entire medium of expression and storytelling. To me, it is like someone refusing to go into a bookstore because the first shelf they see will always be filled with celebrity biographies and 50 shades of grey.

    There are intense, emotional moments that I have had while playing through a story in a game that I have never been able to experience through books. There are things that I have felt going through a game that books do not have the power to make me feel. The opposite is also true. I think that a story that is loved will always have some truth in it, whether it is written in ink or in code.

  5. Wow, I loved this post. But I also loved Cerelune’s comments. I write fantasy books, read fantasy books (love Tolkien especially), and I have played videogames. I don’t play them while I’m writing a book, but I have played them, so like Cerelune, I’m curious about what games you’ve played.

  6. There are a lot of shooter games out there where the only goal is to rack up the biggest body count possible. I can’t see that these sorts of games have any real value to anybody. But there are games out there that are beautifully designed with environments that are breathtaking. I’m thinking of games like the Myst series that employ a very mythic narrative surrounding the ability of the characters to write books that link to different ages. The Myst universe has actually broken past the video game medium and has entered the literary realm with three books (and they’re quite good, too). My favorite of the games is Myst III: Exile. And one of the best things about them: no shooting!

    So if you’re willing to look past the obnoxious popularity of shooter games, there are a lot of games that let the player explore beautifully imagined worlds, not so unlike exploring different worlds through books.

    And yes, that cottage is sooooooo very me. I wonder if it looks anything inside like Nell’s cottage in the film “Legend.” My dream would be complete if that were true.

  7. I feel the same as you, Theodora. There is a realness to me in fairytales and myths that I don’t feel in the actual world, a world so saturated by gadgets and celebrity gossip and fetid reality shows and pop-culture references and the drive to bulldoze one’s way through life. So I endeavor to bring stories and magic into my life daily, to slow down and notice the small states of enchantment that thrive in the least expected places of the everyday. When I go to my 9-5 job (which I rather loathe, but it pays the bills), I invoke the myth of Persephone, and I become for a while (at least in my imagination) that Spring Maiden who was so cruelly snatched from her home by Hades. I descend into the Underworld (for oft-times that is what my office job feels like), but I also know, like Persephone, I will rise again and return to my beloved home, bringing Spring with me. It’s this mythic anticipation of renewal that informs my daily routines. It is a song, a spell. Life can be magic.

    • Hello Lynn, what a brilliant metaphor for your job and for all the things we have to do which we don’t like – I hope you don’t mind but I shall think of Persephone now whenever I have an unpleasant task in hand.

      I’m not interested in videogames either – but it seems from the comments above there are lots of fabulous ones. I wonder whether they represent the collective consciousness more than films or fiction or paintings? I know diddly squat about Jung, so that is a thought derived from genuine ignorance.

      • Thank you, Helen. No, I don’t mind at all. I think that it’s important to bring the mythic into our lives as much as possible, and to “make magic,” as Theodora so eloquently put it.

  8. As a youth I spent a lot of time playing video games, and even making friends through the virtual reality of the gaming world. In particular, I remember spending hours upon hours in Everquest, training my character (a healer) to learn better healing and protection spells to help other players. It was fun, and I met some nice people.

    But eventually I wanted things to be “real” again — I wanted a life I could see, smell, and taste. I wanted friends whose faces I recognized. Later on I still enjoy playing some video games, in particular the Final Fantasy games which blend in beautiful art, music, story line and magical characters.

    But going from video games to reading and writing books didn’t seem to me to be trading one virtual reality for another, but instead turned the focus from outside of myself to inside myself. Books helped to deepen and enrich me as a person, and showed me who I wanted to be and what I cared about in life.

    Years of video gaming never did that. If anything I just disappeared, even from myself, for a long time.

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