Internalizing the Myth

I spent the entire weekend angry that the new Clash of the Titans was so horrible. This was one of the seminal films of my youth, a tale that had nurtured my love for heroic fantasy, and it was utterly ruined by an almost unwatchable farce of a remake.

Monday at work I must have vented my frustration a half-dozen times. At one point, I even proclaimed that I would have been happy if only the film makers had reshot the original script and added updated special effects.

After fuming for a while, I realized I hadn’t seen the original film in many years. So over lunch I fired up Netflix and bounded over to my instant queue, where I had the old Clash of the Titans waiting for me.

By the time I was 30 minutes in, I realized how utterly wrong I had been. If the original script were shot today, moviegoers would laugh themselves out of the theater. It was bad. Really bad.

So why did I have such fond memories of this film from when I was a kid? While I’d like to think my tastes in film are more discerning now than when I was a boy, it couldn’t just be the ignorance of youth. Because despite the movie’s terrible dialogue and overwrought acting, I had one thing right: the movie told a really good story.

What I’d done was internalize the myth. I’d taken what was great and resonant about the story and hung onto it, discarding all the nonsense that sticks out like a sore thumb when watching the film today.

We do the same thing with so many aspects of life, including MMOs. Many of us look back on our days in Ultima Online, EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, and other early online games through the haze of selective memory. We internalize the myths that matter: the long camps that netted a coveted item, the fight to survive a Mistmoore train, your raid wiping and recovering in the wee hours of the morning. These tales are as vivid and vital today as they were when first experienced, and serve as the foundation for countless reminiscences with old friends.

But when I go back to EverQuest to check out the latest expansion or run through a familiar area, the game is virtually unplayable to me. The interface feels archaic, a huge impediment that actually gets in the way of my fun. Yet despite many evolutions over the years, it’s largely the exact same interface I spent countless hours interacting with.

Interfaces aren’t memorable. Dialogue and quests fade away.  The myths we internalize are rooted in the heroics of social interaction and the drama of emotional investment. If you can make a game–or movie, or book, or comic–with an experience that genuinely moves the audience, you can make something memorable. Because by doing so, you will have touched he myths that lie at the heart of all of us.

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Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

14 thoughts on “Internalizing the Myth”

  1. I, like you, love the original Clash. And I’ve watched it as recently as this past summer. Yes, it’s a bit corny, but it tells a great story. I thought Massawyrm, from AICN, wrote one of the better reviews on the new Clash of the Titans.

    “The original CLASH is a love story, an adventure about a boy, born of a god and a mortal, who sets out to find his destiny only to find it in the eyes of the world’s most beautiful woman. So he sets out to win the heart and hand of that woman by going on one of the greatest adventure’s ever embarked upon. He must, when all is said and done, kill a fellow demi-god, behead a Gorgon and slay the Kraken – all in the name of love.”

    This version of CLASH, on the other hand, is not at all about love. It’s the story of a boy who is very angry at his dad. After watching his loving adopted father killed by his real dad’s evil brother, he sets out to murder the gods – which tangentially causes him to want to save Andromeda – but not because he likes her. Instead, killing the Gorgon will weaken Hades and allow Perseus to kill him personally. What follows is a series of action sequences in which Sam Worthington (playing Jake Sully without the wheelchair) runs around bitching about his dad and refusing the gifts and favors of the gods while everyone around him (essentially substitute Argonauts) are killed off brutally while begging him to stop being such a whiny bitch and just accept their help.”

    As Stephen King is fond of saying and writing, Story is king.

    End of discussion.

  2. It’s a shame the new movie apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) tries and fails to rewrite the original for today’s “perceived” audience. The original CotT might be dated and a little corny, but I really enjoyed the story and the characters. Oh and the music! I’m 50 minutes in on my refresher watch, I don’t even feel it is as dated as you say, Moorgard. It just….added whimsy and heart to an epic and brutal tale.

    I do concur with your ultimate conclusion, though. I have tried to return to the ghosts of MMO’s past. It is never as you remember. We simply aren’t the same gamers we once were. The landscape has forever changed. It’s sad in a way. I’m just gonna blame WoW.

  3. I was underwhelmed by the new Clash. It wasn’t the look of the film: I rather liked some of the set pieces (Olympus and Medusa’s Lair) and action sequences (Scorpions) which took the original Clash and took their concept to the next level. It was the hurried middle act really disappointed me. You’ve been introduced to this motley crew of soldiers and mercenaries who are only given just enough background and dialog to make their eventual danger/sacrifice a fraction more meaningful than a Star Trek red shirt. It’s disappointing, to say the least.

    I wasn’t expecting Fellowship of the Rings, but I wanted to spend more questing with those men, the hero, exploring their relationships and the world around them, and not just rushed to away to a CG finale that felt anything but epic.

  4. Ha! I was reluctant to see the remake because I recalled the horrid original, but I thought the remake was great. Those scorpions! Medusa in her burning pit of a home. Sam Worthington is a far superior hero than *eek* Harry Hamlin could be. I can’t resist Liam Neeson in anything either. The Kraken was horribly done though.

  5. I remember very early EQ Abashi (the original Community Rep) commenting that everquest was a chat channel where you played a game between conversations.

    I remember my fun times with people and places far more then the “event” being fun itself. I’d venture to say some of my most memorable times were doing things like wiping to idiots aggroing CT in fear or dying because someone opened the HoT door in Temple of Veeshan not the actual dynamic of the game.

    I think if WoW has one epic failure it’s the lack of community it fosters. The game is so fast paced and so “button mashing” that it discourages people to get to know each other, maintain regular groups and build up those “relationships.”


    Oh on the topic… I loved the movie The Dark Crystal growing up and always considered it truly great… but rewatching it now I think I remember the excitement of being a kid and seeing it through those eyes more then the actual movie being great.

  6. So far I’m seeing about 50% of fond childhood memories as still being “quality” today. The ones that are still cool are nice to see every once and a while. The ones that aren’t can be very depressing, as in: wow, what was I thinking.

    Clash, I still like, mainly because I enjoy the art of special effects without computers.

    Voltron … cool tech, cool toys, but wow, what awful plotlines.

    The Hobbit … ouch.

    Secret of Nimh … Awesome.

  7. Absolutely agree. Nostaliga is such a powerful thing. I tried playing Anarchy Online again last year and I gave up after battling for hours trying to get my controls and UI to work the way I wanted. I couldn’t even figure out how to zoom out :( I guess we just take too much for granted these days and lament about the “good ol’ days” with clouded judgement :)

  8. I haven’t seen the new Clash of the Titans yet but I share your sentiments in regards to the original movie. As a child, I was completely enthralled with the storyline. My roommate rented the old one recently and I only watched the very beginning and was surprised by how different it seemed. I like to think that I’m an imaginative person, but I doubt that I’ll ever be as creative as when I was a little kid. Sometimes, the less you know, the more you see. And that’s why being a noob in EQ or WoW is much more exciting than creating an alt. Faydark used to be a mysterious place to explore. Trying to find my corpse in the dark after being killed by a pixie trickster was terrifying (not an exaggeration), despite being only a few yards away from Felwithe. Whenever I return to Faydark, it’s as though it’s lost most of it’s magic, it’s character. MMOs need to find a way to keep players in that kid full of wonder mode because the best stories are never the ones told by NPCs.

  9. No doubt old EQ is dated in many ways. The UI and controls are clunky and unfamiliar now. The graphics are old and unsophisticated even if the art still looks good given the low poly counts. There are huge flaws in the game design that players lived with back then. Even though it’s impossible for me to go back and play and enjoy it like I once did, I don’t discount the great memories and the very many great things about EQ. I think they were all real, even if we can’t enjoy them anymore like we once did.

    I’ve gone back to EQ a few times just to run around and visit old places and solo a bit. Every time I think why hasn’t any MMO since created such a great and interesting world. Maybe part of what made it great was that nobody new exactly what to expect with MMO games, but the developers also did so many things well. I can remember the annoying tick-tock sound that was constant in Akanon, and so many other little details that made exploring the world of EQ so fun. And I hear so many similar stories from old EQ vets that I know it’s not just me. I think memories can be clouded in two ways – remembering things fondly that really weren’t so great, and also discounting older things just because they are now the “old” way.

  10. […] Galidin

    I remember very early EQ Abashi (the original Community Rep) commenting that everquest was a chat channel where you played a game between conversations. […]

    I played a cleric in original EQ and for the first 30 levels I spent the majority of the game looking at my spell book and watching health bars, I never even saw the fight most of the time, so there was only one thing to do and that was to chat. I still remember names of players I haven’t played with in 10 years. Some times I would log in with no intention of actually doing anything, just chatting with friends. With a limited number of places to go you saw the same people all the time, if you had a reputation as a jerk/idiot you were pretty much screwed, no one would group with you. I have played a ton of MMO’s since EQ and although most are far superior game play wise, the community of the original EQ can’t be beat.

    Moorgard I too recently tried EQ again when steam had all the expansions for $2 or some crazy amount, I logged in and was wondering why my character wouldn’t move when I pressed the W key and then remembered you had to use the arrow keys to move. Just running around PoK was a nightmare and yet I played well over 150 days of playing time.

    When I was a young kid growing up I remember my favorite song on the radio was “Play grounds in my mind” I hadn’t heard the song in at least 30 years, so I found it on the web and OMG It was the most horrible song ever. Some times things don’t age well…


  11. Looking back at all my favorite video game memories, even the “single player” games, I think a lot of the nostalgic feelings are, like for so many, related to the friendships tied to them. I remember thoroughly enjoying the experience of playing the first few final fantasies (at least the ones that made it to the states, properly stated are FF1, 4, and 6, though released here as 1, 2 and 3), but my enjoyment wasnt so much because of the games themselves (even though they were all really well done), instead it was the fact that myself, my younger brother, and at least one if not 3 other friends all sat and enjoyed the games together. It was like one long interactive movie experience, because not only having more eyes meant less was missed, but it was social and fun. Like watching pro wrestling. Mostly entertaining on it’s own (assuming you like fight-dramas), but much, much better with friends (and beer). When the main characters (in the game, or I guess in wrestling) gets through a really tough fight by the skin of their teeth, it’s way more exhilarating when everyone is there feeding that euphoric feeling.

    Or that’s my take. Knowing that makes it easier to go back and play old games, but it’s still never the same. most times when I want that nostalgic feeling I just turn on one of the soundtracks. Less disappointment.

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