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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