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The Evolution of Storytelling

When I was first approached about writing for the Offbeat Times, it was to cover books. Given my background as a bibliophile and the holder of two Bachelor’s degrees pertaining to writing and books, I understood why my friend had put me into the running for such a topic. And I leapt at the opportunity because intuition told me to. Exciting, right?


That was until it hit me that I hadn’t picked up a NEW book in at least 5 years - no fiction, at least. Since college, much of my media intake (books, movies, television, and even video games) sort of stalled out. It was like I had switched my dial to “nostalgia mode” and left it there out of comfort. I was complacent replaying and rewatching beloved characters go through plot lines I had come to expect.


So, I had to think outside the box in terms of content creation while I work on fitting more reading time into my schedule for new books. Over the years, I’ve rabidly consumed first books, then movies, video games, and, most recently, television shows; all of which are modern modes of storytelling. Plus, we have so many cross-adaptations between platforms these days, that I figured I might be able to expand the scope of my article to touch on all of this. So I asked, and (Thank Goddess) they said yes!


In all my pondering on this new venture, I started researching the art form of storytelling throughout human history. Naively, I was thinking it began with oral traditions, before written language, but I’d forgotten cave paintings! They prove that even before language developed, we humans had this primal instinct to keep a record of what we experience; to tell stories. And with those stories, pass on knowledge, empathy, and wisdom to those that come after us.


My next train of thought brought me to the effectiveness of the different stages of storytelling. Obviously, cave paintings gave very little context, but they are unchanging. Whereas, the oral tradition we depended on for ages relies on the memory of each person the tale passes through. And so we evolved. The written word -unchanging and spared the inaccurate retellings of the oral tradition- catapulted us forward. From this we flourish - books, poetry, short stories. Eventually we combine the visual and the written into art forms like theater, television and movies.


At this level, I find the potential for building empathy and understanding increases exponentially. It allows creators to SHOW the audience a new perspective - to put them into the mindset of different characters as they navigate their various plots. My favorite form of storytelling, though, goes above and beyond even this. It combines the visual with the storytelling and puts the viewer in control of the story (to an extent). Anyone know where I’m going with this?


It’s video games! Even though this art form has been the center for much controversy (objections over senseless violence and the unnecessary hyper-sexualization of characters, for example), I’ve found that newer games are moving away from such base themes. The newest generation of games have far more depth, story-building, character development, and socially relatable content than Mario or Call of Duty ever did.


My all-time favorite game (de-throning Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time after almost 2 decades) The Last of Us, is a prime example of all of this. The intro portion of the game has players controlling our protagonist’s daughter 20 years before when the bulk of the game is set. You discover the apocalypse through the eyes of a young teenage girl before seeing her shot dead by a soldier. Even that detail is important. She could have been bit or killed dozens of times while you flee, but it’s the soldier - a supposedly trustworthy station - that pulls the trigger; and only after you believe you’ve made it to safety.


Time and again, this game subverted my storytelling expectations that were tied to video games. It breaks completely away from the “princess in need of rescuing from the mighty warrior” trope I’d grown up with in Mario and Zelda games. Instead, you’ve got a gruff old smuggler who is asked to ferry a child to safety in the hopes her immunity is the key to saving humanity. Seems simple enough, but it’s a path that would cost the main character, Joel, more than he’s willing to pay. And as the player controlling him, you are faced with complicated emotions that I, personally, had never felt from playing through a video game.


Storytelling teaches, entertains, distracts, and, at times, humbles us as humans. It is an art form that never goes out of style; only evolves with the technology and consciousness that harness its magic. I am endlessly excited at the possibilities modern technology allows us in our storytelling endeavors, and look forward to delving into more tasty tales in the coming years.



Stay tuned!


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