Story Matters

Story matters, on a fundamental level. Fiction reveals reality and can, in turn, change it.

I have a masters degree in children’s literature. Really. I studied how we use stories, often unconsciously, to teach our children about how they should behave in the world. I looked primarily at fairytales, since they get passed down through the years, changing as society changes.

Most of us no longer need the message from “Beauty and the Beast” that the “monster” your father makes you marry for business reasons will probably turn out to be a very nice guy, so you might as well make the best of it. And so the focus of the story changes to fit the lessons we want to teach now, about looking beyond outside appearances to see the good inside. Disney made it even more nuanced by making it so both Belle and the Beast need to grow and change—a much needed update for a beautiful story mired in awkward beginnings.

Anyway, all of this is just to explain part of why I find this article by Becky Chambers about gender in video games to be so compelling.

I’m not a big video game player, but I’m a huge story geek, and some of the coolest stories today are being told through video games. So yes, it matters a lot when large groups of people are left out of or marginalized in the telling of these stories.

I completely agree that we’ll know we’ve finally made it when there’s wide diversity in our protagonists—in games, in children’s media, in TV shows, in commercials—and it doesn’t strike us as odd. We’ll have made it when there’s no reason to talk about it. But we’re not there yet, and so it’s important to have these conversations until we get there.

Her personal experiences say more than my academic approach can. It’s a well written and interesting article. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

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6 Responses to Story Matters

  1. Tracy Hurley says:

    Oh, this is similar to something that has been in my headspace for some time now.

    Many, many stories about women focus on their looks and their ability to find a husband, enough so that people point to this illuminating something innate or “natural” about women. However, if you try to remember the historical context of the time, it becomes clear that the rules of society probably had more to say about this than any obvious natural inclination.

    Women could not own property or enter into contracts (at least for the most part). They could not enter into professions and their job prospects were rather limited. Being widowed or having your husband leave you left you without an income. Not having children left you without a retirement plan. They were often not educated and not provided any martial training.

    If you remember that women are the protagonists of their own lives, have needs and desires they need to meet, and live in a society with these mechanics, it doesn’t take much to see that the only way to meet one’s needs and to potentially improve one’s position in society would be through relationships, especially marriage. We too often think of the oppressed in terms of their victimhood rather than looking at the ways they obtained and held power within their communities.

    Thanks for the post!

    • ayvalentine says:

      Yes – if you read stories written by women (yes, even the big names like Austen, Bronte, etc.) this becomes very clear. Dickens had a pretty good handle on it, too. And there are many compelling stories within that. You can’t tell me the Dowager Duchess from Downton Abbey isn’t the most powerful character in that setting! Even as her granddaughters come into a different kind of power.

      And now let me tell you about my character. 🙂 One of my favorite characters ever was a noblewoman who was totally useless with a weapon (her damage modifier was negative). She was married (quite happily, actually) and her focus was running the house/family. She may not have been able to cut your head off with a sword, but she could destroy you socially because she knew how all the relationships worked. One of the most powerful storylines was giving birth to the heir. I loved that game. And I’m grateful to Clark who managed to run a game where all of his players could play the characters they wanted to, and my desire to play a battle-impaired noblewoman was well accommodated.

      Of course, I also had a ton of fun in another game playing a woman warrior with a great sword. 😉

      There are so many wonderful stories and so many ways to tell them. It’s important that we embrace the variety.

  2. ayvalentine says:

    Just a note: If I don’t know who the hell you are and you call me “Sweetheart” and write condescending comments oversimplifying my argument and essentially calling me stupid, I totally reserve the right not to approve your comment.

    If an actual conversation is what you’re looking for, please approach me as an intelligent human being. You don’t have to agree with what I say, but you absolutely need to be respectful.

  3. Carl Klutzke says:

    1. This post reminds me of an image I really liked:

    2. As a student of children’s literature, you may enjoy these annotated fairy tales by Ursula Vernon. Basically she just inserts what’s going through her head as she’s reading some rather obscure fairy tales.

    • ayvalentine says:

      OK, love the image – Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Zoe are among my 12 year old daughter’s absolute favorite characters at the moment.

      And I need to stop reading Ursula Vernon’s fairy tales because I will lose all day to it! I was laughing out loud. That’s so wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Pingback: The Quest for Characters Like Me |

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