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Why Fairy Tale Reboots are a Necessary Part of Society

 

Fairy tale reboots are so in right now.  Cinderella’s in the theatres, Once Upon a Time had a strong last season, and Maleficent rocked the box office. Versions of all these stories have already been made. So why are we rebooting them? Is it a cynical cash grab by studios? Well, yes, partially. But it’s also something more.

Fairy tales are a way to communicate shared values. As our values change, so to must our touchstones that convey them.

disney pop art

Magic Mirror by Greg Guillemin
The old versions of fairy tales just don’t work for people today. We don’t seem to find them entertaining, funny, inspiring, or relevant. Our culture has changed, and so our stories are changing as well.

This is not the first time that we have changed fairy tales. Disney itself became rich rebooting the dark German peasant tales of the Brothers Grimm into something light and fun for consumerist America, then rehashed them again with a spate of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s. Now, Disney, and others, are again changing fairy tale characters to make them more relevant to society today. The changes to fairy tales show us many changes in how mainstream society views both the media and the world.

Why Do Fairy Tales Matter?

Fairy tales, or similar folklore, appear in most world cultures. Often, when they were written, they were not believed to be fiction. For example, the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel in 1812, 66 years before the last real-life witchcraft trial in the United States was held in 1878. These fairy tales had real relevance to people who believed in witches, fairies, and other evil creatures. Now, few people believe, but fairy tales are still relevant. In fact, with the rise of fantasy literature, movies and TV shows, it’s clear that we are interested in magic almost as much as those ancestors who believed in it. Partially, this is because we still use fairy tales as what literary critics call “touchstones.” Touchstones are references that most people can understand, like the phrases “wicked stepmother” and “magic beans.” These touchstones carry a lot of meaning in a small package, and can be used for metaphors, morals, political speeches, and more. They are a way to communicate shared values and understandings. As our values change, how do we update our touchstones?

Hipster Disney Princesses thumbnail

Why Fairy Tale Reboots are a Necessary Part of Society

Fairy tale reboots are so in right now.  Cinderella’s in the theatres, Once Upon a Time had a strong last season, and Maleficent rocked the box office. Versions of all these stories have already been made. So why are we rebooting them? Is it a cynical cash grab by studios? Well, yes, partially. But it’s also something more.
Fairy tales are a way to communicate shared values. As our values change, so to must our touchstones that convey them.

Magic Mirror by Greg GuilleminThe old versions of fairy tales just don’t work for people today. We don’t seem to find them entertaining, funny, inspiring, or relevant. Our culture has changed, and so our stories are changing as well.This is not the first time that we have changed fairy tales. Disney itself became rich rebooting the dark German peasant tales of the Brothers Grimm into something light and fun for consumerist America, then rehashed them again with a spate of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s. Now, Disney, and others, are again changing fairy tale characters to make them more relevant to society today. The changes to fairy tales show us many changes in how mainstream society views both the media and the world.

Why Do Fairy Tales Matter?

Fairy tales, or similar folklore, appear in most world cultures. Often, when they were written, they were not believed to be fiction. For example, the Brothers Grimm published “Hansel and Gretel” in 1812, 66 years before the last real-life witchcraft trial in the United States was held in 1878. These fairy tales had real relevance to people who believed in witches, fairies, and other evil creatures. Now, few people believe, but fairy tales are still relevant. In fact, with the rise of fantasy literature, movies and TV shows, it’s clear that we are interested in magic almost as much as those ancestors who believed in it. Partially, this is because we still use fairy tales as what literary critics call “touchstones.” Touchstones are references that most people can understand, like the phrases “wicked stepmother” and “magic beans.” These touchstones carry a lot of meaning in a small package, and can be used for metaphors, morals, political speeches, and more. They are a way to communicate shared values and understandings. As our values change, how do we update our touchstones?

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I Don’t Wanna Grow Up: Why More Adults are Trying to Reclaim their Childhood

 

Baseball great Chili Davis once said, “Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.” Jay Z followed a decade later echoing the same sentiment, “Life is but a beach chair, I don’t wanna grow up.” Both of these seem like a catchy phrases but they beg the question: Why in the world would anyone NOT want to grow up?

For many of us, when we think of the idea of being a grown up, we think of all the things we couldn’t do when we were kids: drive a sports car, get an amazing apartment, stay up as late as we want, NEVER face restrictions or punishments from parents, and eat French fries and/or Sour Patch Kids for dinner. And as ridiculous as this seems, asking any adult will prove that some (obviously not all) become realities for many people. But many of the other realities of being a grown up aren’t discussed as much and leave some people craving the carefree lifestyle afforded to us during childhood. Kanye West alluded to this when he rapped, “Reality is catching up to me, taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody.”

 

Adult Summer Camp

 

Escaping Adulthood

One of the main ways that adults have been trying to reclaim this childhood is by making time for experiences that remind them of being a kid. For example, in Brooklyn a woman recently opened the world’s first preschool for adults. The school offers the same types of activities children take part in during their pre-K years including dress up, show and tell, naptime, and finger painting .  In addition to this school, thousands of adults have been spending their vacation time attending summer camps that allow them to delve back into activities they loved doing as children. All over the country, grown ups are devoting their free time to campfires, arts and crafts, band camps, archery, stargazing, and tons of other activities to reconnect with their inner child.  Some of them even turn their cell phones over to completely let go of their responsibilities!

Camp No Counselors in NY

So what is it exactly that is drawing adults to these types of activities? Well, Dr. Stuart Brown from the National Institute of Play says, “Play is something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.” Research has shown that playtime for adults allows them to stay sharp and connect with others to build community.

Stepbrothers Film

What do you think? Should playtime only be for kids?  Or do adults need to spend more time playing and less time working?

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Breaking Fallout: And Other Ways to Play Video Games Outside the Box

 

Let’s Players, or LP’ers, are video game players who stream their games on Youtube who often try extreme feats to stand out from the pack. One LPer, Kyle “The Weirdist” Hinckley, recently performed an impressive feat: completing Fallout 4 without killing a single person, animal, or robot.

This surprised even the game’s lead designer, who actually did not previously believe that he had made a game that could be beaten entirely without violence. Fallout 4 relies heavily on violence both as a mechanic and a storytelling element.

Mechanically, violence is the most interesting, complicated, and well-developed part of the game, and almost all skills and items improve your character’s ability to kill. From a storytelling point of view, the story relies on violence to enforce the themes of post-apocalyptic social collapse, desperation, and self-interest. The story, about the disappearance of the main character’s son, assumes that the character will kill to get the son back. As a result, many characters in the game must be killed for the story to advance. So how did Hinckley do it?

Turns out, while certain characters must die, the game system makes it possible to manipulatively cause their deaths, without directly killing them. Hinckley used a whole range of strategies to keep killing off his character’s record, making the story about a squeamish master manipulator rather than a post-apocalyptic fighter. This brings up one of the most fascinating differences between written fiction and video games.

The Unique Storytelling of Video Games

In written fiction, the reader experiences only the plot created by the author. In video games, players can experience both the intended narrative, controlled by the game designers, and unintended experiences, controlled by the player. Video game players also exercise creativity, using the game as a tool to create their own new art. How you personally “break” a video game is a good indication of how much your creative mind is suited for making games of your own. In this lesson, students will consider how to break video games in ways that create new experiences. But first, let’s look at the elements of the videogame experience.

Video Game Appreciation 101

Video games have three elements:

  1. Aesthetics: the computer generated graphics, art and music
  2. Narrative: the scripted story elements of the game
  3. Ludology: the mechanics and options available to the player

gamediagram

Aesthetics and narrative are entirely controlled by the design team, but ludology is not. Designers cannot predict all player actions, only some.

Being Unpredictable

Video game designers tend to envision specific audiences. RPGs like Fallout are sold to an audience of 17-35 year olds that has, statistically, roughly equal numbers of men and women, and that shows a preference for less complicated, high-reward gameplay. RPG players are most motivated by quick candy-like rewards, also known in brain science as Incremental Goal Progress. That little rush when you loot an enemy for a reward is the core of the RPG. When designing the game, therefore, designers try to encourage players to experience the plot by putting more rewards on the plot-heavy paths. For example, in Fallout 4, the designers encourage the player to kill enemies by making killing the easiest way to gain wealth and experience points. The designers can therefore assume most players will be violent, making it easier to cluster the best art and story along the violent path that they know players will take. Hinckley’s experience was so different because he was not playing like a typical RPG player.

Let’s look at some other examples. Racing games all assume that their players want to win, every time. This means they often do not test what happens if players go completely offroad or backwards. By exploring offroad, players not only create their own experiences, but also tend to find a ton of unplanned glitches. Minecraft is designed as a cooperative crafting game; the designer did not predict people would build into the game an elaborate shooter. Most first-person shooters can be turned into ridiculous physics puzzles, as long as the player isn’t interested in a fair and balanced shoot-out.

In the games you play, think about what the designers think you will do. Is it possible to do something different? Can you create an entirely new game by breaking an existing one?