So I just now posted a duo of vlogs (it was gonna be just one but I had to cut it in half due to real-life interruptions) about something that bums me out… the lack of stories that really are “for adults” in anything more than a superficial sense.
I also make reference to a post on my wordpress blog. That post is “How to Be Deep – State the Obvious” and largely talks about… well, something I bring up here actually.
Link to that blog post – https://jispylicious.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/how-to-be-deep-state-the-obvious/
But first, one thing I forgot to mention in the video is that I feel part of the issue is that “mature” has become kind of a joke, largely thanks to two things: The 90s and the Internet. The 90s because that was the age of Darker and Edgier with the purported aim of being “more mature” which instead often came off as something an angsty 13-year-old would be into (though it worked on actual 13-year-olds). The Internet, because every forum has those assholes who go on about how they’re “more mature” than whoever they’re arguing with in a last-ditch effort to wring out some kind of victory when they’re clearly wrong, often with definitions of “mature” that are self-serving and laughable.
So about my own thoughts on the topic of maturity, as it relates to telling stories.
It mainly comes down to one problem I have, that being that nothing really feels like it makes me question my assumptions or teaches me anything. I’m not asking for edutainment or for everything to have a moral, but rather… something more fundamental.
Whenever I hear a movie praised for its depth, very often the “deep” parts are something that aren’t really all that new or enlightening a concept. Like for example, some movies these days get praised as being mind-enhancing work simply for having women who are capable of holding guns or using swords. Which intellectually and philosophically is the equivalent of teaching people that grass is green.
Of course women can use guns and swords. If you have hands, you can use any tool that requires hands. Every culture on Earth knows that a knife in a woman’s hands stabs just as sharp as a knife in a man’s hands. If you really needed to learn that from a movie, you’re either five years old, or else very stupid.
Likewise, video games like Undertale get praised a lot for their message that “killing is bad.” But… okay, if you’re over the age of three and you didn’t already know this, I don’t want you anywhere near me, because chances are you’re Scissorman from the Clock Tower games.
In the video I bring up the Police Quest series as one of the few times I felt like a video game spoke to me as an adult and seriously made me rethink my assumptions. Like most people I went most of my life thinking of cops as an “enemy” of sorts, a symbol of authority who at best you want to speak nicely to just so you won’t go to jail. Playing Police Quest (which is a series of adventure games but with an emphasis on showing what police work is actually like, instead of glamourizing it like movies and television often do) actually gave me a respect for these guys because for once I was seeing their perspective and what kind of crap they have to put up with. I think I’d always be the guy who forgets to put his gun in the locker when taking a punk to jail, for one.
When I was young, it was easy to expand my mind. First time I played Final Fantasy VI (the SNES release, not gonna get into the renumbering issue) it impressed me mainly just because I had never heard of RPGs before and the idea of a video game having a story beyond “Evil Being Kidnaps Girl, kill Evil Being” was new to me. Same goes for anime… it was just new in general (or at least, so I thought at the time) for these kinds of stories to be told in essentially, cartoons. I was so used to stuff like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being my idea of what cartoons are that seeing something like Bubblegum Crisis forever altered the landscape.
But now those things are dull. RPGs might have been new once, but now they all seem to be the same vacuous “here is a dumbass kid who is destined to fight a dumbass evil being.” So many anime have “here is a rebellion against SomeBody, Emperor of Destruction” (seriously the exact title “Emperor of Destruction” is pretty common). I recently watched a Romance of the Three Kingdoms anime from the 1980s and the first ep made me cringe because it replaced a unique story with anime cliches.
Speaking of which, in Part 2 of the vlog I talk a lot about Three Kingdoms because its one of the major times as an adult I felt like something seriously expanded my conscious thought. It’s hard for me to talk about though, because its one of those things where I always feel like I’m underselling it, or else completely giving people the wrong idea (but I’m still probably doing better than Dynasty Warriors, or the afformentioned anime). I also want to avoid spoilers because I’m seriously thinking of reading the book aloud on Youtube.
But like, what I do bring up in the vlog is the example of the Yellow Scarves. In the original Three Kingdoms story the Scarves are basically a rebellion against an emperor who is basically not managing his kingdom at all and is letting his attendants do everything and his attendants are very much being all “oh man its great living the high life” without consideration of the little guy. In a western story, the Yellow Scarves would probably be the good guys, but here they’re a force that needs to be put down (and Liu Bei, the “hero” of the novel, is introduced fighting them).
Why is that? Well its a lot of things that I had to think about. One conclusion I came to was related to the Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times,” which is often used on people who piss them off. At first glance, that may not be much of a curse–we all dream of being pirates or soldiers or whatever, I mean most video games are about you kicking ass in a time of conflict.
But the deal is you have to turn this on its head… yeah, living in interesting times is cool when you’re one of the top dogs of said times, but normal everyday laymen are often suffering. Like you may be just trying to farm enough for your family to eat and suddenly some general busts in and says “gimme all your food to feed my army” if they don’t just chop off your head and take everything because, you know, war. They can make up any story they want.
Then I started to think, well, what if the Yellow Scarves took over and wound up not being any better than the Han were? I mean, there is wisdom in the old saying, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Essentially, a bad order may by certain perspectives be better than no order at all.
I directly compared it to a koan, a concept in Zen Buddhism where there’s these statements that seem strange, and you’re not supposed to work them out logically, but instead adjust your own perspective until the statement makes sense. Just the first chapter of Three Kingdoms is making me adjust my perspective, you can imagine what the rest of the 2000-page long book could do.
That’s also why that anime version made me cringe… admittedly it was only the first episode, but the narrator briefly presented the situation… but afterwards, the Yellow Scarves were just a Goon Squad for our Anime Fightan Heroes to beat up and show off their Fightan Skillz like this was Naruto or something. It was just nuts that a story so deep was now being reduced to shonen cliches. (and before you ask, I don’t consider Dynasty Warriors a good way to experience the story either, not just due to sanitization but simply because Dynasty Warriors heavily condenses several things. I do, however, think they’re okay to play if you’re already familiar with the story and can spot the differences though).
This, too, was a way I feel like nothing is for adults anymore… so many writers seem intent on strictly following convention. Whenever, for example, you have a supervillain, the hero will never ever think to just talk to them, even if they have something in common. I never once saw a superhero story where someone asked the bad guy “So wait, why do you want to do this?” Or if they do, its played for laughs. It seems they always have to bullsh– a reason for the two to hate each other in order to force an action climax. Just once, JUST ONCE, I want to see the Batman story where Batman and Joker sit down and simply… talk. Not about plans but like, about rock n’ roll or society or the president, and it ends with Joker deciding maybe he doesn’t wanna go on a crime spree today because he was able to get it off his chest, so he goes back to Arkham willingly. (This, though, would require a Batman who doesn’t go in fists swinging, which is itself part of the problem).
[That last paragraph was not in the vlog]
You could say the same for that Three Kingdoms anime. It took a unique situation and turned it into an anime cliche, almost like the person doing the adaptation just naturally saw things that way or else couldn’t think of another way to do it (to be fair it could be a case of just text having an advantage over visual mediums and was thus unavoidable, but still, it feels like the writer didn’t even try).
After Three Kingdoms, the last time I felt truly “expanded” was the first two Metal Gear Solid games, which I didn’t play until 2010. The first raised all sorts of questions about government, war, and the world we live in, and the second goes even further and makes you question fundamental assumptions about not just the game, but your own reality. The fact that people hated the second game probably contributes to why gaming went backwards and is now basically just children’s stories because everyone is afraid of backlash, so now all they do is state the obvious because that’s “safe.”
I guess the reason I’m raising a stink about this is two things. One, I’m hoping readers/viewers can suggest something that might satisfy me in this regard. Two, I’m hoping maybe pointing out this issue will nudge things in the opposite direction. Like I dunno, maybe a future creative type will see this and start thinking outside the box.
So, please go ahead and post your thoughts below. Maybe you agree… or you think I’m just an old man who is bored of everything. You might be right.