Since the beginning of human existence, people have been telling stories. Even before written language, cave man drawings told tales of the group’s greatest hunts. As we have evolved, our species has developed numerous new ways to express ourselves, which inevitably leads to more forms of story telling. The oral tradition, literature, the epic poem, film, theater and video games all fall under the vast scope of storytelling mediums that humans have developed, but one thing I’ve learned is that our addiction to stories and the characters within them extends far beyond the written page, movie or computer screen.
As I get older, I realize just how similar I am to everyone I used to say I ‘hated’, before I knew that hate is not synonymous with ‘I don’t understand and therefore am annoyed by these people’. People who wait on their favorite celebrity’s every word on twitter or buy those pulpy gossip magazines were the first ones of my list. Below them were sports fanatics who knew every player on their favorite team, including any relevant rookie worth recruiting within the entire league. I would sit in my computer chair, arms crossed, scrunching my face in disapproval at all the vapid idiots who wasted their time worrying about things that don’t matter, while simultaneously googling newly released Magic: The Gathering cards on one side of my screen and watching a fighting game tournament on Twitch.tv on the other. “Why would anyone give a shit what Jennifer Laurence is wearing?” I would ask myself. While I’ll admit that I still don’t know the answer to that question, I do have a new found understanding of celebrity worship and the gossip industry.
Magic: The Gathering is a great collectible card game, but it is also another way that humans (in this case, Wizard’s of the Coast) tell interesting stories to one another. Fighting games may not have much in terms of story in and of themselves, but the professional players who play in tournaments for large cash prizes tell stories as they rise and fall in success and popularity with each subsequent tournament ranking. My affinity for Magic: the Gathering (I cost 1 colorless mana less for each Magic the Gathering card I own, of course) is similar to a twelve year old’s obsession with Jennifer Laurence, at least in our intentions, if not in execution. I play MTG to have fun and learn about the story of each new plane, new planeswalkers and the creatures they command, while the twelve year old reads about Ms. Laurence’s latest diet or outfit because she loves Jennifer Laurence and wants to hear the story that the gossip industry and Ms. Laurence’s public relations assistant allow the public to consume. Similarly, the professional fighting game players I tweet about are telling a story in their gameplay just as much as professional basketball players do. I may not give a crap about Tom Brady (sorry Dad), but I cheer every time Filipino Champ loses a match. Although they may not be imaginary, famous actors, authors and athletes’ lives become their own form of fiction, as their public image molds together with rumors and gossip to create an alternate persona. We’re all innately addicted to stories and their characters, no matter how they’re presented or what form they take.
Now, it is important to say that understanding is not the same as respecting or agreeing with, as I have a serious issue with celebrity gossip and idol worship. The problem isn’t that their stories focus on real people, because I don’t have a problem with liking sports or professional gaming. The issue is that the stories often involve the celebrity’s personal life, whether it’s their sex life, drug problems or personal relationships, often against their will. If a drugged out Charlie Sheen wants to tell his story to the public, that’s just fine, but when people get excited about celebrities getting arrested or going to rehab or committing suicide, then there’s no thread of my being that can respect them. I love the stories revolving around Gandalf the Grey, but he’s not a real person with real problems and real emotions. Jennifer Laurence is, on the other hand, and although she may benefit from her fame and ‘act the part’ off screen, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still deserve the respect and privacy that any normal person would. The success of Shakespeare and Game of Thrones prove that humans love tragedy, but deriving enjoyment from the tragedy of real people’s lives is just plain immoral. Getting excited for a famous persons’ success is just fine and dandy, but if learning about how awful people’s lives are gets your rocks off, keep it in the realm of fiction.