The New Fairytale

I’m sorry for not writing before now! Two reasons: first, my computer is kaput. Not your problem, I know, but it did kind of put a damper on my blogging abilities. Second (related to first as well), I’m playing through the game FEZ, and I’m working on kind of a big post about it. However, I realized that I was not nearly deep enough into the game to do it justice, and my save file had just been erased. So, the past week has been comprised of relearning and redoing everything I already did, and finishing up that game. Look for the awesome post Monday! It’s going to be magnificent. Anyway!

With the recent release of GTA V I thought it’d be a good time to discuss the positive impact video games have on our children.

No, really.

I’ve wondered for a long time about video games (really? Who knew?). What makes them compelling, especially to children? What makes them different from other forms of entertainment/art? Those are both complex questions. It’s so easy to think of video games as addictive drivel (because some of them are *coughCandyCrushcough*), but video gaming has become such an integral part of our lives and entertainment, with the industry grossing $67 billion worldwide in 2012. So there must be something there worth noting, right? Excepting Miley Cyrus, most popular things have SOME sort of cultural significance and merit, even if it’s deeply hidden beneath sexist lyrics or mobile meth labs.

The title let the cat out of the bag, I’m afraid. Video games are the new fairy tales.

Though I've got to say Sleeping Beauty has a bit more class.

Mhm. Didn’t see it before now, did you?

“What do you mean, though? Fairy tales are something you read a child before bed, something that teaches them morals and life lessons! Video games don’t do that!!”

Au contraire once again, dear reader! Stomping Goombas and slashing Octoroks may not teach your child respect for women or fiscal responsibility, but it does about as much as fairy tales do to give a child a solid basis of understanding the difference between right and wrong, as well as the virtues of courage, respect, honesty, and friendship. Whoa.

Let’s imagine Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past as a fairy tale, shall we?

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess named Zelda. She was captured by the evil Ganon, who wanted to take over the world. Only the brave hero Link could save her! He gathered together the three magic pendants and went to the castle where she was held captive… but he wasn’t quick enough! As he was about to rescue her, she vanished before his eyes, and he was forced to fight the evil Agahnim. Even though Link was brave and powerful, Agahnim managed to teleport Link to a dark world of evil… etc. etc. something about being a pink bunny, etc. etc. Let’s not forget the MAGIC MIRROR FOLKS HELLO.

Then, after going through many scary caves and dark dungeons, fighting off countless enemies, Link arrived once again to the place where Zelda was hidden. This time, he was able to beat Agahnim, and Ganon as well! But remember, even though Ganon had the Triforce of Power, Link bested him with the Triforce of Courage. It isn’t power that makes one powerful, it’s the courage to use it and the wisdom to know when to use it that makes one a hero. And Link and Zelda lived happily ever after. As friends. In separate houses. Forever.

The point we should take from my excellently rendered children’s story is that the narrative of these games closely follows something you’d expect in a fairy tale. There’s a hero, a villain, often a princess (or someone who needs rescuing), and the hero ALWAYS beats the villain in the end. Often times, there’s magic that isn’t explained, but just *is*. Magic flutes, breathing underwater, barrels with gorillas inside of them? There aren’t twists (“WHAT’S IN THE CHEST?? WHAT’S IN THE CHEST?!?!?”), there aren’t shades of grey in the moral territory, and the idea of being the hero doesn’t only mean being powerful, but being clever, persistent, and generally “good.” How many times have you gotten an essential item by helping some farmer with his chickens or something? The idea of doing good deeds is strongly rewarded in video games.

THIS EVIL WOMAN.

THIS EVIL WOMAN.

But there’s something else, that makes video games even MORE compelling: Participation. Not only are these kids getting the idea that being a hero is something to aspire to, but they get a firsthand taste of what that’d be like. It’s not the behavior of some fairy tale character that’s reinforcing their willingness to do good, it’s their own behavior! Granted, some games present a much better case for this than others, but games like Zelda, Chrono Trigger (dating myself with that one), the Final Fantasies, Poke’mon, and the Harvest Moon series all let kids know that they’ll be more successful if they fight the baddies and go the extra mile to help others.

And it always turns out okay in the end. We adults know that’s not always true, but it’s a good message to give children who have to grow up in the screwed-up world we’ve given them, isn’t it? Fairy tales had happy endings, video games have happy endings, and who says it’s wrong for the gamers of our future to wish for a happy ending to their story?

As an afterthought: games directed towards older audiences generally have a lot of different messages, but no less relevant. Games like Mass Effect, Deus Ex and Skyrim teach teens and adults that there’s more than one way to be successful, and although it always pays to be kind, not everybody will play by those rules. Games like the Sims and others teach us the consequences of being irresponsible (with money and otherwise). MineCraft teaches us… to mine and craft… stuff…

There’s a lot to be gleaned from video games as a tool for teaching children life lessons. People my age (the people that grew up with NES/SNES and PlayStation 1) are starting to have children, and maybe going back and pulling out the retro games is a good idea. If not, I’ve still got good news from you. There are tons of Zelda games, there are tons of Mario games, there are tons of Final Fantasy games. Tell your children those stories (FF games might have to be a multi-nighter: “And then, Yuffie stole ALL their Materia. G’night, son!”). Tell them the story of how Mario went through the lands of the six coins and rescued the princess. Tell them the story of how Mario went through ghost houses and castles and volcanoes and fought Bowser in a giant clown balloon. Tell them the story of how Mario fought the bad guys on giant flying battleships. Tell them the trippy story of how Mario used potions to make doors, stole keys guarded by creepy mask dudes and threw turnips at a giant frog for some reason.

Even if they can’t live the games of our childhood… they make good fairy tales, don’t they?

~AG

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About Isaac Smith

I write about music, technology, video games, and probably many other subjects that don't bear mentioning here. Either way, most of it's worth reading, and you may even enjoy yourself!

Posted on September 27, 2013, in Classic Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this post! After reading an article on how video games are becoming more and more morally ambiguous and therefore the next generation of gamers is doomed, it was nice to look at the other side of the coin. Fairy Tales – I like that.

    • Nah, there’ll always be games for kids, and you’ll always be able to become a Poke’mon master! So there’s that. Let’s not over-emphasize the importance of killing hookers in GTA V.

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