Musings

[Blog] The Art of Crying at Commercials

Movies never used to make me cry. And if I’m being honest, that was something of a point of pride: other people might cry at movies, but not me. I was too strong for that. And while I don’t think I looked down on people who did, I do remember teasing my mom about it, especially when it was a commercial that would get her all choked up.

Normally, it wasn’t that hard for me to maintain control over my emotions. Sure, when I watched The Lion King and got to That Scene, I’d recognize it as really sad, but I’d never have to fight a lump back down my throat or try to keep my eyes from welling up while my nose started to tingle from the effort. That would happen every now and again, but I’d always assume that it had more to do with me being tired or sick or otherwise compromised. Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever considering it a sign of good writing, or if I did, I just saw it as a bigger challenge– “Even great stories don’t make me cry.”

But then I grew up. (Well. More or less…) I learned. I experienced. I met people who would teach me what Solomon meant when he said there are friends “who stick closer than a brother.” I grew closer to my parents. I traveled and came home again, and I saw how much had changed and what had stayed the same. I won, I lost, I tried again. In short, I lived.

And somewhere along the way, I started crying, too. Not all the time, and I still usually try to hold it back when I’m watching something with other people, but that scene where Simba finds Mufasa, instead of just making me sad, now leaves me with wet eyes and a distinct ache in my throat, because I’ve got a great relationship with my dad, and I can’t imagine the pain of losing him when I was just a kid.

That, I think, is the crux of it. I found it easier to keep from crying when I was younger, not because I was too strong to cry, but because I didn’t have the experience to understand the full meaning and implication of a sad scene. Or the really happy ones that do the same thing. (And no, I don’t now, either, but I’m a lot closer.) Now, I have some idea of the strength that can come from a deep relationship with a friend, and what it’s like when that friend comes through for you, or what it’s like when you have a chance to come through for someone else.

Now, it’s easier to put myself in the shoes of the characters I’m watching and to have some idea of what they’re feeling. Which is really cool, and also helpful for doing the same thing for the people you encounter in your day to day life. It also means that if I still wanted to tease my mom for crying at commercials (I don’t), I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Because now I do it too.

 

Musings

[Blog] The Book’s Not Always Better Than the Movie

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A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to Mass Effect, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the game. The characters, the setting, the adventures– the hours I spent as Commander Shepard proved incredibly fun and as deeply inspiring as any of my other favorite stories. And some of that is because of the way the story was told.

Different mediums have different strengths and work better for certain stories than others. It’s why the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, as entertaining and as grand as they are when shown on the big screen, will never have the same depth as Tolkien’s written masterpieces: there’s just not enough time, even in the twelve hours that make up the extended editions, to do justice to the depth and history of Middle Earth. What’s more, trying to match it word for word would have resulted in films that sprawled even more and probably wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable.

Now, before you start reaching for your torches and your pitchforks, I’m not saying that the movies were flawless adaptations. Any number of characters were changed in ways that made them so much less than they were in the books (Faramir, anyone?) without adding something back in exchange to the structure or the pace of the movie. However, even if all the characters had been spot on and true to who they are in the books, the films would still have been missing something of what made the books as wonderful as they are.

It goes both ways, too: some stories work better as a movie than as a book. Take The Princess Bride, for example. While we get more details about pretty much everything throughout the course of the novel, the story itself profits from the quicker pace and the tighter structure of a film, and I’m inclined to argue that that’s what made it the classic it is today. Of course, I’d still recommend reading the book if you get the chance, but that goes without saying. The fact remains that the movie is the reason we’re all saying the lines along with Inigo in the gif below.

Bringing all this back around to video games, it’s fascinating to see how this “new” medium stacks up against the ones we’re more used to. The biggest difference, I think, is how we interact with the story being told, and vice versa. In a book or a movie, we have a far more passive role. The story will go the way it always goes, regardless of what we do. The only way we can change what happens is by stopping, and really, that only delays it. The words have still been written, the scenes have still been filmed, and no matter how hard we throw the book against the wall or how loud we yell at the screen, what will happen will happen. In video games, that’s not necessarily the case.

Going back to Mass Effect, the game forces the player to make different choices along the way that tie in with the general morality that each Shepard develops. Regardless of the path chosen, the story will progress through the same events. However, the tone of the story will feel entirely different depending on whether you play more as a hero or an anti-hero. In one, the story is that of an epic space opera with great heroes and steep odds. In the other, it’s a gritty space marine tale, where even the best people are deeply flawed and broken.

And what’s more, because you are the one making the decisions throughout the game, you feel each one more deeply than you would if you were just watching or reading about the hero making those choices on their own. When you have to press a button to confirm that you really do want Shepard to do something, it immerses you even more deeply in the story. It makes you think about the actions taken just that much more, and that’s the greatest strength of any story.