A Blurred Line
Posted by jbsargent
So, often there’s a fine line between fantasy and reality. However, there’s this concept that dances that line. Something steeped in reality, but also comprised of many things out of the ordinary. Growing up, most of the things I surrounded myself with were mostly fantasy or sci-fi based: books, movies, television, video games.
I read about cats that dragged their masters to different time periods for (what I can remember) no discernible reason. I played games with plumbers jumping through fungal monarchies, silent protagonists journeying for magic triangles, and a super fighting robot with a (mutha-fuggin’) gun for a hand. I watched shows about morphin’, body sock-clad teens and turtle practitioners of far eastern combat. Movies with puppets and space knights, ghosts and their smart alec exterminators, a wild-eyed doc and his perpetually tardy assistant. Needless to say, I had one awesome imagination, and it was evident by all the notebooks around the house full of drawings only I understood.
As I grew older, those books became encyclopedias on mythology and other religions. Those video games entangled me in grand fantasies with deep emotional struggles. Those shows were replaced with screaming men shooting laser beams from their hands, and punching each other through cliffs. However, one thing remained the same. There was this line that my own mind drew between fantasy and reality. I, of course, also watched family comedies and dramas, and read regular old mysteries, so I understood the (unfortunate) limitations of the human body and physics. My imagination had always had a clear-cut idea of where things would sit when they were presented to me.
That was until I got into a game called Metal Gear Solid. At this point in my life, I became a bit interested in the military and its toys. Metal Gear had these things. However, I was not expecting the fantastic story that came with it. I can’t even remember how I came across it, but I was hooked. Then things started to get…surreal? I dunno, when I think of surreal I think of Dali’s work, but this was something different. The protagonist Solid Snake was tasked with infiltrating a nuclear disposal facility to stop terrorists from launching nukes. Pretty standard, lone action hero-type premise. I’d seen Die Hard. For the most part, aside from being a game (eating Rations to recover health), it was one of more realistic games I’d played.
Early on in the game, you meet one of the two on-site supporting characters, and then are given a glimpse at one of your adversaries. Psycho Mantis. I had heard about him in the mission briefing. He had “psychic powers.” Okay, whatever? When I met him the first time, he was floating in midair. Then I met with a cybernetic madman using a ninjato. As crazy as it was, he was still using advanced technology, which the game had established well-enough beforehand. As the game progressed, I finally met up with this Psycho Mantis guy, and had an epic showdown. I had a shootout with a man using revolvers. I threw grenades at a tank. I brawled with the aforementioned cyber ninja. I had been in a few boss fights before, but this battle with the psychic was different. Subtly different. In all the ways it was the same, it was all the ways it was different.
Psycho Mantis could read your moves, so you had to connect the controller to a different port. He took a peak at my memory card, and made fun of how many times I had saved the game. He teleported around the room, throwing psychokinetic energy at me, and flinging furniture at my polygonal head! He manipulated my partner into hurting me! I took it all in stride during the fight, because I had fought baddies like this before. As I completed the game, things had continued to get way more interesting, in both its story and concepts. When I finally sat back to think about the experiences I had while playing the game, I kept going back to Psycho Mantis. Psychic phenomena were known to me, but it was always a fantasy element. I was thrown for such a loop when a game set in a very realistic world, had used the term “psychic” far beyond the fortune-telling, palm-reading sort I had always seen in other “realistic” media.
There were plenty of other surreal examples in Metal Gear (and the series at large), but this stood out to me because it showed me that things don’t always have to be so clear cut. In fact, when you blur that line between fantasy and reality, things can be even more interesting. It’s like taking the best of both worlds. I was so readily able to believe what happened to me as Snake not because I had a background of loving fantasy, but because it was steeped in a very real place that I knew. Everything in the game worked to create a sense of realism, except for when they wanted to get surreal. They explained things as scientifically as possible. Decoy Octopus could perfectly disguise himself as anyone. Not because he was a snazzy dresser and you’re supposed to believe it, but because he had a malleable face, transfuses himself with their blood, and learns every psychological trait about them. Vulcan Raven is built like a truck, can carry a weapon normally loaded onto a fighter jet, and sits in the arctic cold without the proper attire, let alone a shirt. Not because he’s some freak of nature, but because he follows an ancient tribal theology that empowers him like his ancestors (and gets him eaten by birds…), which makes use of documented physical abilities the human body is capable of. Of course, they then take creative liberties with all these realistic ideas, but that’s the point I’m getting at.
As I began to write my own stories, I embraced the idea of dancing that line between fantasy and reality, blurring it as much as I could given the concept of my own work. The phrase “suspension of disbelief” is big these days, and with good reason. It’s what allows a person to sit back and watch Star Trek (or whatever), and not immediately question things. “Why can they do this?” a skeptic might ask. “Because it’s the fuuutuuuuuuuuure~” is the answer they’d be given most often. Suspension of disbelief is great, but somehow I feel that the more you’re able to understand, the less it feels like the material just wants you to shut up and stop asking questions. It’s as if, the deeper you delve into the intricacies of certain things, it’s nice to be rewarded with a more intelligent answer, instead of “just because.”
When I became serious about my writing, I began crafting a world. A world that was both magical, but also modern. The initial concept was “what if you took your everyday Middle Earth, and progressed the timeline forward a few centuries?” That world, barring evil overlord domination, might progress to something similar to what we have today, but with lore still steeped in fantasy. In expanding the world, I wanted to come up with a better reason for magic other than spiritual energies and the like. I instead opted for using my cursory knowledge of science to explain it. A magical fireball was created by rapidly jarring molecules until combustion. This meant that when someone asked “Why can he shoot fire from his hands?” I could promptly answer “Because he is manipulating molecules until they combust,” instead of “because it’s magic.” I hope a reader would respect an answer like that, because if they took the time to ask it, I should take the time to explain it. After a while, the questions do get to a point where the only answer to give is one that almost completely requires suspension of disbelief, but I would like to reward any reader with that sort of persistent querying.
Sorry if this was a little long-winded, but thanks for reading it all the way to here. I fully believe that blurring the line between fantasy and reality in storytelling is one of the greatest pleasures of being a writer. I think it’s also something that an audience can enjoy. Something an audience can even respect if the writer also puts enough effort into linking things back to a real world they know so well. Metal Gear Solid was a huge leap in storytelling for me because of how it molded not only the real and the supernatural, but also action movie heroics and a deep, enthralling drama. I want to be able to emulate that kind of storytelling, because I think every once in a while things need to be turned on their head, just so we can all get a new perspective.
Here’s hoping I can be a part of something like that.
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