In the middle of the Atlantic piece on ISIS, there is an interview with Graeme Wood who points out that one of the most effective recruiting tools ISIS has is questioning people whether all they want from life is going to their fish and chips shop or whether they want to be part of this great struggle between good and evil. And Wood adds that he understands the attraction. I do too.
I have played those same video games, watched those same movies, read those same books. Think of an RPG: The Witcher, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy to name but three—they all involve saving (or damning) the world; they all involve playing some role in a great battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The same is true of some of the popular movies of our time—from Star Wars to Spectre to the Avengers. All of those feature grand battles between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Only if you turn to the most popular books, do you see novels where the heroes struggle with challenges in mundane but still eventful lives up there with the demi-gods battling the supernatural forces of evil.
Wherever you turn, you see and hear the call to save the world. Often from itself. Yes, the call in movies and in video games is not rooted in a religious prophecy about an impending end of days but it is hugely popular. And we can all understand that popularity. Or as an article about the top RPGs puts it: “We all like to pretend, to make believe, to daydream. When we do, it’s usually not about spreadsheets, laundry or homework. No, we dream of becoming heroes, becoming kings, becoming saviors, and doing whatever we like – right or wrong – while we conquer, save and survive harrowing adventures in faraway lands.”
That makes sense right? Now, combine that with a belief system that tells you that you, yes you, can be part of a real-life Final Fantasy. You can battle a pre-destined evil. You can do your part to save the world. Yes, things turned out tragically for many in Final Fantasy (and in the Witcher and in Tomb Raider) but the world was saved was it not? Was the end not worth it?
Add the interesting findings (from various studies) which show that playing many video games makes you better at math, better able to solve problems in real time but not as good at telling fact from fiction and you can really begin to see the attraction of playing the part of a superhero.
All of which makes me hope that the next popular video game will feature not a superhero but… that guy in his fish and chips shop as the hero of the story. Maybe if we start acknowledging that the mundane but essential parts of life are exciting, we can begin to lessen the appeal of the apocalyptic battle.
Because life you know is not inside your computer screen and even less is it in the groups promising salvation. It must be fought for (and I use that word advisedly) in the fish and chips shop, in the workplace, in the home, walking your dogs, and doing the laundry. Surely that is worth at least a movie or two?