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Why fiction is good for you
April 30, 2012 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Why fiction, even trashy TV, is good for you, by Jonathan Gottschall related to the book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (book trailers), more at Scientific American, and a video presentation (6-min).
posted by stbalbach (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sounds plausible, but how do I know that's not just a story?
posted by EnterTheStory at 11:44 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Haven't read Gottschall's book, but I have read and can highly recommend Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories, which addresses much the same subject matter, it seems. It's completely fascinating and utterly persuasive.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:29 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anytime I post or participate in a TV or movie-based thread to MetaFilter, I'm amazed (over and over again) by just how much fiction shapes us, in terms of our attractions, fears, and conceptions of how people and the world work.

It's never been a secret to me that fiction is good for us. It's logical to me--anything that expands our consciousness beyond our own ego and can shift our perspective to other people is surely going to help develop empathy, lateral thinking, etc. etc.

I would argue that most people don't read enough fiction. I think there is an advantage to reading because it requires greater mental participation to process and progress the story.

It would be interesting to compare popular opinion toward fiction and porn/erotica through the ages.

Studies have shown that readers of fiction are more empathetic, have better social skills, and are generally more understanding than their non-fiction reading counterparts.

That explains so much. Although some of the most abrasive people I know are big fiction readers ... hmm ...

I was driving down the highway and happened to hear the country music artist Chuck Wicks singing “Stealing Cinderella”—a song about a little girl growing up to leave her father behind. Before I knew it, I was blind from tears, and I had to veer off on the road to get control of myself and to mourn the time—still more than a decade off—when my own little girls would fly the nest. I sat there on the side of the road feeling sheepish and wondering, “What just happened?”

Gah. My daughters are like 4 and 1 and this happens all. the. time.

Great post. I thought the Scientific American interview was the best link. It makes me want to play hooky, go get my daughters and read some books ...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed (over and over again) by just how much fiction shapes us, in terms of our attractions, fears, and conceptions of how people and the world work.

I agree, which is why I always chuckle when people say video games have no relation to school shooters. As the article says, fiction can be a bad influence, the other side of the coin. Not all video games or all people (logic fallacy) but take a psychologically impaired kid and expose him/her to the wrong kinds of fiction can have bad results, as you say, "fiction shapes us", for better or worse (usually for the better).
posted by stbalbach at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2012


I agree, which is why I always chuckle when people say video games have no relation to school shooters.

You're making "fiction" as a term do a lot of heavy lifting here. Nobody ever alleged that it's the story (such as it is) in Doom that made kids flip out -- it's that the game mechanics and visuals desensitized kids and allowed them to prepare for shooting people in real life. Indeed, the games that were popular during the rash of school shootings were almost completely devoid of narrative.

The games you're talking about have about as much to do with fiction as architecture does.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:26 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The games you're talking about have about as much to do with fiction as architecture does.

Read the FPP
posted by stbalbach at 3:35 PM on May 1, 2012


..to clarify, the author of the FPP talks about video games as fiction and uses the term "fiction" in its broad sense. Video games are fictional worlds just as real in our minds as reading fiction or watching TV. Fantasy worlds are fiction be it in a RPG, a video game, JRR Tolkien or a movie.
posted by stbalbach at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2012


Read the FPP

I did (though I didn't watch the video), and the only time it comes up, he's talking about "story-centric video games." My entire point is that to connect his general thesis about fiction to video games and school shootings, you need to pick video games that have a story in any relevant sense. The games alleged to influence kids to kill people in real life do not.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:13 PM on May 1, 2012


I don't want to speak for Amanojaku, but I think I agree.

The "stories" of violent video games are pretty much along the same moral trajectory as most fiction.

What seems to be desensitizing about some video games isn't related to the story. I think the desensitizing part is when a player sits on a multiplayer server sniping spawned noobs with headshots 8 hours a day for 200 days a year.

Most game stories aren't any different than movies, books, or TV shows. Consider one of the most infamous in recent years, Manhunt.

This is a game in which you are an escaped death-row inmate who gets bonus points for killing his adversaries as gruesomely as possible. And yet, the story is essentially a standard fable--an anti-hero redeems himself by taking down a snuff-film ring.

Consider Warren LeBlanc:

"The motive for the incident was robbery."

Do you think that wouldn't haven't happened if the perpetrator had not played Manhunt?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:17 AM on May 2, 2012


you need to pick video games that have a story in any relevant sense.

Every game is a story, the premise of a game is a story, stories unfold in our heads when playing the game. Otherwise no one would play it if there was no story. Even Frogger is a story. Every game is a story and contains stories. Games are fiction.

Do you think that wouldn't haven't happened if the perpetrator had not played Manhunt?

This is where people get hung up. It's like global warming deniers who say a rash of freakish weather can't be attributed to climate change - which may be true, but climate change makes the chances of that happening more likely. So a crazy person on video games may be 10% more likely to commit a crime than if he wasn't on video games. Was the crime caused by video games? No one can say, other than it was an influence. The media we consume can have a positive influence .. and the other side of the coin is can have a negative one. Just look at the propaganda films from WWII Nazi German (I know, Godwin..) mentioned in the article, or the pro-KKK film "Birth of a Nation". Art and media can have a powerful effect on people for good and evil.
posted by stbalbach at 11:25 AM on May 2, 2012


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