Saving Worlds

atlas

The nice thing about having to save the world is that it’s a goal most people can get behind– particularly since the world happens to be where most people live. Nearly any other objective we could set would probably suggest a conflict of interests, perhaps even an ethical dilemma. Defending the villagers from an invading army sure seems like a good guy thing to do– right up until you see the enemy kingdom starving because they had the misfortune to be born on crappy farming land.

This is why we normally prefer to make the enemies either skeletons or nazis: It keeps things nice and simple.

It’s tiresome to see these grandiose cookie cutter galactic savior plots, over and over again, but the appeal makes sense. Particularly in games, where we are asked to sympathize with a particular character to the point where her goals become our own, having a bland and unobjectionable goal is the shortest and easiest path to this resonance.

Certainly much easier than, you know, developing a character whose motivations and goals we can empathize and agree with.

Likewise, for nearly any goal you might want to pursue out in the world at large, there are probably people who would prefer you didn’t. Whether it’s because they find your pursuits frivolous, or threatening, or unbecoming, or wasteful, or sacrilegious– There’s always someone who feels that way about whatever you choose to do.

Honestly, there probably would be some such even if you were out to save the world.

It’s very easy to talk about determination in the context of characters who have entire worlds of people who believe in what they are trying to achieve. It is much more difficult when we have only ourselves, and perhaps a few friends, on which to rely against the overwhelming weight of the universe’s apathy.

Of course, in game plots the support of the people is expected, is required, as we are, invariably, their only hope. For some reason a monopoly on salvation is an important part of the hero’s formula. Not that it stops them from charging us full price in the shops.

It’s kind of like a collection plate, but in reverse.

Isn’t there something terribly disempowering about this kind of empowerment?

A dilemma: Either no one will care about whether or not you do something, or you have no choice in whether or not to do it. You can either be cut free with no lifeline in the vast vacuum of the possibility space of things to do, be torn apart by the lack of pressure, or you can cave to the demands of those who occupy your world and be crushed under their expectations.

This is why friends are important when pursuing your own personal goals. Society will not support you, either in ideal or in substance– not this society, anyway. Not until you’ve already succeeded, to one degree or another, against the numerous challenges in front of you. And you won’t be able to handle this pressure, whether it comes from within or without, with no social support.

Human brains are not made that way.

So we must value those who believe in what we do. Even if you succeed, and find an audience, those who believe in what you will do instead of what you have done will be a rare breed. And, for them, what you are doing is maintaining a certain world, the world with your work in it, a world that would be impossible without you.

Who could object to that?

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