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Douglas Rushkoff-- Present Shock and Presentism: Interview Transcript

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We see this on TV even, on a show like Game of Thrones. [In] Game of Thrones, they pan over the map at the opening as if you're going over the map of a fantasy role-playing game. And each of these characters has good things and bad things, there's no real protagonist -- at least not yet. There's all these different characters, each moving through this world, playing literally "The Game of Thrones." We watch it week after week (well, those of us who do), and we're not looking for an ending; you're almost more enjoying the texture of this story, you're enjoying the motivations and the choices of the characters as they make them. And you don't really care if this thing -- I don't really care who wins! I don't want someone to win the throne, I want the game to keep going.

Rob Kall: I know exactly what you're talking about. Even with novels: if you're reading a long novel and you get near the end, you kind of dread the idea that you're going to lose the world that you've been enjoying, immersing yourself in. Interestingly, my kid's twenty-three now, but when he was around eight, he had a class where all the kids in the class had to write a book. And because I've worked with story all these years (I ran a conference for six years called StoryCon, a summit meeting on the art, science, and application of story),I worked with the teacher and I graded/responded to the books. And all the boys, and most of the girls, their story structure was a video game. It was amazing to see that. So even fifteen years ago, this was evolving and emerging then.

Douglas Rushkoff: Yup. We used to just call it bad storytelling. You know? And I don't think we can anymore; I think we have to acknowledge that it's real.

Rob Kall: It's interesting, I guess last year I saw the movie The Avengers, and it got me thinking about how these are top down heroes, and it would be interesting to see if it's possible to write a Joseph Campbell Heroes Journey-type story with bottom up heroes. So I contacted Chris Fogler, who literally wrote the book The Writer's Journey on how to use the Heroes Journey model for screenplays and novels, and we batted that around, and it was really interesting and fun. And I wonder: is there a way to adapt something as powerful as the heroes journey, which is the archetypal, into this current picture that you're creating here -- that makes a lot of sense.

Douglas Rushkoff: I don't think there is. Or, at least: I think it becomes one of many possible journeys. I've never been a big fan of the Heroes Journey, because it feels so -- male. You know? It feels so organized around a very (at least archetypically) masculine perspective on the world; it feels much more about the crisis and climax then it is about renewal. And while I think it's always going to be a possible path, I think that's really just it. If you really want to have a Heroes Journey, then you have to understand that now you are bringing a voluntary audience along this journey, rather than a captive audience along this journey.

Rob Kall: What do you mean voluntary versus captured?

Douglas Rushkoff: Well, people now have interactive devices. People can escape your story. People don't have to submit to the storyteller anymore. They have alternatives. If you're living in a world with video games, the only way you're going to get a person to sit down and watch a normal movie from beginning, middle, to end is going to be with their permission. Before, it was the only thing we had, the only thing we could do. Now, because people understand that they could be writing their own stories, or living their own stories, or playing their own stories, they're only going to submit to a storyteller who understands, who acknowledges, that you are surrendering your authority to the author.

Shakespeare understood this. Shakespeare had all the ground-lings at the foot of the stage, and those people, if they didn't like the play, they were going to throw tomatoes at you, and scream and yell, and have sex, and do whatever they want. So he would start his plays, and he would say, "Dear audience, please, please bear with me. I understand that this stage is not really the kingdom, and that these people are not really king and queen, but we're going to try to entertain you, so bear with us." He was basically begging, because he understood he did not have authority over people unless they surrendered it voluntarily.

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