In his seminal work on the subject, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote:
“It is the job of artists to create the new myths.”
Mr. Campbell was as much admonishing modern society as he was lauding it. Spirituality having gave way to consumerism, it fell on entertainment to maintain that one iota of culture in our lives.
His claim that movie-theaters had replaced the Grecian temples did a lot to open my eyes as a kid. I couldn't help but imagine myself as some sort of temple adjunct; bedecked in finery, head ducked as I trail down some wide procession of columns.
I was apart in this thinking, true, but that only highlighted my perceived importance. Like Prometheus of old, I was to retrieve the secrets of this place, that I might disperse it among my playground tribe, our games of chance and hide-and-seek quick replaced by imagination play and story – ongoing continuities that we'd constantly return to.
It became evident in my other pursuits. Drawing became a central focus, my eight-year-old self busy working on whole stacks of conceptual monsters and heroes; comic book style stories that kept me entertained for years. Toys were next, with their being bought and used for long-standing saga stories in my mind. Gradually, these things took precedence in my life. I spent less time with other kids, more time devoted to drawing, playing, imagining. The adults looked on bemused, unsure yet supportive of these habits. My grades were good, at least, so there wasn't too much worry.
MMO roleplay was a natural fit, then. Imagine my surprise on finding other, like-minded creators out in the world, the delight when I saw just how careful and meticulous they were in their own, self-imposed continuities. I was no longer alone in my interests, but part of some greater tribe. Everything about it, from crafting characters to conducting storylines, became a central focus of my upbringing.
It'd be cute, if it hadn't ever gone away.
Ten years down the road, and I still haven't shook the appeal of this thing. I've been through my ups and downs with it, riding it through a slew of different lifestyles, living situations, relationships and careers. At times, roleplay seemed like the only thing I was good at; at others, it was a crafting experience, seamlessly shared with others of like-mind. Yet through it all, the pursuit has remained a steady constant. I am still hard at work looking for that first, glimmering wonder I experienced those years ago.
I'd suspected there might be something wrong with me; my interests symptomatic of some character deficiency in myself. While I went on wondering at my fake worlds and characters, the rest of my peers had gone on to learn metal and machines, warfare and sport. I was alone for my pursuits, and unable to manage where others my age seemed capable. My solitude seemed a prison. My continued pursuits were a curse.
There's a reason I'm telling you this.
I let roleplay become my central focus. I used it for escapism, accentuating my imagination, for the cost of my life's denigration. Likewise, I have rebelled against it, seeking out everything contrary to the creative pursuit – and always to a bad end. In the end, I wound up returning to roleplay, resigning myself to the thought that, perhaps, this is all that I am good for.
But something else happened that I didn't count on.
Instead of relegating it to some past-time, roleplay opened way of self-motivation. I was engaged, at once, and able to add tremendous life and depth to my stories. I found myself no longer afraid of other things, either, but viewed them as enrichment for the current story – and vice-verso.
To me, this is literal magic. It seems like there's this marked, yet untouchable transition from real-world observation to fictional storytelling. I can never tell where the one begins and the other ends, but I know that it's having a quantitative and positive effect on me.
When I make a character that's dear to me, I instantly want to go out and learn all I can about him. If he's a Priest of a Voodoo religion, then I'll end up reading about Voodoo. If he's a mechanic or craftsmen, then I'll be itching to find some way of replicating that.
You can do this too.
Listen: You're an oddball. You think too much. You worry over little things. You've been this way you're whole life. And because of that, you have a very special talent for obsession.
Get in the gym again. Go hike that mountain in the distance. Learn that instrument you've been wanting to try out. Fix that old beater car that's been left to you. Cook a meal for your family. Learn a new language. Confess your love to someone.
Get out there. Find the story. Make the myth.
We'll be waiting.