Once Upon A Time

One of the oldest stories known to man could have been written just yesterday, for all its relevance. It speaks of our fears of mortality, our human thirst for excitement and our longing for companionship. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, a hero and king, who sets off on epic adventures with Enkidu, a wild man civilized by the touch of a woman who fears no man, not even Gilgamesh, his king. Along the way, the two become friends, and their adventures, thousands of years after they were first written, are still widely read today.

In the time of Gilgamesh, stories were told from person to person and recorded in memory. Some of the best stories are still told this way. What happened at the bachelor party, for example, or how you first met your true love.

The Epic of Gilgamesh was, at some point, carved into stone tablets, and it’s from these the story was carried to our time, where those who have read them discovered they aren’t all that different from the stories told today. The names may have changed, but the song, to quote Led Zeppelin, remains the same.

Early in The Epic of Gilgamesh, a wild beast threatens the land. Gilgamesh and Enkidu venture off to slay it, and do, but only after a hard won battle and much soul searching. The creature, mortally wounded, begs for its life, and Gilgamesh must make a choice between mercy and vengeance. How many cop shows have copied this formula?

Later in the story, Gilgamesh rejects the sexual advances of a goddess, and she, scorned, unleashes her fury in the form of a great beast that ravages the land. Daytime soaps would be nowhere without this plot artifice.

Yet the culmination of the Epic is when the gods, angered with Gilgamesh for conquering their two great beasts, execute their wrath by cursing Enkidu, and Gilgamesh must journey to the land of death to save his friend. There isn’t a storyteller in the world, alive or dead, who wouldn’t kill for such a compelling conflict.

Videogames are a modern art, but at their core, tell stories, just like the stone tablets of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The stories they tell range from brutally awful to heart-wrenchingly wonderful, just like all the stories told in all other media, and one wonders, thousands years from now, which of them will survive, and how will stories be told then?

This week, in Issue 122 of The Escapist, “Once Upon a Time,” we try to answer theses questions. Tom Rhodes looks at Half-Life 2 through Yeats colored glasses; Sam Sundberg speaks to Quantic Dream’s David Cage about how facial expression technology will revolutionize videogame storytelling; Marty M. O’Hale describes the balance between character and player, Nathaniel Berens peels back the cover on Myst‘s online world, and I’ve spoken to the writers who bring franchise stories to life – again. Enjoy!

Russ Pitts

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