Humans are storytelling animals.We thrill to an astonishing multitude of fictions on pages, on stages, and on screens: murder stories, sex stories, war stories, conspiracy stories, true stories and false. We are, as a species, addicted to story. But the addiction runs deeper than we think. We can walk away from our books and our screens, but we can never walk away from story. For humans, story is like gravity: an inescapable field of force that influences everything, but is so omnipresent that we hardly notice it. Here are ten hidden ways that story saturates our lives.
Neverland. Children play at story by instinct. Children don’t need to be tutored in story. We don’t need to bribe them to make stories like we bribe them to eat broccoli. Children pretend even when they are hungry, even when they live in squalor. Children pretended in Auschwitz
Video games. Video games may become the 21st century’s dominant form of storytelling.The games allow us to be the rock-jawed hero of an action film or a fleshed-out character inside interactive role playing games (RPGs) like The World of Warcraft. Players describe the experience of playing RPGs as “being inside a novel as it is being written.”
Conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories—feverishly creative, lovingly plotted—are fiction stories that some people believe in. They exert a powerful hold on the human imagination not despite structural parallels with fiction, but in large part because of them. Conspiracy theories are ripping good yarns that translate with telling ease into wildly popular entertainment: novels like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and James Elroy’s “Underworld USA Trilogy”; films like JFK and The Manchurian Candidate; television shows like 24 and The X-Files.
Jonathan Gottschall is the author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.