Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Modern Pop Culture Myths

As the 2000's is coming to a close I'm starting to think of what trends and myths were prevelant this decade. I spent my high school years in the 90's, and graduated in 2000 and the thought of 90's music being like the 60's and 70's music I'd hear in my childhood fills me with the kind of dread that you get when the hot-new coworker assesses your musical taste with the words; "I think my dad listens to that stuff.

So I'm starting to reflect on what popular modern myths were in the 90's and this decade (still not sure if it should be called the "00's"), and potentially what's coming up post-2010. In the 90's the big upcoming game publisher was White Wolf and they succeeded by having an almost-uncanny grasp of what crazy myths gamers wanted to explore. They got in with the Anne Rice crowd with Vampire the Masquerade and built a great line of games off of it. Werewolf succeeded because they made the focus on environmentalism and stemming corporate exploitation of the planet when that was big news (before "carbon" became evil, and climate change became the catch-word for environmental sensationalism).

But Mage was a truly special case. The 90's was home to the rise of new-age paganism and people began wondering if there really was something to all that. It had mystique and offered interesting alternatives to the comparatively stale religions the previous generations. Alongside that there was some speculation that "virtual reality" would be the next big thing. These two concepts combined with a bit of "Men in Black" conspiracy theory gave rise to the Mage mythos and then was amplified into a brilliant corona when The Matrix came out.

I think we all have certain Movies, shows or pop culture offerings that we identify with to the point that in a small way they define our preferences for years to come. The Matrix was one of those for me. But more than that it was proof that back then White Wolf had an almost uncanny understanding of what was the new thing was going to be culturally. I don't think they have that understanding to the same extent today, and it makes me wonder who does?

Certain games capture the undertones of what a culture is interested in. In the 80's I'd say it was Cyberpunk, in the 90's Vampire and Mage were in there, now what is it? War in the Middle East? In many ways I think that Call of Duty Modern Warfare is so successful right now because it offers a bit of narrative closure to the events of the last decade. After 9/11 a lot of us honestly expected another attack to occur at some point... but none really came, the world did not fall apart and the Iraq war seemed like directionless flailing in response to the 2001 attacks. CoD Modern Warfare and MW2 offered a look at the concept of terrorism and war in a scenario that felt more justified than it did in reality, at least it seems that way in retrospect.

Lately I think there is once again a surge of interest in ergonomics, competition between mobile computing platforms like the iphone have all but replaced the CPU processor wars of yesteryear. More and more people want new and innovative ways to interface with technology which I believe will renew interest in cybernetics. Where virtual reality was the interest of the last decade, the prevalence of MMO's have made that notion common and it's lost the mystique. Now the mythical question is as we improve interfacing with our mobile gadgets and enhance our ability to network and assimilate information what will happen?

A friend of mine once gave his take on the whole 2012 furor. He speculated that we're becoming so interconnected and gathering information so much faster than before that at some point there may be a shift in our collective consciousness. I know that we definitely live in exponential times. Networks that previously took over a decade to develop are now exploding to a billion users within only one or two years.

I'm sure the results of these changes will end up being far more mundane-seeming than the speculation is right now, but that's the point isn't it? Because the myth is always more compelling than the reality.

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