Sunday, August 18, 2013

I've Always Wanted to be a Superhero

Before we start, check out this YouTube video featuring the song 'Malice' by Diary of Dreams.  Be sure to watch as well as listen.  (I have never played The Witcher, but some of you may recognize it.)  One of my favorite lines in the song is, "It makes no sense to hide from what you are."  So why do we??  Because we're usually told that these kind of things are "all in your imagination", that monsters and magic really don't exist, and that nobody really has special powers.  Really...

Here is a quote from the book of stories that The Witcher is based on.  Geralt, the speaker, is the Witcher himself, so you would figure he knows what he's talking about:

"People," Geralt turned his head, "like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live."

This post isn't about Diary of Dreams or about The Witcher, although the video above inspired it.  Instead, this post is about imagination, computer games, and why I've always wanted to be a fantasy superhero but didn't think it was possible.  Until now.

I grew up reading books and watching cartoons, TV shows, and movies in the 1960s and 1970s, when ALL the superheros were guys.  Oh, there was Batgirl, but even though she was pretty kickass, she was really only one of Batman's occasional side-sidekicks, so you didn't get to see her all that often, plus she frequently "needed help" from Batman and Robin.  And there was the 18-year-old detective, Nancy Drew, who was my absolute top literary mystery hero(ine) of all time.  There might have been one or two others, but basically back then the closest that girls ever got to superheros was when they were being saved by one.  When playing either with friends or by myself, if I was a 'good guy' I always felt like my character was male, while if I was a 'bad guy' I could be (and usually was) a girl.  (I'm not ignoring Wonder Woman, but I didn't read comics so I didn't know she existed until Lynda Carter brought her to TV in 1975, and by then I was too busy trying to attract male attention in a different way; the LAST thing I wanted to be identified with was an Amazon!)  

Fast forward to married life/motherhood in the early 1990s, when computers and computer games were popular enough that even I got interested in them.  One year for Christmas, my then-spouse (who was a hardware engineer and actually HAD a computer at home) gave me Wolfenstein 3-D and Quest for Glory 4: Shadows of Darkness.  Once I figured out how to work the mouse and the keyboard, I was hooked.  I later progressed to Doom and Duke Nukem (the original 2-D versions), the rest of the Quest for Glory series, and several other games whose names I can't remember now.  Long after my guys were in bed, I'd be sitting in front of the computer fighting Nazis, demons and monsters, discovering treasure, solving riddles, and saving the world (or some portion of it) from utter annihilation.  And it felt REALLY GOOD to be the hero and do that stuff, whether I was using magic or a sword.  But my character, whether I could see it on-screen or not, was always... a guy.

Since then, female characters have become a regular option in most games, and I've even known some men who enjoy being female characters once in a while.  But I've never been one myself, and I'm honestly not sure I'd enjoy it.  We've often heard that everyone has a masculine side and a feminine side, and I feel like that is true, at least for me.  There is a part of me that is very aggressive and risk-taking, and that part definitely feels male (and frequently non-human).  The combination of the above-linked music and video with this side of me feels very powerful and exciting, and I'd honestly like to be able to explore it in real life.  Sounds weird to you?  I'm sure it does.  But then, so am I.

It's been said that one of the positive things about the goth subculture is being able to explore nontraditional aspects of one's Self, such as men wearing makeup and skirts, and women being more aggressive and outgoing, without the usual fear of rudeness and/or attack from those who are uncomfortable with such things.  LARP (Live Action Role Playing) has apparently become fairly common even in goth circles.  This last one sounds an awful lot like the games I used to play as a kid, only with costumes!  And it also sounds like the computer games I played as an adult.  But life isn't a game, and these things aren't real... are they?

No, they're not, in and of themselves.  But there really ARE monsters and demons in real life; they just look rather different from the ones on movie and computer screens.  You know what/who they are, because you've seen them in the news, and possibly even up close and personal.  Some of them are the thieves, drug runners, kidnappers and murderers we all expect.  But some of them are more unexpected.  They're the genetically engineered food plants and animals mixed in with the naturally grown ones we buy in our supermarkets.  They're the hypocrites who want to take away everyone else's right to privacy in our mail, our phone conversations, and our sex lives.  They're the people who try to control us by telling us how to think, how to dress, how to vote, and what god(s) to pray to. And, as Geralt said so eloquently, they do this so they can make us believe that someone or something else is the monster, not them.

So here's the thing:  We really CAN defeat the monsters that exist in our lives, and we can do it without special powers, AND without becoming monsters ourselves, as long as we don't hide from what we are.  Which means that girls can be superheroes, just like boys.  We don't always have to be the saved, we can be the saviors, too.

A final note:  I did a little research and found a book called The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, one of Poland's most famous and successful authors.  Originally published in 1948, it's an English translation of several short stories put together to create a novel, and was the inspiration for the video game, The Witcher.  I bought a copy of the book recently, and I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it.  VERY gothic in style, and it has several subtle twists; if you like Grimm's fairy tales, you'll love this book... provided you're open to a slightly different view of some of the 'heroes' and 'monsters' you grew up with...


  1. Excellent post! I feel related to what you are writing. I hated to play Leia in Star wars or be a princess in need of rescue when I was a little one. Oh I wish there were a female heroine that I could relate to (not the busty bombshells).
    When my kids says that they are afraid of monsters or ghosts, I tell them that the real monsters are human

    1. At least Princess Leia COULD (and did) fight back on occasion! But she was so short that no one ever thinks of her as capable. And for a princess, she sure didn't have much power.

      It's such a shame we have to teach our children that humans are scarier than fictional monsters, but we have no choice if we want to protect them.

  2. Good post! I think you tied everything together quite nicely.

    1. Thank you! I wasn't sure if what I was trying to say was actually getting through or if I was just flailing around in the ozone. I guess it did get through. :-)

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