Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Good Cry

My sims game gave me a good cry last night, when the first of what I think of as my "core sims" came to the natural end of her life and went off with the Grim Reaper, who came wearing a lei and accompanied by hula girls, gave her a drink with a little umbrella, and wafted her away. (This is the best possible sim death.)

One of the rewards of fiction - and sim games and RPGs are fiction, over which the player has less control than a writer and more control than a reader; it's why I play them and why I consider them a legitimate topic here - is that little catharsis; that luxury of weeping over imaginary woes, cleaning out your tear ducts and releasing grinding everyday tensions in a few minutes of good clean emotional intensity, without the bad side effects. I slept fine after weeping for Hilary Aerius and participating in the grief of her son Greg, her cat Eartha, her son-in-law, and her grandson. The world does not have a Hilary-shaped hole in it, I'm relaxed, I had a meeting with a student I'm mentoring and all went well, my life proceeds just fine.

The effects of some fictional emotions linger. I still mourn Beth March (but, happily, I can turn to the early parts of the book and see her again). It was Beth March's death, I believe, that started me on the road to being able to cope with the concept of mortality; a favor I hope I passed on to a few kids when I wrote The Ghost Sitter.

No book, no movie, no game, no factual knowledge can do the emotional work for you; but we gain so much pleasure from forms that give us the chance to exercise our emotional muscles and develop the skills we'll need when real life knocks us on our butts, return again and again to works that allow us to feel love, pain, loss, fear, and other big emotions vicariously, without the surrounding consequences of them, that I think these forms are our natural way of learning to cope. It's like playing games to build muscles and reflexes in our bodies.

Parents should monitor the emotional play their kids get as they would physical play; but they shouldn't be afraid of letting them experience intense unreal emotions any more than they should be afraid of letting them experience a fall off a bicycle. Most of the time the damage isn't significant, and they learn from the experience. When the fall results in an actual injury - a scraped knee, a night terror - it's the parent's job to apply the bandages and security, and teach the kid to deal and heal.

It is not the writer's job to make reading a 100% safe and comfortable occupation for all possible readers. It won't be effective if it is!

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