Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Art of Intensity

So I watched The Hunger Games this morning and haven't done anything but ponder it for the 7 hours since. I'm not going to try to describe the power it had on me because I don't dare risk encapsulating its immensity. I'm enraptured not because I'm a fanboy (I wouldn't have waited until Saturday if I was). It isn't because I thought the movie was astounding (though this is a vital part of it). It's because of how I felt - not just at certain, critical points in the movie, but at every instant due to the dramatic nature of the story. The boy from District 3 being slaughtered,, the riots in District 11, Thresh being killed by the game itself, Foxface, my favorite character, mistakenly killing herself so close to the end...

Now this is not a post about Hunger Games; it's a post that's inspired by Hunger Games. The feeling I have now, the one that drives me to write this, is the culmination of many touching stories and other entities, especially those I've experienced most recently, including the close of the Mass Effect series, the Season 2 Finale of The Walking Dead, dozens of touching songs, one of my own stories, and many things more.

So what is the purpose of this post? I could be wrong, but I think most people are like me. We crave these moments, we cherish their emotions, we're ticked off at how often and how quickly it all eludes us, but at the same time, we fight to keep these instances in a special place in our minds so that we don't become desensitized to their might and severity. We save sweet music for sunsets and weddings. We're careful about who we sit with when watching our favorite films. We devote hours to researching the cast members, authors, and musicians, to re-watching the key scenes, re-reading the same chapters, and repeating the same songs...anything to get more out of it, anything to make the feelings last. Eventually - and we all dread this moment - it all fades away. At this point, we resort to seeking out other obsessions, different scenarios, and new favorites as a means of eliminating this sort of emotional void inside us. Finding something that's good enough can be extremely difficult.

This is why I write. I want to help. I realize that we all have different interests, different things we idolize, but my range of interests is wide enough that I think I may have something you haven't found yet, something to pique your interest, something you can reap more intensity from. With this hope, I'll share with you some of the most gratifying entities I know of, the most personal passions I have when it comes to art and storytelling. Maybe there's something here that you can cling to, and if not, I encourage you to reveal a bit about those moments of deepest meaning in your life. Sometimes getting it out there is all we need, and even I'm in search of more indescribable moments.

***Be wary of spoilers; I'll try to keep them at a minimum, but some might be necessary for me to express myself effectively.

We'll start with Mass Effect 3, which is not just another video game; it's the end of a trilogy. Think Mockingjay or Return of the King for story-driven gamers. The first two games have relatively little emotion - you're a spacer fighting the bad guys. The 3rd game, however, gets very serious. Right at the beginning of the game, Earth is invaded and you must leave it to recruit aid from friendly alien races. Trouble is, all of their homeworlds are being invaded as well. The entire series boils down to a finale stand on planet Earth: the galaxy vs. it's destruction. Like with Hunger Games, the intensity here is never-ending; millions of people are dying on Earth with every desperate step you take toward (hopefully) saving it. The ending is little more an ending. There's no happily ever after, no "We did it!", not even a real denouement. So many people were so displeased with it that the game's creators are currently working on a new ending, but I thought it was perfect. It was real. It was, in many ways, the most intense it could be. This song from the soundtrack provides a good taste of what it's all about.

In my opinion, the most enthralling of intense moments involve sadness, shock, and hope. Hunger Games sure does. Mass Effect too. Now here's another good example, one I can actually show you on my blog and in a reasonable amount of time. It comes from another video game: Heavy Rain. Video games are unique in that they make you a part of the moment rather than just a witness. You live the power of the instance and in the best of cases, you're the cause of it as well. In Heavy Rain, the main character's son is kidnapped by an infamous serial killer. The kidnapper sets up challenges for the protagonist, which he must complete to discover the location of his son. These aren't any ordinary challenges. See for yourself. (This scene is not for the faint of heart, but everyone should at least watch the first minute or two)

This game is special because of the freedom. You can refuse the challenge and let your son die. You can't make those decisions in any other form of story.

We'll switch gears to music. Music is unique in that it has much less time than a book, movie, or game, but manages to be just as powerful. It builds on reality, not fictional stories (usually) to pull us in and to make itself last. At the time of posting this article, my playlist is/was filled with a few great musical masterpieces I've been lucky enough to claim as part of my collection. Take a listen. Let's dive deeper into a particular song, one that is aided in its endeavor by a superb music video. There's a different type of intensity here, it isn't one of tragedy or hope, but one of unity - unity of people, events, dreams. This piece, a brand new song from Imogen Heap, is the epitome of the people of China.

Let's turn away from Hunger Games to another movie, which is one of my favorites: The Fountain. It tells the story of three men, who are split by time but tied together in spirit. The first is a Spanish conquistador searching for the Tree of Life to help his queen. The second is a modern-day doctor working to cure cancer to save his dying wife. The third is a future cosmonaut, supposedly the last human alive, who is trying to save the dying Tree of Life. The conclusion to this movie is one of the best I've ever seen. Get a feel for it here and check out this movie if you've got the time.

Like I said before, it's no fun to keep the passion to yourself, that's why I aspire to be a fiction novelist. That's why I'm studying to be a video game designer. That's why I'm still playing viola. One day, I hope I'll be making the stories people cling to and constructing the intensity no one forgets. That's my dream: to help build a more exciting reality. One day, I hope to join Suzanne Collins, Imogen Heap, BioWare, and all of the other genius creators of our time in bringing power to an otherwise fairly tame existence. I already have several promising ideas so keep an eye out.

I'm thinking I might make this "Art of Intensity" a continuing series, including new moments I've found and old ones I remember. Let me know what you think. For now, I'll leave you with some additional sources of intensity, all of which are rewarding investments of time.

Movies: Super 8, Take Shelter, Soul Surfer, The Mist
Musicians: Moby, Enigma, Sleeping At Last
Music videos: For Those Who Wait by Fireflight, Kings and Queens by 30 Seconds to Mars
Games: Alan Wake, Unreal Tournament, Dragon Age: Origins, Half-Life 2

If you made it this far, I can't thank you enough.