I've recently had cause to stop and reflect upon my choice of career and its meaning in respect to life, the universe, and everything. On the surface, it might appear that spinning stories and playing a big game are about as frivolous a pursuit as you can possibly find -- particularly in light of the combined horrors of war, the wrath of nature, political scandal, and injustice that we see going on now. That's totally against my gut reaction, though. My intuition tells me I'm tied up in something crucially important. We are creators. We are culture-weavers.
While I'm not ever going to say that my job places me on the same moral ground as a fireman or an EMT, I do think that gaming and storytelling (which for my purposes amount to the same thing), are fulfilling important functions within society. Way back in my Cloudmakers days, I wrote an editorial that had some proto-thoughts on the subject*, and I've had some discussion with colleagues that coalesced this into something a little more articulate. Stories are important to us. Stories give us a way to connect to one another. Stories help us make sense of our lives. Stories teach us what it's like to be human.
I recently started reading Robert McKee's Story and have been gratified to see that he seems to share this idea about the importance of story to civilization. (To be fair, I probably acquired it from someone who got it from him.) He goes further than I would, and seems to claim that the sometimes poor modes of storytelling in cinema today are indicative of a great moral decline in our culture. I think that's erring on the side of elitism. I agree, though, with his general point that every great story teaches us something about the human condition.
I know I'm not saving lives. It's true I'm not personally building houses destroyed by hurricanes. It's true I'm not delivering vaccines to African children, I'm not solving the energy crisis, I'm not demining a cow pasture. I daresay few of us choose careers so noble as that.
Maybe someday, when I'm mature in my craft, I can help somebody who is doing these things to make sense of the world in which they're needed. Maybe I can reach out and touch someone's emotions and show them: this is despair, this is tolerance, this is justice. Maybe if I touch enough people, they can add up to something rare and beautiful (think of all the good Sidney Poitier has done for racial equity). Or maybe if I can refresh the spirit of one fireman or EMT, I can remind him of why the world is worth the trouble of saving.
* I now find that piece a little on the hyperbolic and embarrassing side, but those words were keenly felt at the time. It's not unlike finding a box of high school poetry.