Hey guys, hope you’ve had a happy 4th of July! It’s Saturday again so I’m here to bring you another philosophical story challenge. This week I want to focus on perception versus reality. I think it’s a common theme throughout life that everyone views the world through their own lens of perception which is crafted by their own experiences and biases. How can we come to a true understanding of what we see and experience if everything we see and experience is interpreted by a brain which overlays all of past experiences onto it; how can there be any objectivity at all? It’s easy to say that we should only deal with facts and empirically tested ideas but even these are in question–how can we trust an empirical test when it relies on our senses to interpret the data that it yields? It seems as though we just have to accept that at some level we have to trust our senses, even though we know how fallible they can be. The problem is that this leaves some room for differences between “reality” and our perceptions. 200 years ago if you had told someone about our atomic theory they would have laughed; they didn’t have the tools we have to measure the things that we can measure to verify this data. It is both the beauty and the weakness of science; it can tell you the most accurate information that you can observe, but that doesn’t make it true–it just makes it the most accurate information available. Your challenge this week is to write a story where perceptions and reality are different from each other. I’m leaving it up to you to decide how you want to portray this theme; but, as always, if you want to post on here please keep it under 1,000 words. Otherwise, feel free to write more! Have fun.
Using Bias in a Story
I never realized what role bias could play in a story until I played Guild Wars 2, a game by ArenaNet. In the original Guild Wars, there are the charr. The charr are this ornery cat like race which had once ruled over the lands of man. However, man came in and kicked them out hundreds of years ago. Since you are man, they play this down and focus more on how the charr enslave, toy with, and eat people while worshiping a mysterious god of fire. Even though the charr were out of the story a quarter through the game, they had caused so much hurt, devastation, and displacement, I loathed them. I didn’t realize I loathed them in Guild Wars, though. I just knew I liked killing them.
Then Guild Wars 2 came out. The game took place 250 years later, give or take a decade. The charr were made out to be victims trying to reclaim their homeland. The charr which you fought all the time in the original game were a cult which oppressed the vast majority of the populace. The charr weren’t really bad, ArenaNet told us, they were misunderstood. Dragons were ripping the land apart, so the races were joining together, including the humans and charr. On top of that, the charr were a playable race. I recoiled at this announcement. I felt like I needed a shower. The creatures eating humans, making orphans, and praying to world ending gods were playable and simply misunderstood? No! These cat creatures were evil. They were everything wrong with the world. They deserved only death. After nine months, my charr is still at level nine, neglected and loathed.
Without realizing it, I became racist against the charr. ArenaNet made the charr so monstrous that I could actually hate them. While it makes it almost impossible to find players using charr out in the world, the company was still very capable of instilling a deep seated hatred, and emotion that can quite honestly be very difficult to ingrain that thoroughly.
Bias can be more than just racism, though. There are numerous boundaries which can all be used as heavy dividers. In your own story, a nation could have conquered numerous smaller kingdoms. Anyone from those outlying kingdoms is considered a lesser citizen, no matter their worth. Perhaps centuries ago refugees came from far away claiming some threat destroyed their homelands, and now the refugees live in ghettos filled with poverty, crime, and disease. The ability to create social tension is incredible, if that’s what you want in your story.
But how do you create that tension? Use the same methods utilized by people in real life. Look carefully at your outcast group. What are the strengths and weaknesses of that group? In the past, what has happened which could be shone under a negative light? Due to the way the faction was treated, but negative impact has it had on their life and how are the actions required for their survival considered taboo by the ruling class? Generally strengths are turned against a group to make them into superhuman monsters, while weaknesses are laughed at. Generally, weaknesses in the dispossessed groups are due to neglect from financially more powerful people.
Any slight past event will be blown out of proportion to show that the people are wicked. A rebellion, some major social gaffe, a riot in the ghettos, or any other act which could be seen as infamous. Very few people died in the Boston Massacre, but because of how it was named and promoted it led a lot of people to hating the English. Misinformation and exaggerated facts are the cornerstone to creating a biased against groups. On a smaller scale, there are the every day acts of a downtrodden minority group. Generally they are financially less well off. Crime becomes an issue in such areas and the group will be known as thieves, murderers, and the list goes on. The sanitation is usually worse, so they’ll be known as plague carriers or savages uninterested in their own hygiene. Maybe it’s not even that the minority are uninterested in hygiene, but simply aren’t given the required facilities and flowing water for it. In more modern societies, they will also be uneducated, adding to the savage imagery.
Use bias to tell a story. Don’t just throw in racism to be cruel to one group while elevating another. Racial, political, and social groups can be as much a character in your story as anyone else. It can show how those factions change or don’t change with time and events. In Guild Wars 2, it’s telling that when a large enough threat reared it’s ugly head, the charr and humans could play nice. It’s also telling that there are certain groups within both races which do all they can to create war between the races. A character you have could be getting over his xenophobia, or perhaps he was always a tolerant and accepting soul, and this is a great way to show either of these personal traits.
Create two conflicting groups, one majority and one minority. Create a history for why the unfavorable dynamics exist and how small events were exaggerated to the point only the writer knows the truth. Then come up with the current tension. Throw some characters in there with different attitudes, and you have a story about bias. Give it your best shot!