I still have not found time to see Avatar, but since I keep a running search query on avatars in the news, I have seen quite a bit of commentary about the film , including spoilers. One thing I have been wondering about, for obvious reasons, is exactly how much Avatar has to do with avatars. In particular, is this fantasy about new embodiment in a new society connected to a broader cultural moment, when World of Warcraft is now recognized as being a "mainstream video game" du jour?
Today, Ethan Gilsdorf, blogging at USA Today, explicitly states the thesis:
Box office conquered, Avatar also proves the culture has shifted. Part role-playing game come true and part special effects masterpiece, its hybrid gamer-geek pedigree is as glaring as the blue skin of the Na'vi race that director James Cameron brought to life on the imaginary planet Pandora. Cameron's movie — alongside the rise of Harry Potter, the return of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, and the obsession with online games such as World of Warcraft — shows that fantasy is no longer a shunned or exotic side dish. The genre has become the main dish.
Gilsdorf suggest that the cultural drift toward the legitimation of escapist fantasy is a good thing, for a variety of reasons:
They give us hope in hopeless times. Indeed, when you read heroic stories such as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, you sense that if a mere hobbit can withstand evil, why not you?
Hope is good, I would say. Of course, there are some other readings of the movie, which aren't quite so positive about the messages it conveys.
So, I'm curious to hear about 2 things from those reading this:
1) To the extent that MMORPGs and escapist fantasies are becoming more mainstream now (are they?), what are the pros and cons of this trend? What positive and negative roles does the fantasy genre play in society?
2) Avatar is certainly in the sci-fi/fantasy/escapism genre, but exactly how much is Avatar, the movie, really an expression of "gamer culture"? (Points for WoW reference spotting and links.)