How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
My first encounter with Gabriel Garcia Marquez was in an undergraduate English course. The class was devoted to supposed masters of the short story, yet I initially found little remarkable about “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” The story simply didn’t make sense; where did the old man come from? Why was he caged? And perhaps most importantly, what explained the presence of his wings? For whatever reason, the religious imagery and grotesque narrative failed to capture my imagination. Though my peers excitedly discussed him, writers like O’Connor and Hemingway embraced me with their stories of suffering and masculinity, and the mandated time with Marquez seemingly ended with my parole.
Yet now I realize that Marquez’s love of Magical Realism perhaps influences my perception of the supernatural more than any other author. A few months after the course, a play-through of Metal Gear Solid 2 offered a strikingly Marquez moment. A few hours into the stealth-based game, a villainous character named Vamp radically distorts the story through his supposed immortality and affinity for dancing. His outrageous behavior transcends any semblance of normalcy, yet we’re readily asked to accept his characterization.
Surprisingly, I found myself remembering Marquez’s story as Vamp appeared on screen and rationalizing his appearance as an example of Magical Realism. Until that point, the game rewards you for embracing a subdued, cautious approach. Consequently, it’s shocking to come across a character who not only shatters that concept, but flamboyantly so. Vamp is, by all accounts, a complete break from the political and cultural paranoia of the game’s early hours into a detour of the bizarre. His very name not only connects him with legendary creatures of the night, but also with the classic archetype of a Femme fatale manipulating whomever she encounters. Notably, the game does not question Vamp’s existence; instead, we’re asked to accept that a world facing possible nuclear holocaust exists alongside a distorted creature capable of cheating death.
This isn’t an isolated experience within gaming. Indeed, many recent critically acclaimed games have similarly embraced Magical Realism within their narratives. In Papa & Yo, a child interacts with buildings that sprout wings and fly; Braid features a protagonist who claims mortality, yet is capable of reversing time to avoid lasting harm; and Bioshock Infinite conveys the tale of a young woman trapped in a society inhabiting the clouds. Without hesitation, these games not only accept the workings of the supernatural, but also the normalcy of establishing, then breaking, the barrier between their realities and the fantastical.
Over time, reading through Marquez’s works furthered my understanding that despite a world’s normalcy, the supernatural permeates and inhabits that world in fantastical ways. Encountering his writings helps us understand that literary and gaming stories reflect a universal truth: our physical world is inhabited by a supernatural God who takes an active interest in our own stories. Even if we first glance Him in a gaudy villain or an old man with wings.
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