During a panel with George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and former Microsoft employee Don Mattrick about the future of entertainment medium, talks about whether video games could tell traditional storytelling or not came around. There have been a lot of talk about video games, comparing them with other mediums, and also Roger Ebert talking about why video games can never be art and a lot of talks in the same vein as these.
I don’t necessarily think these talks are invalid or dumb. But I would like to talk about the things video games allow us to do that movies or narrative story-telling can’t. Instead of discussing why the rectangular shape won’t fit in the circular shape I want to write about the circular shapes made by brilliant video game designers and the large teams hard at work creating these games.
Video games are in fact games, structured forms of playing. Like playing cops and robbers on the playground, watching people play football or testing each others skill over a chess board, games let us restrict and structure the world around us to make it into something else. We get to run around our old familiar neighborhood but now with a plastic gun in our hand we’re hunting and surviving on a battlefield. Through the modern computers the original boundaries of the physical world can be overseen making it possible for us to create and manage worlds in Minecraft, fighting wars on space-ships and other worlds in Halo or co-operating to survive in Left 4 Dead’s zombie apocalypse.
Nothing can let us live and breathe in another world the same way that play and games does. To be able to make mistakes or achieve goals through first-hand interactions, is something traditional storytelling has never been able to do. Taking control over an avatar and being faced with the consequences of its actions, although most games doesn’t strive for this, can never be felt the same through an interactive medium as a book, song, film or painting.
Of course its hard for us to be Frodo, to struggle with his responsibility as the ring bearer. The rings psychological grip seldom work through a computer monitor. Though games such as Tell Tales Walking Dead lets us feel the responsibility of handing out a limited supplies of food to a camp of hungry apocalypse survivors. If we want to we can always walk through Tolkien’s world exploring it through our own journeys and with friends in LOTR Online.
Whether video games can come to the same level of story telling that the medium that Lucas and Spielberg has chosen to work in, I think it doesn’t have to be bothered with it. Video games has been telling stories for a long time and they may differ a lot more from books and movies more than they differ from each other, but they do actually tell stories. And the opportunity to be a tourist and investigate and interact with city 17 in Half-life 2 is something movies or books have never offered us. To read about Winston Smith going through a typical day in 1984’s London is probably the closest books or movies have gotten, as far as I remember. But it cannot compare to Gordon Freeman’s arrival at the train station. After his walk through City 17 Gordon meets up with some familiar faces and the story of the Citadel’s and combines fall to ruin.
Of course I, for the most part, have a lot of gripes with video game story telling and the dialog sequences in most games. I think, pure typecasting and guessing, that when Lucas & Spielberg play Half-life 2 and get to a dialog they say, “see it can’t be Shakespeare because I’m jumping all over the place and couldn’t give less of a fuck about the story” and my problem is the same but I want to get rid of the dialog and the locking down and Lucas & Spielberg work in a medium that’s 100% locked-down. But Half-life 2 tried something new by getting away from cut-scenes so often seen in other video games.
To start a game of by having to wait X minutes for the world to get introduced to me is worthless video game story telling. Game must not be about fun and exploration, but they should be about game, movement, interaction. They should not be about reading a book or watching a movie. A while ago I started playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The game started with a lengthy sequence where I had to follow another character around on a tour, it continued into a locked elevator stage, and then the game deemed me worthy of its interaction. This introduction is a bad way to start, but I guess far too many games choose to start of this way, or even more restricted. The game also includes it’s fair share of reading material. A part from having to read on your television (or computer monitor) which really strains your eyes, this isn’t game, this isn’t play, this isn’t interaction, and it’s not the ultimate use of the medium.
So let’s try and make the best of the tools and medium we want to express ourselves through. Stop the comparisons between two different entertainment forms and ask why it isn’t the same. At the same time, world peace isn’t it about time we got it?
If thus had any affect or got any reaction from any human out there leave a comment. Complain, rant, fill in, praise it’s all accepted down below.