Meanwhile, in the Grammar Crisis room....

Monday, March 27, 2006

Story and the video game

A really interesting article on the CBS News website asks when (if ever) video games will have a "Citizen Kane" moment. When will games come into their own as a storytelling medium, as opposed to game stories merely providing the backdrop for the gameplay? Is that a desired outcome? Is it even possible? The article addresses these questions well.
Roger Ebert has also questioned whether video games could be considered art. He has said "video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control."
My take?
Arguably, the best films/books are character-driven. The actions of the protagonist/antagonist move the story inexorably forward towards a conclusion. The end of the story is inescapable; it is the product of the characters involved. Charles Foster Kane dies the way he does because of his choices, his flaws and his reactions to the decisions of others.
Main characters in video games generally aren't strongly characterized. The characters of Nintendo games, for example, are silent or, at most, monosyllabic. "It'sa me, Mario!" isn't exactly a Shakespearian soliloquoy. The reason for this is simple. Video game players generally don't want a character foisted upon them. They enjoy making their own decisions. The success of the Grand Theft Auto series exemplifies this; players are given a completely open-ended experience. They can elect to undertake the given missions, or they can merely run around, carjacking at random. Similarly, a number of gamers dislike the Metal Gear Solid series (largely regarded as one of the most film-like games) because the player is forced along a track, forced to follow along with the rigid story.
These factors paint our potential video game auteur into a corner. He must create a strong, emotionally affecting story while taking pains to avoid forcing a story on an unwilling audience. A near impossible task.
Will games eventually rival films as "high art"? I believe it is possible, but someone needs to totally re-invent the conventions of the medium. The graphics arms war would have to take a backseat to this undertaking.


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