December 16, 2005

Maybe it would have been better if I'd gone on for another 800 words

Is there something in the air? James Surowiecki's Slate article on the problem with nearly perfect videogame graphics makes a point that was almost the lede of my New Yorker True Crime story. From my first draft:

"In the 2003 novel Lucky Wander Boy, by D.B. Weiss, the videogame-obsessed narrator explains the difference between the arcade machines of his youth and contemporary games in terms of Marshall McLuhan’s theory of cool and hot media. 'In cool games,' such as Pac-Man, 'the sketchy visual detail forces us to fill in the blanks, and in so doing we bind ourselves to the game world.' Today’s hot games, however, 'do all the work, premasticating the images.' They are too real."

This is not, I should say, an argument I entirely agree with. There's something to it, of course, but I think the real problem is that as developers have focused on making graphics more realistic, they've largely forgotten to make innovative games. Surowiecki points out that "one solution is to abandon, or at least be less concerned with, the quest for realism. The Grand Theft Auto games, after all, have clumsy controls, don't look especially great, and have fantastical plots. But they're amazingly well-designed and offer gamers a kind of freedom that hasn't been seen before. That ends up being more than enough to create an engaging world." I would add that even if GTA had much more realistic graphics, with characters approaching the uncanny valley, they'd still be engrossing, and people would not have trouble binding to the world because of the just-missed realism. For that matter, the tennis players in Top Spin are as zombie-creepy as game characters come, but play for five minutes and you'll be just as hooked as if you were moving a four-pixel white bar. And to the extent that they are more realistic and less creepy than their predecessors in Virtua Tennis, the game is better, not worse.


Posted by Daniel Radosh


How did you handle the issue of having worked on this game as a freelancer--and then writing about it?

I imagine a hyper-punctilious place like the Times might have seen that as a conflict. I'm not saying it is--just curious whether you considered adding a line about your involvement.

I addressed that in an earlier post: http://www.radosh.net/archive/2005_12_01_radosh_archive.html#001366

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