Underestimating teh internets
Contrary to my prediction, the response to my Op-ed about videogames has been almost wholly positive not in the sense that everyone agrees with me, but rather that the criticisms have been both respectful and thoughtful. Even the guys at Bungie were polite. Highlights:
I do, however, disagree that in-game cutscenes and a desire to be cinematic are detrimental to a game. What I love about videogames are their ability to merge many forms of media into one -- books, visual art, movies, music, all combine and add interactivity to provide a truly unique and varied experience. As artistic entertainment has evolved, it's always been about adding more while remembering where it evolved from. I think videogames do that too.
Yes, videogames often borrow from movies, but then movies borrow from books and plays. Does a movie not start out as a script, as a screenplay? A book of sorts? As we evolve, so too does our art, but the foundations remain the same.
...encapsulates much of the discussion that's been going on at international game studies conferences for the past few years... One of the ironies about Radosh's criticism of the dearth of games that are "profound" and "resonate" with players is that one of the games that's winning awards and critical attention for doing this -- Bill Viola and Tracy Fullerton's The Night Journey -- owes some of its user-friendliness to Halo 2. The relationship of perceived addictiveness or intensity or immersion in game play to media merit is certainly one in literary studies as well, in which "page turners" rarely make it into the canon.
After championing these less-conventional games, I find it ironic that Radosh invokes the 30s as the beginning of cinematic art, because the 30s were truly part of the height of the structured studio system in Hollywood. During the teens and twenties, filmmakers were given more freedom to experiment with narrative and non-narrative forms to see what the possibilities of cinema were. Avant-garde filmmaking flourished in France. The Russians pushed the bounds of montage. The Germans dabbled in hyper-stylized expressionism. By the 30s, studios knew what storylines sold well and genre filmmaking was streamlined. Film budgets were calculated precisely so that production risk was minimized. The producer and director unit system had certain filmmakers working on the same type of films for their entire careers. Innovation and experimentation were at a low-point in American film. Of course, this didn't destroy good filmmaking, but it did severely restrict the range of style in cinema.
Today's video games do aspire to cinematic levels of reality, but in the end you're still shooting at wooden ducks on the carnival midway. Way back when, the bleating speakers and photon-squirting CRTs meant that the graphics games at the time were hideously crappy, and they still look crappy. But the commercial interactive fiction still holds up as good interactive fiction. (We're talking on the scale of boutique art, with authors who know the tastes of their small audience very well.)
Only a Game (not a response to my essay, but related)
There is no way to avoid the fact that games are an inefficient medium for delivering narrative. But there is also no way to avoid the fact that interactive narrative can only be attempted in a game, or something very much like one. What is lacking is the commercial impetus to justify the costs required in making creative interactive narratives, and while the market for videogames remains focussed on games of harsh challenge and fleeting entertainments, this commercial impetus remains absent. It is not even clear that we will ever find such a market. Creative interactive narrative might always be a by-product of the games industry, and never a commercial goal.
If you’ve read this blog over the years, then you’ve heard it all before, but perhaps not quite so succinctly, eloquently, and certainly not as an op-ed piece in the New York Times!Related: GTA's round-up of envelope pushing interactive fiction, in various stages of development. Includes a link to Storytronics, whose creator weighed in here a few days ago.