Part 1 of 2
A Game of Balances…
Are video games an art form? The question is sure to stir up debate and needless strife. I wish to avoid such banter and get right down to the real issue that is often overlooked: interactive storytelling is our generation’s new medium of writing. And like films were in the 1920’s, storytelling in games is still very much in its infancy.
Novels may forever be the greatest medium for telling stories. It not only narrows the cooks allowed in the kitchen to one, but gives something no other medium can: a look into the minds of the characters. Film, television, and plays can be flashier, absolutely. They consist of moving pictures and sound. However, what you cast on a screen or place on a stage will never equal a person’s imagination. Nor is there a way to film a character’s thoughts.
Graphic novels and comic strips are a hybrid of sorts. They present still pictures and thought bubbles; bridging the gap between novel and film. Albeit, a bridge with flimsy construction. The art form also dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the superhero tales told today (i.e. Batman, Superman, etc) can be rightly labeled modern day mythology.
Interactive storytelling can be described as a hybrid to a degree. It has the potential to present thought-provoking stories that engage your mind and capture your imagination. It consists of moving pictures and sound, but can go far beyond what graphic novels and films are capable of. It offers a key advantage over any other medium: the ability for the reader (player) to interact directly with the story. This becomes both its blessing and curse. Indeed, interactive storytelling is really a game of balances.
Stuck in Neutral
Most games that are published today are suffering from an identity crisis. Games like Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 can’t decide whether they are a game or a movie. Some take being a game too far, like Saints Row The Third, and sacrifice story altogether. Others, like Alan Wake, go in the opposite direction. Games like Infamous mix in comic book elements. Many more are simply made as gimmicks to make money off licensing. Very few games today are doing much to advance the actual medium.
The quicker developers and publishers come to the realization that games are not movies, comics, or novels, the better. Writing for television and writing for games are two entirely different things. Rather than attempting to copycat what other mediums are doing, interactive storytelling needs to put on pampers and grow up.
This doesn’t mean that every game needs to be Shakespeare. Just as each novel carries with it the individual voice of its authors, so game writers must learn to find their voice in the stories they write. I believe the sooner that can be accomplished, the better. And it really begins with learning how to balance.
by D.L. Timmerman