17 Oct 2010

The Magic Number

I'm going to take inspiration from RPS for this weekly event, but with a twist, I will be scouring the internets in the intervening 7 days for articles that catch my eye. I will then bring you three of them that share a connection and list them in this post, whilst discussing their contents. Lets us begin.

It seems there's a theme underlying the output of the videogame blogosphere this week. I've come across a wealth of posts by various bloggers looking at the relationship between the film industry and the games industry.

The first post I come across is from Left Mouse Button and discusses the apparent lack of creativity in game writing, wondering why games hadn't come up with something as creative and innovative as Inception. All in all the piece reads like another "Where's gaming's Citizen Kane?" but still manages to make some valid points.

The problem with games is that they are very hard to write well for without restricting the actions of the player. Either the story ends up being incredibly linear, in which case the writing has to be stellar and the game's design unparalleled. Or there's so much story, so many little tales of derring-do in order to give the player freedom, that not enough attention is given to the main thread which ends up feeling weak and almost an afterthought.

The example cited as being a well written linear game (for the most part) in the article is Half Life 2, but I would say that Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2 both fit this bill as well with tightly scripted single player experiences that draw the player through the story and make them actually care about the fate of the characters they play and encounter.

I am going to point to games like Oblivion and Fallout 3 as examples of the latter. There are so many side quests and branches to the main stories of both these games that I found myself losing interest in it and simply wandering around the world I had been presented with. Not that this makes them bad games, but they really have no need of a well written story as the world of each game is enough to draw the player in and engages them with compelling gameplay rather than gripping story.

The other problem is that there are only so many stories to tell. Even Inception is merely a new presentation of one of the 7 story types (its a convoluted 'Hero's Journey' if you're wondering) and while games give us new ways to tell these stories, the stories are still the same. Where games, and film, should be concentrating their energies is not in trying to come up with new stories to tell but in exploring the possibilites of each medium in order to find new ways to tell them.

The second post regarding the relationship between film and games, from Paul Callaghan, looks at something else entirely; the misconception that the mediums are interchangeable  that is held by those who are not steeped in games culture and are not familiar with the medium (and yes I filched this straight from RPS's Sunday papers but thought it was worth saying something about.)

This misconception stems from the fact that, at the moment at least, both games and films are presented on screens. Those unfamiliar with games, thinking that the technology they are delivered through defines what they are often make the mistake of not only thinking that movies are easily translated into games and vice versa, but also that the techniques and people involved in making them are just as transferrable. This is not so, as the writer points out.

He also touches briefly on the subject of the LMB post, stating that games are not necessarily a storytelling medium and that the attention lavished on the more violent games (especially in Australia where the writer is based) misses the point that there is far more to games than telling violent stories. Movies do that and rarely do violent films raise an eyebrow anymore. It would seem that this double standard, treating violent games differently from films on the one hand whilst assuming that the two mediums are the same is what I believe lies at the heart of the problems games have had on the road to being a valid form of cultural expression.

Finally, courtesy of Destructoid, we see the effort that went into creating the Deliver Hope (18+) trailer for Halo: Reach which leaves me feeling the loss of the Neil Blomkamp helmed Halo movie project even more keenly. The marketing budget for Halo: Reach is rumoured to have been in the realms of a movie industry budget so its not hard to see that if as much is being spent on selling a game as making some low budget movies its only a short step towards a movie becoming a marketing tool for a game, rather than it being the other way around as it seems to be at the moment.

This, of course only reinforces the misconception that Paul points out, but then no-one ever said that the relationship between games and movies was simple. They feed off of each other, borrowing themes and sometimes even technologies from each other. What we should never do though is assume that they are the same, they are not and never will be.

So there's your magic number for this week. I'll scour the interwebs for another three posts next week.

M out

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