Friday, November 10, 2006

I was reading a few game related blogs today and everywhere I see people talking about "achieving great game storytelling" or whatever. It's nothing new and there's nothing wrong in it, I'm just a bit over it. The thing that bothers me is that there seems to be an assumption going around that to creating "emotion" in games (nothing wrong in that either) has somehow automatically connected to story-telling and characterisation and game "writing". Will someone explain this to me, please?

Yes, by all means run along and put some "emotion" into your games. If that's what it takes to make you all think that we're creating games that are meaningful and speak to the human condition and whatnot, go ahead. But what have stories and characters and dialogue and that sort of thing have to do with the price of fish?

Stephen Spielberg says the holy grail for games is to make players "cry at level 17".
OK then let's fight; let's fight it out over human emotion, and you can bring literature and film into the ring and see who'll send who onto the ropes crying. Shed tears at chapter 17, will I? Weep at scene 17? Sure. But I give you bar 17 and you're blubbering so hard your nose bleeds.

That's right: music. No characters, no story, no words. And we music people have been inducing emotion for a long, long time. Almost a millenium before you made films, we made so many monks swoon during vespers we were banned by the Pope. We made people feel things before they could read, and probably even before they could talk. Maybe they were using sign language back in those days, but maybe you'd have to call that dance anway.

If other media such as music don't need stories, characters, words or representation in any form to make people feel, neither do games. Those elements may all indeed be useful, but they aren't necessary. Let's not ignore almost three thousand years of (Western, at least) artistic and philosophical tradition by reviving this unimaginative, reactionary notion that they are. Music aestheticists had to deal with that "it isn't an art because it doesn't have ideas in it" shit in the 18th century and they told the literary establishment to go get fucked. So why are we such a bunch of cringing lame-arses?

I am Music, who in sweet accents
can calm each troubled heart,
and now with noble anger, now with love,
can kindle the most frigid minds.

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At 9:33 pm, Blogger Patrick said...

Its like this: games are made of rules and fiction. Most of the talk you mention is geared toward improving fiction while still using rules that were innovative eight years ago. Work in character AI seeks to improve the rules of games to that emotion and socially attributed meaning are bottom-up meat, which really frees the fiction to be crafted to amazing levels. However, I wasn't able to get funding to do that yet, so I'm making casual games, but even so I'm trying to ensure some interesting fiction compliments the relatively basic rules. You gotta make the best of it.

As far as music goes, its all about flow, which is what gameplay is about as well. Play is the soundless music of the mind. The rules govern the formal structure of that music, how it can play out, but the fiction lends the tone and lyric.

At 3:17 am, Anonymous emptyshell said...

A game does not "play out", it is played out. There is no experience until a player motions one into existence.

Show me truly serendipitous play and I will show you the secret to turning your crusty virtual toys into art.


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