Welcome to Interview With a Non-Gamer, where I talk with non-gamers about their perception on gaming and figure out in what way their opinions are wrong.
For the second installment, I interview my movie buff friend from CHA-KAH-GO to see why he finds one medium of entertainment so inferior to the other. Which devolves pretty quickly into an analysis of games as a storytelling medium.
Shaun: Let’s start this off with some heat.
Friend: I don’t even know what you’re saying right now.
S: I…forget it.
F: The Miami Heat?
S: Let’s just begin – I value film, gaming, and all other forms of entertainment equally. What makes you regard film as the higher form of entertainment?
F: Better stories.
S: Can you elaborate.
F: Do I need to?
S: It would be an awfully boring interview if you didn’t.
F: Okay. Film can take advantage of so many different facets and techniques to tell a story. Unlike comics, which are primarily a visual medium, and books, which obviously are comprised exclusively of text, movies can pull from all of these to tell its story.
S: But that’s only partially true, and it’s totally subjective. Plenty of people regard books as their preferred medium, because they enjoy interpreting the words and creating the universe in their mind, and yet can still respect films.
F: I’m not saying other mediums don’t have their strengths, I’m just saying that, on an empirical level, film is better. Not many people can disagree with that.
S: Blind people could probably disagree with that.
F: And now you’re being offensive.
S: Oh, right, I’m the one – okay. That’s fine. Let’s move on. What would gaming have to do to reach the pedestal on the mountain you believe film occupies?
F: The key to telling a good story is simplicity, but video games have different rules because they are not stories in the traditional sense of the phrase.
S: They absolutely are. Be careful who you usay that around. They’ll lynch you in some parts.
F: They really are not. They involve too much that is merely designed to stimulate the user and extend the gameplay.
S: So you’re saying the gameplay makes it too complex to convey any sort of narrative.
F: Let’s take something very basic in storytelling, like a three act structure, and compare it against, say, Legend of Zelda.
Now, I realize that 3 act structures are not the only way to tell a story, but bear with me.
In Ocarina of Time, they set out to tell a story. but after establishing the conflict, you play for hours on end, doing dungeons and side missions or just riding your horse around the field.
S: Yes. That’s what makes it great.
F: But it comes at the cost of the story. Essentially, everything is put on hold while you make your character do whatever it is you want to do. The rising action is sacrificed. No other medium does that. Agreed?
S: Agreed. At least you’re actually starting to sound like a rational human being now. But your example only sticks if you believe in a very rigid form of storytelling. Gaming is unique because it tells its own form of stories, and immerses you into them. You directly affect the journey. Semantically, a lot of people believe this automatically removes gaming from the conversation about art and storytelling. I think it’s what makes it special.
F: No, it’s too many details that mar the attempted story with too much complexity, and it fails to become a narrative.
S: I don’t even understand what you’re saying. Like, I understand the words, but I can’t connect it to any logic. It’s clearly a narrative, regardless of your interpretation of complexity. Let’s take a good, recent example, and remove it from the gameplay for a moment just to demonstrate that “complexity” can equate “narrative.” And a good one at that. Let’s look at BioShock Infinite.
F: I bet bio shock is pretty simple.
S: Pfft, okay friend. And when this interview is over there’s a unicorn outside waiting to fly you home.
F: I will look up the plot now.
S: We’re talking time and multi-verse paradoxes. I wrote an explanation of the ending – it took a thousand words dedicated to it.
Just the ending.
Separate from the rest.
F: That doesn’t mean it isn’t simple. And the ending is the totally right place to put those things anyways.
S:Why don’t you read it before you make any judgments. It’s not simple. No one on the planet would say it’s simple.
[10 minutes later]
F: Yup! It’s simple!
S: Right. Of course it is. If that’s simple, there’s no complex.
F: Guy saves girl, only to be caught up in a war in which she plays a key role.
S: But all you just did was recite to me the plot of the game.
F: Exactly. It’s an archetype.
S: It’s only simple if you look at it simply. But when you actually immerse yourself, things are far more complex.
F: People pepper stories with details. It’s the execution of the details that determine whether the audience buys it
It’s detailed. Not complex.
S: Okay, but in this argument about “simple” vs. “complex,” aren’t you conceding that games can be, in fact, narratives?
S: I can’t believe you’d say videogames aren’t stories. The Walking Dead: The Game alone, is… I mean, gosh, that’s like –
F: –I will buy it for OS and play it today –
S: –pulling an Ebert—
F: –I spoke too soon –
S: May he rest in…wait, what?
F: I was wrong. I reevaluated my stance.
S: Seriously? Then what was all that just for?
F: I reevaluated my stance once I realized gaming obeyed the rule that I live by.
S: Yeah, of course it does! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for an hour! They’re just another form of storytelling. But you do live by your rules, and I have to commend you for your conviction.
F: It’s their rightness that makes them so commendable…
S: I am already regretting my statement.
F: I’ll try your BioShock Infinite and see if it makes an impression.
S: Good. You’ll get to the end that I think narratively was a little weak – it could have been pulled off a lot better – but thematically world-shattering. It leaves it up to the audience to connect one too many dots on their own.
F: Then it suffers… From the same things that I think many games suffer from.
S: Infinite is interesting because the characters are sort of in an endless time loop. Which is exactly how I feel right now with you.
S: So, are you planning on sharing an opinion you’re actually going to stick to, or…
F: It’s a problem when too many details piled on in too complex a way. I like plenty of movies and shows that do this, but it’s because they start in an accessible place. And then they lose their way, and I acknowledge that they ultimately fail.
S: I wouldn’t say that’s a “game” thing any more than an “entertainment” issue in general. Look at LOST.
F: No, i don’t think so at all. That’s a game and TV show thing.
S: It’s only recently that games have started truly realizing their potential for delivering deep, engaging stories. If anything, they failed to provide enough detail for a long time, not the other way around. Trust me. I’ve been immersed in the medium for a long time.
F: That is delightfully condescending…
S: Let’s wrap this up, shall we? Good, complex stories in games exist. They are considered “great,” and tend to be very popular. Games with terrible/no stories exist. Sometimes, they are still popular. Other times, they tank completely.
Regardless, this means games are no more and no less like EVERY OTHER MEDIUM OUT THERE.
F: So they should be regarded equally.
S: YES! When telling a story, a lot of the same challenges and strengths exist across all mediums. At the same time, each format has its own unique set of weaknesses. With comics, for example, you have to be more visual, obviously. And in games, the best stories involve the interactive nature of the medium.
The gameplay isn’t the hindrance. For the best games, the gameplay enhances the story.
F: Games are very task oriented, and enjoyment is often derived from stuff that is beyond the narrative. I’ll concede that it’s still a type of storytelling, but many of the best games I’ve played are very short and not about too many random tasks. It’s why star fox 64 is probably my favorite video game. It doesn’t deviate much from its narrative.
S: Oh yeah, its “narrative.”
F: So now you’re going to mock me on my thoughts on story after I agreed with you.
S: Star Fox 64. Widely regarded for its rich narrative and complex characters.
F: I see how it is.
S: Second only to its sharp writing and masterful dialogue.
F: Say what you will, but it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced, in any medium. Seriously.
S: I think you just said it all, bud.