I just love all these people with degrees from prestigious schools and 2-digit IQs telling me what video games are lacking. It’s so charming. These people who want to pretend like they got it all figured out, and then use the latest buzzwords to be able to bolster their arguments that sound like sophistry at best. Is this lexicon verbose enough for you? Our latest pseudo-intellectual wants to make sure that he sounds very smart while he talks about how videos really shouldn’t have stories, all the while ripping off arguments that Roger Ebert was proven wrong about 10 years ago. It’s charming, in its own stupid way. Here’s a link to the article, now let’s rip this bitch to pieces.
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
First off, I don’t want games to be the Holodeck. I’m not into VR. Second, for the most part, the part about making an ever-evolving plot has already happened. I’ve played it out dozens of times. Whether it be something very linear, or something where I have choices and agency, I am able to help shape a narrative with the games I play. Already there, skippy. I look forward to what will be your solid reasoning for why that isn’t the case.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones.
Neat fact – immediately after this sentence, there is nothing about this for ages. He goes on and on about how environmental storytelling works, but right when he makes a substantive point, he doesn’t go into greater detail. I mean, if you are going to say why this bar is impossible to reach, shouldn’t you then follow that up with something about why this milestone is so impossible? But let’s get into what he says about environmental storytelling and how it shapes a narrative.
The approach raises many questions. Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts? Are they really stories, when they are really environments? And most of all, are they better stories than the more popular and proven ones in the cinema, on television, and in books?
Well, yeah. That’s easy to prove. You use Bioshock as an example, a game with a very developed and rich lore with characters who you come to care about strictly from hearing about their trials in the city. I’ve never met them, but there are some characters in the audio logs who was I sad to see go when you learn of their ultimate fate. It was just another twisted end to a frankly depressing game.
Or let’s talk about my favorite game of 2015 – Life is Strange. In that game, you look at pretty much everything around you and it tells stories. You can see Chloe’s decent into a punk rock girl after her father died. You can see her family with all their financial troubles and personal ones. You can learn that David isn’t quite the asshole he seems, finding his book on recovering from war that he has read many times. These things provide a richer canvas to the game’s narrative, which you grow to care about. It’s what makes the fact that your choices ultimately don’t matter in the end that much more frustrating.
I think I see your problem – you are trying to make a direct comparison between video games and other visual mediums like film and television. But you can’t do that. I don’t play a game with the same mindset as I read a book or watch a movie. I expect elements to be interactive and give me at least some agency in being a part of. It doesn’t have to be everything. As I said, I don’t want the Holodeck. I just want a narrative that I feel immersed in. My favorite games are ones where I feel like I was a part of the action. It can still be linear and accomplish this, so long as the characters are well-developed and the world immerses me enough to want to see the story through. Gaming is an interactive experience, not a purely visual one. I didn’t like Metal Gear Solid IV because it felt like I had no agency. 60% of the time I was just watching the film play. That’s not how games work. For someone who purports to have a very rich understanding of the medium, this fact seemed to escape you.
In retrospect, it’s easy easy to blame old games like Doom and Duke Nukem for stimulating the fantasy of male adolescent power. But that choice was made less deliberately at the time. Real-time 3-D worlds are harder to create than it seems, especially on the relatively low-powered computers that first ran games like Doom in the early 1990s. It helped to empty them out as much as possible, with surfaces detailed by simple textures and objects kept to a minimum. In other words, the first 3-D games were designed to be empty so that they would run.
Okay…why did the male adolescent power line come up? What did ANY of what followed in that paragraph have to do with men? Are you clumsily setting the stage for where you blame men for video games being whatever way you don’t like? I can see that coming from a mile away. That is bad writing, dude. If you want to take the Anita Sarkeesian route of saying men are pure evil in video games, then at least TRY and make it feel more natural.
The dude goes on and on for paragraphs about how environments in games aren’t realistic enough and that npc’s are all basically just going off a script, which I guess is supposed to mean that you can’t seem them as real. Well…duh. I don’t see the vendor in Persona 5 selling me DVDs as a real person. I’m not supposed to. Half of this dude’s diatribes reek of a person who doesn’t actually have a lot of experience in this medium. Or someone who is playing games with an agenda. Seeing as how he brought up men in this article, I get the feeling him and Anita share similar social views.,
Environmental storytelling offers a solution to this conundrum. Instead of trying to resolve the matter of simulated character and plot, the genre gives up on both, embracing scripted action instead. The player’s experience becomes that of a detective, piecing together narrative coherence from fragments conveniently left behind in the game’s physical environment.
Well yeah, games that use environmental story-telling do have some convenience to them. So do books and films. After all, it sure was convenient that Tony Stark found out about the dead interpreter in Civil War, isn’t it? Or it’s convenient that no one asked who had actually heard the main character say “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane when no one was clearly in the room. All works of fiction rely on convenience to one extent or another. Find me a piece of fiction where there aren’t some plot conveniences to move things along.
In 2013, two developers who had worked on the BioShock series borrowed the environmental-storytelling technique and threw away both the shooting and the sci-fi fantasy. The result was Gone Home, a story game about a college-aged woman who returns home to a mysterious, empty mansion near Portland, Oregon. By reassembling the fragments found in this mansion, the player reconstructs the story of the main character’s sister and her journey to discover her sexual identity. The game was widely praised for breaking the mold of the first-person experience while also importing issues in identity politics into a medium known for its unwavering masculinity.
Oh boy. The pseudo-intellectual is about to talk about Gone Home. This basically confirms to me that he is full of shit. Every wanna-be intellectual and their SJW sister have talked about how this game is representative of some great milestone. In this case, he says that it showed that games are basically on the level of young-adult novels. Groan. And the fucker actually makes the argument that this game represents the high water mark in gaming story-telling. Give me a fucking break!
There are 1000 games, probably more, with narratives 1000X richer than that walking simulator could have ever hoped for. Hell, I don’t even have a problem with the walking simulator genre and I see it as a lesser option. When I think about the emotional levels the Mass Effect series got (before the STUPID ending to 3), or the moral implications of The Last of Us, and I see this clown telling me that some hipster-approved work. Hell, Limbo, a 2D side-scroller was able to make a game world with more emotional weight, without any exposition of any kind. Just from the environment you play in, you can see the story of a great civilization’s rise to power and then fall. An art game called Journey did much the same. Did this ass-clown actually play games, or is he just quoting the line from his contemporaries? He is probably a grad with a fancy degree, who spent all his academic life citing other people in papers. Thinking for yourself is hard, after all.
The result is aesthetically coherent, fusing the artistic sensibilities of Edward Gory, Isabel Allende, and Wes Anderson. The writing is good, an uncommon accomplishment in a video game. On the whole, there is nothing to fault in What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s a lovely little title with ambitions scaled to match their execution. Few will leave it unsatisfied.
Good writing is uncommon in video games? Oh fuck off, you hipster culture critic. Look me in the eye and tell me that Beyond: Two Souls or Uncharted 4 have bad writing. And you better be able to bolster it with some strong argument. By the way, dude, I was unsatisfied at that game. Know why – because the ending was crap. The game was FINALLY getting to the really good stuff, then just stopped. It just ends. And don’t tell me “it’s open to interpretation!” That is a line used by people who have no other argument. I heard that crap about the Mass Effect 3 ending by pseudo-intellectuals just like this.
And that’s really it. He doesn’t go into any other genre or aspects to games story-telling. I guess, in his mind, the only kinds of games that can tell stories are first-person ones. That is beyond asinine. When I play art games like ABZU, or JRPGs like Persona 5, both with very good narratives and stories that suck me in, I am realizing why this guy is full of shit. Another person who had to write some bullshit about games and then peace out without even looking at anything else but the one thing he wants to focus on. No wonder this guy came from modern university. His argumentation is garbage.
Funny, he looks at three games to try and make his point. I can talk about dozens to make mine. Yeah, this dude sucks. I cannot believe a publication like The Atlantic takes this bullshit seriously.
Until next time, a quote,
“If you don’t feel it, you won’t remember it.” – Bob Dickman