How We Approach A Game

March 3, 2009

I read this Angry Bear column at Gamespy and it got me thinking about something. The gaming world is inhabited by 14 year old boys. I myself have this age, sometimes. And gaming will only evolve when the industry becomes interested in telling stories about something other than things 14 year old buys like. That’s what Allen Rausch says and it’s probably true. At the end he asks: “We can reproduce the experience of flying in a Colonial Viper against a Cylon Raider but — to paraphrase President Joe Bowers — wouldn’t it be better if you knew why you were in that cockpit and why you were fighting that Cylon?”. This Battlestar Galactica themed ending drove my mind on a tangent…

It would be better, but I think most gamers approach videogames a bit differently. When I buy a book I know pretty much nothing about what happens. I might know the theme and the author. Most of the times when I see a movie I know what the trailer tells me and maybe the names of a few actors. I get the enjoyment out of movies and books (which are the genus proximus for videogames) by experiencing their story. I can focus my attention on the backstory, the details, the movements, the meanings. It’s not that I’m doing anything else. I am in a state which allows my mind to receive and process information.

When I approach videogames I tend to know more. There are previews which detail mechanics. There are interviews, trailers offering more information, comments from various journalists which have seen the game in action. Even for original intellectual property this means that I have a lot more information than for a movie or book. Also gaming involves doing stuff, be in shooting guys in the face or creating the perfect city block or timing dishes to serve in the dinner. All of this means that my mind is in a state in which it aims to solve problems by doing things and direct narrative in this state can be dismissed as an obstacle which impeds progress.

So yes, I would like to know why I am shooting down the Cylon raiders. But videogames have two obstacles build in, when it comes to telling stories: I already know stuff and all the stuff the game wants to tell me can be seen as taking away from my progress. Maybe developers and publisher need to find a way to tell the story of the vidogames in two tiers: one in game, minimal in most titles and subservient to gameplay, and another outside of the game, in blogs, comics, movies, other mediums. The Jackal tapes from Far Cry 2 and the Killzone 2 intel seem to be good examples of this.

So it’s not only that we’re 14 year old limiting stories in games but the medium itself seems to have some in built mechanisms which are making harder to tell stories.