Weighing in on good stories

Only a Game beats me to it and posts about whether we’ll ever see great game stories. I’m not sure I actually agree with him, but Chris is a superior writer and he’s bringing his experience to bear. I’ve consistently approached this problem from a game mechanics point of view rather then a writing point of view. Or more accurately, a writer’s point of view.

“It is unfortunate that there are no great game stories. It would be nice, when people ask what I would single out for excellence in game narrative, to have some quick and easy retort; some title I could comfortably pull from memory with the confidence of many days repetition. But alas, I am at a loss to find anything in the literary history of videogames thus far that aspires to greatness.”

This raises so many more questions then answers for me. Things to ponder. If we were to approach this critical then, what would greatness look like? Would it also by necessity be a great game? I have a sinking feeling Chris’ answer is no. It sounds to me like he’s describing games like the Quest for Glory and King’s Quest series – all timeless setups, popular if not interesting characters, and non-repetitive but limited gameplay. But then again, hardly anyone else cites those for writing either. I’m more frequently citing Planescape: Torment, which arguably only nails the characters.

Having just watched Seven Samurai I have to say, it’s a slog. The movie’s significant, but there’s a reason most people have never and will never see it. There isn’t a place for those kinds of movies in mainstream film either. It’s the indies where it’s at. And correspondingly, it’s the game indies where I’d look for this kind of story. In fact, indie genre of Interactive Fiction seems like a fantastic place to start. Some of the writing and drama within these modern text adventures has really impressed me. All Roads is the last best one that I’ve played, but now I’m dating myself. All the IFComp winners are worth checking out though, and they all play under 2 hours, so you really don’t have any excuses. They lend themselves directly to writing, so if that’s the best approach, that’s where it’ll start. I’m still not convinced though. You first have to sort out player narratives from stories for me. I’m not sure we can ever claim the writer’s authorial control.

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One thought on “Weighing in on good stories

  1. Dan: thanks for the kind words and thoughtful expounding on the theme! You were correct to call it a “firestarter” – I deliberately wanted to provoke people to think about this issue from an extreme position, because there’s an interesting set of problems here that we haven’t really begun to fathom. “Things to ponder” is always the vibe I try to provoke with this sort of thing. 😉

    “If we were to approach this critical then, what would greatness look like? Would it also by necessity be a great game? I have a sinking feeling Chris’ answer is no.”

    My instinct says ‘no’, but on reflection the most honest answer is “I don’t know!” Because the answer to the question depends to some extent on whether “Great game stories” requires capturing what “great” means in the sense of “great literature”, or whether it means creating new game forms that can achieve “great” in some new sense. This is quite beyond anyone’s ability to know, so we can but guess…

    “Having just watched Seven Samurai I have to say, it’s a slog. The movie’s significant, but there’s a reason most people have never and will never see it. There isn’t a place for those kinds of movies in mainstream film either. It’s the indies where it’s at.”

    I completely agree with what you’re saying here – this is not a movie for the masses! But it’s never a slog for me, I must say… there is so much to decode just in the composition of the shots that I find it a rich experience whenever I return to it. This, perhaps, says more about my critical instincts than it does about the film itself!

    I singled it out because of the neat comparison with Battle Beyond the Stars. 🙂

    “I’m not sure we can ever claim the writer’s authorial control.”

    This is part of the issue, isn’t it? The question becomes: do we require the writer to have authorial control for greatness, or is there some other kind of greatness that can be achieved beyond authorial control? And honestly, once again, we don’t know!

    Many thanks for thoughtful commentary! I’ll add your blog to my reader and Other Curiosities.

    Best wishes!

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