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Video Games and Literature

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the it-was-the-best-of-frags-it-was-the-worst-of-frags dept.

Games 78

An anonymous reader writes "Have the storytelling capabilities of the two already met? A New Yorker interview with Gears of War 4 writer Tom Bissell explores the question. Bissell says, 'More and more, I’m seeing that games are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama, and that’s really promising. Games, more and more, are not just about shooting and fighting, and for that reason I’m optimistic and heartened about where the medium is heading, because I think game designers are getting more interested in making games that explore what it means to be alive. ... At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything. Games are primarily about a connection between the player, the game world, and the central mechanic of the game. They’re about creating a space for the player to engage with that mechanic and have the world react in a way that feels interesting and absorbing but also creates a sense of agency. So writing, in games, is about creating mood and establishing a basic sense of intent. The player has some vague notion of what the intent of the so-called author is, but the power of authorship is ultimately for the player to seize for him or herself.'"

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78 comments

Atlas Shrugged (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43220991)

I mean, Bioshock mined Ayn Rand pretty well.

Re:Atlas Shrugged (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222789)

Does no one remember text adventures? How about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game, straight from the book?

Re:Atlas Shrugged (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43223919)

Indeed I do. Now considering...

"'More and more, I’m seeing thatgames are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama
"

I see a popular Slashdot game based on exploiting anxieties!

You see brightly-colored lights of a party. You are not likely to be eaten by a girl.
> Enter party
You enter the party room.
> look
There are several bowls of Doritos and 17 girls who are not looking at you, and one who looks at you and rolls her eyes.
> Talk Girl.18
"What do you want? Don't you have a 'raid' or something?"

Ya know what, this isn't fun. I don't wanna play anymore.

Sad. (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year ago | (#43221015)

More and more, Iâ(TM)m seeing that games are mining good, old-fashioned human anxieties for their drama,

One of the most popular games right now is Minecraft. Is the most compelling aspect of the game the idea that a scary creeper could break into your house while you're asleep? Another recent high-profile release was SimCity. The only anxiety that game produced was a nearly limitless supply of frustration and anger because nobody could login to it. As I understand it, the CEO recently was forced to resign, and afterwords will drive to the nearest unoccupied house. (shrugs) One of the most popular Facebook games is Farmville... Anxiety over not getting back online to harvest in time? Or how about Angry Birds... Does the thought of an oversized cardinal levelling the building you're working in keep you up at night?

I think the problem here is the author's choice of games, not the variety of games.

Games, more and more, are not just about shooting and fighting, and for that reason Iâ(TM)m optimistic and heartened about where the medium is heading,

Yet, what's the example you quoted? Gears of War 4. I wonder what it's about...

At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything.

Clearly you've never played D&D. I've had gaming sessions that had more plot, depth, and character development than anything you're going to read in a book or see on the big screen. There are a lot of immersive games based on the idea of a lone adventurer, or a party, saving the world. Look at Skyrim for example. Find me a geek that hasn't uttered "... but then I took an arrow to the knee." I doubt they exist.

If anything, games are moving away from what you're describing. And why wouldn't they? Games are a form of escapism. Who wants to confront their anxieties as a form of relaxation? Nobody. IRS Auditors 2013: Paperworks Of War? Not a best seller. Oh My God, I Might Be Pregnant II: Condoms Of Injustice? The opening scene was great, but after that, the plot went really downhill. Turn Left And Cough? Would probably sell better than the next EA game... but you get the idea.

Re:Sad. (3, Funny)

Stormwatch (703920) | about a year ago | (#43221217)

Find me a geek that hasn't uttered "... but then I took an arrow to the knee." I doubt they exist.

Oh, I used to know one. But then he took an arrow to the knee.

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222007)

It's in the knee, damn it!

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222243)

No one cares, it's only a meme because Bethesda spent $100,000,000.00 on the game but still only hired 3 voice actors for guards and didn't bother with a writer.

captcha: sucked - Slashdot agrees, Skyrim sucked.

Re:Sad. (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#43223291)

That's far better than oblivion, where they hired 3 actors for the entire world. You're gonna have immersion problems when you have a generic replaceable character like "Guard" anyways. The peak of the elder scrolls series was still Morrowind, though. Text allows so much depth and breadth to discussions, whereas voice-acting creates an inherent budget limitation that's hard to overcome.

Re:Sad. (1)

Spiridios (2406474) | about a year ago | (#43225607)

That's far better than oblivion, where they hired 3 actors for the entire world.

And one of those actors was Patrick Stewart, whose character died in the intro, only leaving 2 actors for the whole rest of the game...

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43221721)

Games are no different from any other artform now. You may as well criticise movies, because the most popular ones are superficial dross, with little storytelling merit. That doesn't mean there are no artful movies being made, or that the "art" of moviemaking is dying.

Games are a form of escapism. Who wants to confront their anxieties as a form of relaxation? Nobody.

Really? You know what else are forms of escapism? Books, TV, movies, and going to a fucking art gallery. Are you seriously saying that none of these media ever deal with anxieties of the human condition? Are you retarded?

Re:Sad. (1)

geminidomino (614729) | about a year ago | (#43223451)

Games are no different from any other artform now

That's not true, at all, but there seem to be two groups that espouse that view more than others.

The first is the big production houses that are basically turning AAA game development into Hollywood 2.0. They believe that games aren't any different than other artforms, so the best course of action is to keep churning out safe, over-produced, flash-over-substance retreads. Most clearly exemplified by EA.

The other group is the "games as art" group, who are quickly converging to the snooty pretentiousness of their more traditional counterparts. The sort of people who refer to "The Path" as "captivating", "beautiful", and, probably most obnoxiously, "a promising sign that gaming is starting to grow up," while completely ignoring the fact that the entirety of the gameplay is summed up as "Walk. Then walk some more until you see some ostensibly creepy tableau in the woods. Gaze at your navel for 20 minutes. Walk again." Their patron saint is Extra Credit[sz].

Parent post misses the same fact that both of these group miss: games as a medium are interactive. They need to do all the work of previous artforms, and then some. On top of "storytelling merit", "characterization", "deeper meaning", and whatever other arthouse jargon you want to throw into thebowl, there still remains a common requirement for a good game:

Games are interactive. They have to actively engage the player. This is something not required by parent's "books, TV, movies, or going to a fucking art gallery."

Re:Sad. (3, Interesting)

eennaarbrak (1089393) | about a year ago | (#43221745)

Who wants to confront their anxieties as a form of relaxation?

I think you have an interesting interpretation of what he meant by human anxieties. I think he simply meant story lines based on human situations. Like say Alan Wake, or Deus Ex, both of which are driven by a man's desperate search for his lost wife/girlfriend. Not so much about the IRS, or being pregnant.

But hey, who does not enjoy seeing a straw man go up in flames once in a while?

Re:Sad. (1)

kamapuaa (555446) | about a year ago | (#43225615)

Never played Alan Wake, but Deus Ex is driven by shooting lots of people and hiding behind crates and upgrading your ability to shoot lots of people.

Sure there's a backstory, just the same way maybe you watch a porn and there's a back story about the schoolgirl really needing an A to get into college. But really you aren't intended to give two shits about it.

Re:Sad. (1)

eennaarbrak (1089393) | about a year ago | (#43232241)

tsk tsk. To each their own.

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222445)

"Clearly you've never played D&D."

Ouch! I guess you zapped him with your Wand of Contempt +4.

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223531)

also d&d isn't even a video game ...

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43240745)

Yes, it is [ddo.com]

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222809)

As above...

" At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything. "

High hopes?

Re:Sad. (1)

thomasw_lrd (1203850) | about a year ago | (#43222999)

I don't think the author realizes that first person shooters are not about plot, but about killing shit. I don't play Borderlands because I care about finding the Vault, I play Borderlands, cause I get a machine gun that will light people on fire and burn up their bodies. I play Borderlands because I can shoot people with a sniper rifle and watch their heads explode.

It's the same thing about action movies. I don't watch Die Hard 4 or 5 because I think it's going to be about in-depth character development, I watch them because I want to watch Bruce Willis killing shit.

There are plenty of games with good stories. Skyrim had a good story. Fallout 3 had a good story. RPG games have decent stories. FPS do not. There's nothing wrong with this in my opinion. When I want to play a game with a good story, I'll pull out any Final Fantasy with a number less than 8. (Not saying anything after 8 had a bad story, but I didn't play any of them).

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223083)

I was actually pretty engrossed in the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare story. Just because it's an FPS doesn't mean it has to be lacking. Borderlands is a poor example, since it just exists so you can loot whore guns.

Re:Sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223587)

that's cool and it's fine that you only play shooters for the action, but there are plenty of shooters that do tell an engaging story or at least offer something other than mindless action (bioshock, syndicate, homefront, resistance, even halo and yes, call of duty. i've only ever played halo and cod games single player, and i've enjoyed most of them.

so while i'd agree you experience is probably typical, there are plenty of people who play all sorts of games for various reasons.

Re:Sad. (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43224009)

One of the most popular Facebook games is"Farmville"... Anxiety over not getting back online to harvest in time?

Oh god, the rotting eggplants. THE ROTTING EGGPLANTS!

Re:Sad. (2)

MrHanky (141717) | about a year ago | (#43225529)

Clearly you've never played D&D. I've had gaming sessions that had more plot, depth, and character development than anything you're going to read in a book or see on the big screen. There are a lot of immersive games based on the idea of a lone adventurer, or a party, saving the world. Look at Skyrim for example.

Skyrim is an excellent example of a trite, derivative, unimaginative pile of genre clichés (beginning with the "lone adventurer ... saving the world"), just liike D&D. Getting to lvl 30 isn't character development, it's just game mechanics. There's not much depth to it, just complexity, and a vast open world to explore.

Tom Bissell writes about the video game as an artistic medium for storytelling. What you're talking about is something else entirely. Clearly, you have never experienced art.

Stupid author knows nothing (3, Insightful)

Nyder (754090) | about a year ago | (#43221033)

Video games haven't ever just been about fighting and shooting. Sure, Arcade games are mostly, but computer games and home consoles systems have had a wide range of games for over 3 decades.

For example, Text adventures rarely were about shooting or fighting anything.

Puzzle games aren't about fighting or shooting shit. And they have been very popular since the dawn of video games.

I could go on, but I'm catching up on the Jericho TV series, and I figure most of you aren't as stupid as the author.

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43222289)

For example, Text adventures rarely were about shooting or fighting anything.

> KILL THE TROLL WITH THE NASTY KNIFE

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222897)

You would really describe Zork as a game about shooting and fighting?

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223331)

And how many times did you have to do that in the game?

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#43223945)

Argle bargle glop glyph?

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (3, Insightful)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43222603)

This quote right here proved the author was dumb beyond belief: "At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything."

Similar was said about movies, about TV shows. hell, I'll bet if we go back far enough they even said it about books when storytelling still meant sitting around the fireplace listening to Grandfather.

Some games tell very weak stories. So do many books and films.
Some games tell very powerful stories. Also like many books and films.

The medium itself neither imparts nor removes any special storytelling ability. It never has.

The ability to tell a story has always been strictly in the hands of the storyteller himself, and his ability to use the medium to effectively communicate the story and impart emotions and perceptions to the listener/viewer.

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43222631)

Course, what do we expect...this is the guy writing for Gears of War, one of the most unimpressive stories (and game franchises) I've yet encountered.
Oh ya. I went there.

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223125)

Some games tell very powerful stories.

Name more than ten, franchises counting as a single game (that way you can't just list off every MGS game). The very best storytelling that video games have offered thus far only compare to okay storytelling in books and movies. You can talk about potential until you're blue in the face but it means nothing until that potential is realized.

The same may have been said about movies when Charlie Chapman was the biggest thing to hit the silver screen, but people would have been right: It required decades of improvement in technology and technique for films to compare to books. Even still, there are advantages books have over films for certain narratives and vice versa. The main advantage video games have is that the player can commit to choices, but very rarely has this been implemented effectively. In BioShock it was done poorly. In Shadow of Colossus the player is presented with the choice between continuing the game, which would require simulating an action that seems unethical, or stop playing the game. That one was pretty brilliant, but I have yet to see a game with the choose this path or that path where the end result is an artistic triumph on the part of the storytellers. Indigo Prophecy tried, failed.

Video games may have the potential to compare to great books/movies, but that potential hasn't been realized.

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

Warma (1220342) | about a year ago | (#43223595)

Name more than ten, franchises counting as a single game (that way you can't just list off every MGS game). The very best storytelling that video games have offered thus far only compare to okay storytelling in books and movies. You can talk about potential until you're blue in the face but it means nothing until that potential is realized.

Video games may have the potential to compare to great books/movies, but that potential hasn't been realized.

When answering to this message, I have to ignore the fact that, in my opinion, Dark Souls is just as great a work as Dead Souls, while in a whole different way and utilizing different ways of storytelling and mood delivery. Yet I'll easily see your weak bet and raise by not naming games you think I would (so NO Final Fantasy, NO Metal Gear Solid, NO Zelda, NO Baldur's Gate, NO Fallout and NO weak-ass modern shit like Mass Effect).

Then I'll raise the bet further by not selecting two games from the same authors.

Bioforge
The Longest Journey
Loom (Do note that selecting this rules out a bunch of high profile stories from Lucasarts)
Odin Sphere (Do note that selecting this rules out Murasama Demon Blade)
Psychonauts
Shadow of Memories
Shadow of the Colossus (Do note that selecting this rules out ICO)
Star Control 2
The Void
Torment (Do note that selecting this rules out NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer)
Witcher 2

I count 11. Will you call?

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223649)

I count 11. Will you call?

You forgot Silent HIll 2. If those count, it definitely should.

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223715)

Tex Murphy series

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43233219)

yes i forgot Tex Murphy!

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43233191)

you obviously have very little actual knowledge of early silent films. and little knowledge of games with effective stories. I'll grant that most games have yet to be the equivalent of a Les Miserables.....but then the Les Miserables (novel) is one of hte greatest achievements of western culture, and would be akin to expecting every person in history to be as perfect as Jesus, or every story to make as much money as the Avengers (look at the top 10 for 2012...the Avengers WAAAAAY throws the curve)

So for effective stories I give you:
-Almost any of the Zorks
-Warcraft and starcraft universes
-Planescape Torment
-Ultima 3 and 4
-Final Fantasy 3 and 7
-Xenogears
-The Longest Journey
-System Shock 1 and 2
-Amnesia
-Okami
-Grim Fandange (or basically any LucasArts adventure game, ever...Monkey Island, Full Throttle, DotT, etc)
-Kingdom HEarts
-Knights of the Old Republic
-Chronotrigger
-Zelda

Re:Stupid author knows nothing (1)

Macgrrl (762836) | about a year ago | (#43241631)

I could go on, but I'm catching up on the Jericho TV series

Nuts!

Plot vs Story (5, Interesting)

Cinder6 (894572) | about a year ago | (#43221101)

Something a lot of people don't seem to get is that there's a difference between plot and story. Plot is what happens in a narrative; story is how it happens. Put another way, story is the combination of the raw plot and the characters' interactions with it.

Video games are pretty good, sometimes great, at the plot bit. Most games, however, utterly fail at the character--story--side. You can find any number of examples of this in so-called RPGs, especially JRPGs. While these games are often a lot of fun, they typically have the character development and depth of a rock. Some exceptions certainly exist, such as the Witcher series, which give the character much more say in the narrative than most games. Heavy Rain also tried with some degree of success to instill greater character into the narrative (interestingly, it did a pretty good job with character development at the expense of plot).

In the end, though, games have an inherently difficult time portraying character weakness, flaw, or depth. They try to cheat it through cutscenes, but that's only half successful. Take Metal Gear Solid 4. In cutscenes, Snake is pretty weak, even enfeebled. During actual gameplay, though, he controls even better than his younger self did in the first Metal Gear Solid. And can you blame the developers? Would you really want to play the game as an actual geriatric spy? Would such a game sell enough to recoup the millions of dollars it cost to make?

Games, books, and movies each have strengths and weaknesses on the story-telling front. Games are good at immersion, plot, A/V elements, and immediacy. Movies are good for broad character character development and showing subtle nuances, such as a slight twitch or motion that a careless viewer might miss (this is something games are able to fake by way of cutscenes). Books are the best for really getting inside a character's head, but lack the immediacy or auditory/visual feedback of a movie or game.

As games mature, I don't doubt we'll see something of a convergence of elements happening. I don't think we're there yet, and I don't think games will ever be on par, in this particular area, with books. Also note I'm talking about commercial games with the assumption that the producers are attempting to maximize profit. I don't doubt an indie developer could pull off an amazing story with enough dedication and talent (sadly, I have yet to see this; any suggestions?).

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43221279)

My first thought when I saw the headline was that: yes, storytelling in video games is changing, but no: it's not for the better.

JRPGs from the mid-1990s imho had more of a story process than today's games. The western games either don't have it, or they suck at it in different interesting ways. One way visible in the later years is the sleaze factor, manifested by getting (female) characters to drop their clothes more and more in mainstream games. That is the big change in storytelling afaict.

Western games have taken over at the cost of japanese ones. With that we get Hollywood storytelling. It might be akin to literary storytelling in its banal sense, but let's not celebrate this fact.

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43221463)

Take Metal Gear Solid 4. In cutscenes, Snake is pretty weak, even enfeebled. During actual gameplay, though, he controls even better than his younger self did in the first Metal Gear Solid.

Well, he does run awful slow and still can't jump. Also, why is it Solid and Liquid are the only blond Snakes?

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43221577)

"Most games, however, utterly fail at the character--story--side. "

This is quite a bit of nonsense, Planescape torment is the ultimate story game. The real problem is that videogames are not good storytelling mediums. I dislike it when the story is not told via audiologs or in the background. I think Transformers : Fall of cybertron is the BEST way to go about story telling : SHOW DON'T TELL via set-pieces the player participates in. The last thing I want to do is read hours of mediocre dialogue or be stuck in conversations and overly long cut-scenes. Mass effect gets away with it because the player CHOOSES when to initiate dialogue by and large and the story is intelligently woven into set-pieces, but not so much that it is obnoxious and can't be skipped. Story/cinematic/dialogue elements that can't be skipped are the bane of my gaming existence.

Games are about showing, not TELLING. One of my beefs with planescape was it was about READING not SHOWING but that was part of the limitation of the technology of the time. Planescape was all about the writing and the well chosen voice actors, without them planescape would just be another icewind dale.

Re:Plot vs Story (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about a year ago | (#43222305)

Mass Effect (series) is not a game that is easy to compare against the rest of the video game landscape. It has a static plot but the story of it extremely mutable since decisions carry over to ME2 from ME1 and from ME1 and ME2 to ME3, the story is going to be different based on all the decision points that have been made. For example, Mordin can be alive at the end of the game or Wrex can be alive at the end of the game (or both can be dead) but it is impossible for both the characters to be living at the end. Even though there are four endings to the game the outcomes and the impressions that you have as a player are going to be vastly different based on these choices. A red ending where you healed the Geth/Quarian fracture is going to leave a much different impression than a red ending where you made decisions to hurt/damage the Geth (since the Geth are destroyed by the red ending).

This is much unlike games that offer multiple endings where the choices you make lead to that ending. The ending tends to be catered to the choices so the story is still quite static despite the choices.

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223551)

Actually the Witcher mentioned above is similar in this respect to Mass Effect.

These were two best stories I've played.

Funny, Witcher is based on great literatuer while Mass Effect is completely original.

Re:Plot vs Story (1)

Cinder6 (894572) | about a year ago | (#43224743)

I knew I was forgetting a good game (PS:T). Still, for every PS:T, there are a dozen shallow games. I do enjoy the RPG genre quite a bit, but I don't go into it expecting great depth or character development. Those few that manage to surprise me are all the more enjoyable.

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223599)

Plot is what happens in a narrative; story is how it happens. Put another way, story is the combination of the raw plot and the characters' interactions with it.

You forgot the most important part -- who told/wrote/filmed the story; how it was told/written/filmed. An example would be the two versions of "True Grit". Both movies where taken from the same book, both were closer to the book than most movies, yet they were completely different movies.

Re:Plot vs Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43225699)

Well as far as indie stuff goes, if you were ever into the Freespace series back in the 90's and early 00's, the Freespace 2 Source Code Project is a real treat. More than that though, there is a team out there that developed a mod for Freespace 2 called Blue Planet that continues the story. The first part is called Age of Aquarius and it is great. The second part, War in Heaven if FUCKING FANTASTIC. War in Heaven is still a work in progress (only first three acts of five released, no voice acting yet) but even in the state it is in now, it blows me away. Great story and fun game play.

Roger Ebert essay relevant to discussion (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about a year ago | (#43221143)

Seems like Roger Ebert's piece on video games as art [suntimes.com] should be included in this discussion. (Yes, I'm too lazy to RTFA and see if it is already referenced).

Re:Roger Ebert essay relevant to discussion (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about a year ago | (#43223011)

Note: He's basically retracted that piece. He later admitted he shouldn't have made that judgement because he doesn't know enough about videogames.

"So-called author" is an apt term. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43221215)

Lazy writer (from Gears of War, no less) seems himself as a facilitator between game and gamer. I've never bought this empty vessel metaphor: good storytelling is directed, sandboxes are not very conducive to memorable stories. Games like Silent Hill 2 and The Walking Dead (Season 1) are prime examples of what games could achieve if there were more real writers involved and less hacks like Tom Bissell.

Literature != Writing (1)

betterprimate (2679747) | about a year ago | (#43221351)

On /., I see a large misunderstanding of what literature and art is.

"More—oh, so much more—is needed than the mere saying, 'I like honey and milk better than meat and wine' or 'I like girls who are plump and fair better than those who are slim and dark.' That is why so much of modern autobiographical and confessional writing is dull beyond words. Even impertinence will not save our essays upon ourselves from being tedious—nor will shamelessness in the flaunting of our vices. Something else is required than a mere wish to strip ourselves bare; something else than a mere desire to call attention to ourselves. And this 'something else' is genius, and genius of a very rare and peculiar kind. It is not enough to say, 'I am this or that or the other.' The writer who desires to give a convincing picture of what he is must diffuse the essence of his soul not merely into his statements about himself but into the style in which these statements are made."

tldr

"The essential matter is that what we experience in regard to the new touch, the new style, should be a personal and absorbing plunge into an element which we feel at once to have been, as it were, 'waiting' to receive us with a predestined harmony."

Planescape torment (2)

Solozerk (1003785) | about a year ago | (#43221457)

Planescape torment is an amazing example of character development and profound plot. So are both baldur's gates, as well as Arcanum, for example.

The "storytelling capabilities of the two" have already met, lots of time. It's just that the games that are "profound" and have complex and far-reaching plots are a small minority of the games being released (I guess because that's not what most people want).

Re:Planescape torment (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43222683)

I would also through into the "Great Story" list:

Zork (all of them)
Planescape Tormet
Baldurs Gate 1/2
Diablo 1/2Warcraft
Starcraft
Xenogears
Anachronox
Most of the Zeldas
Ultima 3/4
Full Throttle

actually man, theres so many as i keep digging in my memory.

Re:Planescape torment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223373)

You have a low standard for what qualifies as a "great story."

- The Great Gatsby
- A Tale of Two Cities
- The Grapes of Wrath
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Les Miserables
- Cat's Cradle
- Dawn (Elie Wiesel)
- Siddhartha
- Frankenstein
- The Lord of the Flies
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- White Noise
- Franny & Zooey
- Othello
- Heart of Darkness
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Chronicle of a Death Foretold
- Blood Meridian

The best on your list cannot compare to the worst on mine. Read a book -- a good book -- before you presume to know what constitutes a 'great story.'

Re:Planescape torment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223645)

I read most book on your list, most of it is not as good as 'Planescape: Torment's story. Though, on the other hand Planescape sticks out so much from dywolf's list (who put's Planescape's story next to Starcraft's?)... Most of his list has next to nothing in terms of story and of course does not compare to yours...
Also, your list could be better -- just add true classics, like Tolkien's works, Prince of Amber, etc :-)

Re:Planescape torment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43224687)

Your list relates to a medium that has had well over 4,000 years to mature and contains works several centuries older than the earliest video game in existence. For every book on your list one could list a THOUSAND crappy books that never achieved any significance.
 
I guess my point is not so much that books are bad, but that they have such a head start that comparing them at this point in time is intellectually dishonest at best.

Re:Planescape torment (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43236729)

thank you. this is precisely the point i try to make.

for every xenogears there is a doom.
for every les mis there is a twilight.
for every Grim Fandango there is a Call of Duty #289173

Re:Planescape torment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43226149)

Here's the thing: almost every one of those books is crushingly depressing. As well-written as Blood Meridian is, I will never read it again, ever, and I recommend it only with the heaviest of caveats. A great story can be enjoyable.

That said, I don't know where dywolf gets any kind of story from Diablo.

Re:Planescape torment (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43236689)

Before you presume to know me, know that I've read most of those on your list. And most are very overrated, boring, and pointless.

Les Mis though is one of my favorites, and is not merely "a great story" but one of the greatest achievements of western civiliation. anything compared to it, no matter how good, will appear like a pile of dung.

Turds of war (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about a year ago | (#43221501)

I could have guess this would some how involve people who make unimaginative games. It makes sense it's Epic given their status of king of the poor story and space marine society. If they'd quit making the same old games then they wouldn't have to preach about games not being the same old game.

Interactive story... (1)

MadKeithV (102058) | about a year ago | (#43221853)

Right now the pinnacle of story-driven game achievement seems to be: a decent prewritten linear plot with depth that is supported well by the gameplay mechanics, with maybe a few branches here and there. That's still very cool, and if done right with the proper characterizations you hardly even notice (or care) that you're being railroaded. You, as the protagonist, feel that the choices made by the writer are the correct ones for the character.
However, I'm hoping that at some point in the near future there will be the possibility of a game that creates a story arc with decent depth through extrapolating and manipulating the actions taken by the player in the game. Something that wraps around gameplay actions to create quite different story arcs for different gameplay choices. This will have its limits, mostly because it does require the player to actually attempt to make meaningful choices - purely random play is unlikely to emerge into a good arc.

Re:Interactive story... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222607)

There are some games that succeed in creating a game without resorting to a linear path through a series of hollow sets and scripted actors to give you the illusion of being immersed in a story. Dwarf Fortress is not so much a game as it is a world onto itself: in the greater scheme of things, your fortresses and adventurers are a minute footnote in the hundreds of years of history simulated before you get to start playing.

The major part why Dwarf Fortress succeeds at building a fully player-driven narrative though is that the entire game is very much in the player's head: the mechanics are involved enough to enable complicated enough to create interesting interactions, but graphically it's a text-based game and the computer-generated history is just a data dump. When the player looks into them though, they can see and project something beyond the text. The madness that was the succession game Boatmurdered, or the illustrated history of fortress Bronzemurder are good examples.

Re:Interactive story... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43241259)

Although you didn't have actual choices, the Wing Commander story arcs changed dynamically depending on whether you succeeded in missions/managed to keep your wingman alive.

Genre vs "culture" (2)

RogueyWon (735973) | about a year ago | (#43221907)

I think the question "do video games contain good writing?" is probably not the right one to be asking. Or at least, not the relevant one for this discussion.

Of course there are games which contain good - even great - writing. Star Control 2, Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate 2, Final Fantasies 6, 7 and 10, the entire Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, most of the Mass Effect series - to list just a few.

However, the common factor surrounding these games is that they all fall into the category of what would be described (usually with a heavy smearing of condescension) as "genre" fiction in other media.

Does this matter? To most people, no. I'm perfectly happy to walk out of a bookstore with a sci-fi or fantasy novel, or to sit down and watch a Western on the TV. I don't think I'm alone (or even in a particular minority) in that. But there is a prominent cultural clique that is consistently unwilling to recognise "genre" fiction as inferior and not quite "art".

You can see it in the film world at the Oscars - sci-fi and fantasy find it very, very difficult to get a fair shot at the "big" awards. Occasionally something from the "genre" stable becomes big enough that it can't be ignored (Lord of the Rings), but by and large, the winners come from a very narrow pool. You can see every year that you get a group of films which are going Oscar-fishing. The trends have changed a bit over time (a few decades ago, you'd have needed to be a musical, but these days gloomy biopics are the way to go), but the existence of a fairly narrow category that is seen as intrinsically worthier has been consistent over time.

It's the same with the big mainstream literary awards - if anything, it's even harder for "genre" fiction to break through there (and a very, very small pool of authors tend to clean up year after year). A part of me thinks that the Hugo awards and the like should retaliate by having a "best mundane fiction" category, to recognise "the work which best overcomes its limitations of a serious lack of imagination to nevertheless be tolerably readable". I bet Martin Amis would be really proud of one of those.

I don't really see how video-games can break out of the genre box. It's a medium that's based around player-interaction, which is always going to push it towards a heavy focus on plot (generally one of the defining traits of much genre fiction). The question isn't whether video-games need to break out of that niche; it's whether we actually care if they do so.

Re:Genre vs "culture" (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#43236897)

there is also a conception that somehow if you're merely genre and not groundbreaking, not totally and utterly unique, you are worthless. (or else write something relly depressing, portaying humanity as a waste of space... that works too)

but to use examples from the game world, there are many RTS's...but there is only one Starcraft. there are many shooters (daikatana, COD, etc), but only one Halflife. its not just about what the story is, but how its presented. or should be.

but somehow people look at the things like scifi, or video games, and dismiss it as simple genre faire, while completely ignoring such works as Dune, or The Gap Cycle (the first book in particular), GRR Martin's Song of Fire and Ice...these are no more simple genre fiction than Les Miserables is, but the wider world compeltely ignores them as if they dont exist.

And let's look at Les Miserables. widely seen as one of hte greatest works of fiction, ever (and i would agree). But what is it really? A giant book that blends several genre stories together. Done extremely well, by a very gifted author, admitted. but if you were to pull out and examine any of hte individual subplots on its own, say changing names and places and publish it by itself, it would be glossed over as simple genre fiction. but that's the whole point. it is the sum of its parts, looked at completely, and not any little piece in isolation.

What I'd like to see (1)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about a year ago | (#43222023)

More games that accurately simulate historical events. Wars, certainly, but something that helps experience, say, trading in the ancient Mediterranean could be both educational and immersive.
Keep those history profs off the streets.

Actually took a college class about this (1)

Kilo Kilo (2837521) | about a year ago | (#43222119)

and it was one of the more interesting classes I've been in, despite not being a hardcore gamer. We only focused on the games that tried to tell a story or ones that had created a well-defined universe, it was more a study about the medium of video games than anything else.

I got to do my final paper about RTS games and how they (at least in my opinion) evolved from tabletop wargames and how they have in some ways returned to their roots. It was also the only time I've been able to insert Kane [wikipedia.org] into a research paper.

Video games can be an excellent way of telling a story and telling a story is one of the best ways of keeping the player's interest. Just like movies, it helps to have characters that the audience actually cares about. It's even better when the player can be one of them.

Re:Actually took a college class about this (2)

babywhiz (781786) | about a year ago | (#43222831)

Talk to any of the current players in WoW and a majority of them will tell you that going from Wrath to Cataclysm was a huge let down in the storytelling. Wrath was about this big, bad Lich King, and every one working together to take him down. The storytelling was amazing, the questing kept the story moving for the whole expansion, up until the very end when the Lich King died.

Veteran of the Wrathgate [wowhead.com] cinematic [youtube.com] was (still is, on my alts), goosebump inducing. The Battle for Undercity [wowhead.com] (the follow up quest that is now gone)...Amazing.

(What killed Wrath is how long it took for new content...but that's a discussion for another time.)

Cataclysm was about a dragon randomly torching zones. Comical, because of the random, but it just wasn't a good enough story. The only story line in Cataclysm that was any fun was Thrall's story, and it was more of a side story to try to salvage the expansion. Even killing the bad dragon at the end was not the least bit epic because you didn't even get to see the whole body of the dragon. Just his back and claws. Meh.

Story is at odds with freedom (3, Interesting)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#43222135)

The better story a game has, the more linear it is. It's a basic truth of game design. And while it's in no way bad that we have games with a decent plot, that's not the only way to entertain.

Re:Story is at odds with freedom (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222469)

Like AC3. The whole game felt like a cutscene.

Re:AC3 (1)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | about a year ago | (#43225427)

Asheron's Call 3?

Re:Story is at odds with freedom (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223747)

Here is counterexample -- Planescape: Torment.

Gender roles (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43222705)

"the power of authorship is ultimately for the player to seize for him or herself"

FTFY: himself.

Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223117)

At the same time, though, pure storytelling is never going to be the thing that games do better than anything.

Interactivity has an amazing potential that has only begun to be explored.

Re:Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223445)

interactivity is by definition not pure storyTELLING

Re:Disagree (1)

grumbel (592662) | about a year ago | (#43224773)

Pure old school story telling was always interactive. It happens when sitting around a campfire or when a father reads a story to his children. The stories are interactive and transform with the way the audience reacts. The completely static and passive storytelling in book form is in terms of human history a rather new invention.

I don't buy it. (2)

MaWeiTao (908546) | about a year ago | (#43223185)

I fully believe that games are capable of conveying a complex, thought-provoking story. I'd argue that games offer better ability to do this than film. Of course, the flip side here is that we're still talking about a game, and not an interactive movie. That means a lot repetitive activity. There are a tiny handful of games that offer very compelling stories but most don't even come close.

In fact, I'd argue that most big budget games are barely on par with the weaker Hollywood blockbusters. For all the positive talk I see about a certain game's story, whenever I play it I'm incredibly disappointed by the contrived story, the generic characters and the excessive emphasis on the spectacle. And the obnoxious thing is when people talk about mature themes in games, they're not talking about complex ideas, they're talking about swearing, nudity and gratuitous violence.

Story-driven indie games tend to touch on more sophisticated themes. But then they tend to be heavy-handed at times. Everything ends up being dreary and brooding. But in terms of story, they're absolutely pushing the envelope. The big budget, mainstream games are pushing spectacle under the pretense of being story-driven.

This is why movies based on games don't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43223365)

Games are the best at telling the kinds of stories they tell. A video game could not tell the story of "Citizen Kane" better than the movie could. A movie of Portal will never capture the exhilaration of solving each puzzle and the gradual realization that the game's formula is breaking down and this isn't just a clever physics puzzle.

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