What are Games?

I’m not a huge fan of welcome messages on homepages, but since this is the first post, I figure what the hay!  Welcome!  Now, onto business.  If you haven’t read the About page or Interactive Storytelling page, I highly recommend it, just to familiarize yourself with the topics I will be covering and the reasons I will be covering them. So, what are games?  I think this is a question every person, not just a gamer, but everyone, should ask themselves.  What are games?  What do they do to people?  How do they affect people?  What does an extended period of time playing a game do to someone?  Do you know the answers?

Well, I ask you to think about it.  I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to these questions, and I think that is very dangerous.  Gamers don’t care because when the government wants to take away their right to buy M rated games they get defensive, and act totally irrational.  Most politicians and parents, on the other hand, don’t know much about games so they assume some things they shouldn’t, and then attempt to get rid of games completely. I don’t think either of these reactions are right.

Now, I admit, some games should not have been made.  But I don’t think it’s the government’s place to ban these games, it’s the gamer’s choice whether they want to play them or not.  Movies today are much worse than games, and yet, the government does not attempt to ban them.  Why?  Because everyone understands movies, but not everyone understands games.

It’s very important for this problem to be cleared up, but that’s not the purpose of this blog post.  This blog post is to make you think about the problem, and try to come up with your own solutions. Now, I’m not saying that there is no right and wrong.  There is.  But gaming can be seen as drinking—some can drink a glass of wine and be okay, but other’s can’t.  Some people can play games for an hour and it doesn’t affect them, but others can become rude, irritable, and downright nasty.  Apparently if one plays games for longer than two hours a day, they start to experience adverse affects. Some of you may be getting a little irritable reading this right now.  Well, I understand where you’re coming from.  I was there too.  But think about it—do you want a game controlling what you do or how you act?  Is it really that important?  Would you risk relationships for it?

I’m not saying all games are bad.  I’m saying all games affect us adversely if we play them for too long.  In fact, TV does the same thing.  Even reading.  If we read books all day long, then when someone comes along and tries to tear us away, we get angry!  It’s natural to become attached to something we’ve been doing for hours on end, especially if we enjoy it.

Since this blog is supposed to be about interactive stories, then why am I talking about games?  Well, I think that interactive storytellers can learn a little from games, but they shouldn’t try to copy games.  Well, really, games shouldn’t even try to copy each other, but I mean on a more basic level.  How the player interacts with the world, for example.  Will the controls be like a first person shooter?  Or more like a point-and-click game?  Should the player have to hit a million keys to do some sort of action, or should they just hit one key and the computer takes care of the rest?  In future posts I will talk more in-depth on these subjects, but for now, I just want to talk about what games are, and then in the next post, I will talk a little about what interactive stories are and maybe even show a few examples.

OK, so what are Games?

In one simple, concise sentence, this is what games are:

An interactive experience in which the player collects things, shoots things, and interacts with things.

You see, games are about things, money, weapons, ammo, even enemies or allies.  In a video game, the player shoots things and collects things, but he rarely interacts with people.  If you want the player to truly interact with the characters in the game, allow them to do more than just choose a few dialogue options.

For example, let’s take a look at Deus Ex.  This game has been known for it’s great story, so wouldn’t it be more about people than about things?  Well, most of the levels are based around how many lockpicks you have, how many credits you have, or how many multitools you have, but not about your relationships with the other characters.  Things you do early on in the game do affect how people react to you, but you can’t really change the overall story, and you don’t have all that many options when interacting with other characters.  You can ask them questions, and you can kill them.  That’s about it.

For the fun of it, let’s take a look at another game: Mass Effect.  This is another “story-based” game, but is it really?  Much of the game still revolves around collecting armor, weapons, and credits with which you can purchase more armor, weapons or upgrades.  When you do interact with characters, which is quite frequently, you are still limited by what you can say and do.  First of all, unlike Deus Ex, you can’t just kill anyone you want to, the game doesn’t allow it.  Your dialogue options are usually split up into four different categories: investigate, nice, neutral, or rude.  However, the nice neutral and rude options are pretty much all the same, it’s just how you say them.  Sometimes it allows you to say “yes” or “no”, but this is pretty rare.

In general, a lot of shooter games say how great their story is and how it was written by some famous writer, but first of all, it was usually written after the premise and basic storyline of the game was already created by the designers, and second, the story is always exactly the same every time you play it.  If your mission is to assassinate someone, you have to assassinate them, otherwise the game reloads from the last save point, so there really isn’t much choice.  And you don’t ever choose what you say to other characters; if you do, it’s probably a FPS/RPG hybrid.

In the next post I will talk about what interactive stories are, and of course provide a few examples of what they should be and what they shouldn’t.  Once I do that, it will be easier to compare them to games, and see how they are different.

Feel free to comment and continue the discussion on what you think games are.  Disagree with me or agree, but at least say why.  And come back regularly to see my new blog posts.

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