Art is the product of human creativity and imagination. So what does this mean to designers in the interactive medium? There have been many arguments against games as an art form, saying that games can’t express an artist’s opinion because the interactivity of the medium takes that self-expression away. And then there are those who argue that games involve art such as music, 3d images, and dialogue scripts, therefore since they include art they become art. I am not going to join in this argument, because frankly, I think it’s stupid. Art isn’t some standard that’s defined by the French; art is art. Come on, Shakespeare would agree with me.
I think the more important question is, what is the purpose of art? Expression? Entertainment? Education? Evangelism? I read a very thought-provoking article, which provoked the thoughts that eventually led to this post. The article discusses the Christian game industry, and how it has suffered in the past, and its weaknesses as compared to the secular game industry.
A great deal of the article discussed how many Christian games tried to evangelize, and because of this, many non-Christian players wouldn’t touch them with a wireless controller. Does this mean, however, that Christians shouldn’t make evangelistic media, such as games, movies, or books? If not, what should they do with these mediums? What should anybody do?
No story should be preachy. The moment the main character gets on his soap-box and begins preaching to the audience, the audience loses interest in the story and possibly turns away from it. Rather than tell the audience what is right and wrong, the story should show the audience some truth in a way that allows them to discover it for themselves. Stories that do this are the most rewarding.
The article then went on to talk about how many Christian games aren’t honest about how the world really is, how they avoid edgy topics, and focus on happy, fuzzy feelings. I have noticed that many Christian movies and books are this way as well. I am excluding, of course, Ted Dekker and Frank Perretti. My opinion is that as a Christian, I must ask myself how I can be honest about the topics I’m addressing in my story, and yet how I can also show truth. A Christian story cannot come to the conclusion that life is hopeless, or that we must always give into temptation, or that revenge is justice. Being honest does not mean that we must sacrifice truth.
Christian stories should show a fundamental truth about the world we live in, and the God we serve. How the story does this is completely up to the storyteller.
The strength of the interactive medium is that the player is faced with choices that allow them to explore a topic in a way that is impossible in any linear medium. This does not mean that interactive stories should allow the player to wreak havoc on the storyworld; this isn’t Grand Theft Auto. The storyworld should react to the player’s actions, reward or punish them based on what they do. How the storyworld does this is again up to the storyteller.
Why I Want to Create Interactive Stories
Since I have finished my little shpeel on art and whatnot, I would like to take the rest of this post to talk about why I want to create interactive stories. So there you go; two posts in one! I figure I owe it to you, since I haven’t written in so long. Shame on me.
Story seems to have become somewhat of a novelty in games. I think it’s funny how game developers are touting their “story-driven” games, as if that’s just another feature that the programmers tacked on. I’m always disappointed by these games, though, because the story is just that; tacked on. The story is nowhere near as important as the gameplay, and during the important story points, control is usually taken away and you are forced to watch a cut-scene.
I mean, did you see the Battlefield 4 trailer? Warning: it contains strong language. But it does illustrate my point quite well, and I could point out a million other games that tout “storytelling” and “emotion” as features. I’ll be honest, I watched the trailer, and the first thing I thought was: wow, that’s pretty good. But then it went from one impossible situation to another, and I read this article, and I thought, man, that just shows how low my expectations for video games has fallen.
The Assassin’s Creed games are the same way, but there are other reasons why those games annoy me. I mean, will they ever end? Come on. They’re just doing the same thing over and over again. Is this what playing Call of Duty Black Ops 2 feels like? Creating the longest FPS series isn’t a good thing, Infinity Ward.
Sorry, I got all worked up there. I apologize, and promise to move on. The point is, every time I see a trailer for a game that is supposedly “story-driven,” it gives me this itch in my soul, and I think, I can do better than that. I don’t want to create pulse-pounding action experiences with amazing graphics and destructible environments, I want to create genuine, honest stories about real people doing real things. I want to show the world that the interactive medium is a powerful medium. I just don’t see games ever doing that.
A Little Update
OK, I think I also owe you a little update as to what I’ve been working on lately. I haven’t really written about interactive stories for a while, but I have been working on them. After looking at InkleWriter and Versu, I started working on a simpler, text-based approach, which will probably be web-based. However, I haven’t started coding anything yet, so don’t hold your breath. I’m still pondering some of the fundamental decisions I will have to make before I start. If any of you have looked at InkleWriter or Versu, or other interactive story technologies, and have opinions on them, let me know in the comments. I am fascinated to know what others think of them, and maybe get some ideas.