1. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Video Games As A Literary Medium

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Pheonix, Oct 8, 2012.

    Film and Literature used to have a monopoly on presenting interesting stories and have long been considered art forms. Now, and especially in the last 5 years, video game stories have been growing deeper and deeper, with more profound themes and developed plots. I think that there stories and characters are beginning to rival that of the written word and film. But I'm interested in hearing what all of you think, do you consider video games to have the potential to be an art form like literature?
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    The advantage games have as a story-telling medium is interactivity. Video games are a medium in which the audience can directly take part in and control (or at least influence) the narrative. In some games, the player can even immerse themselves in the narrative, and their playing of the game can be the action which invokes theme and emotion. In too many games however, the storytelling elements are divorced from the action, and often the 'story' parts of the game are just subpar pieces of writing or cut scenes.

    But they do have potential. The best recent example of interactivity being used to tell a deeper and more thematic story is Spec Ops: The Line. Without getting too deep into spoiler country, Spec Ops is a game about war, war crimes, and PTSD, but I think in truth it is a military shooter about military shooters, and the role the player has in those kinds of games. At times it feels like the first worthy successor to Silent Hill 2 since Amnesia, but in its best moments it is a (serious, not humorous) satire of modern shooters. Were it a movie, I don't think it would be nearly so memorable or powerful. It is a rare game which tells an interactive story, one which, in order to feel the full power of its narrative the player must participate in it, be complicit in what it shows.

    I already mentioned Amnesia, and I think it, along with Dark Souls, is a perfect example of another way interactive fiction can be unique. While both have at least the barest shred of a conventional story (Amnesia much more so than Dark Souls) the real depth of the story- the emotions and feelings both games are trying to evoke- come from the actual act of playing them. As much as I love the early Silent Hills, I'm not sure anything else in gaming compares to Amnesia at its best and worse. It is a game in which every shred of power is stripped from the player- their ability to fight back, to see, or even to understand what they're up against. I don't think its plot is anywhere near as deep or satisfying as Silent Hill 2's, but the actual experience of playing it is, in my opinion, far more disorienting and horrifying. Dark Souls of course often provokes its own unique brand of horror. But it is also by far the most satisfying game I've ever played. Whether intentional or not, I think it may well be one of the most interesting artistic depictions of Purgatory since Dante- every moment of the game is a trial, meant to reveal your faults. If you're to ever see it through, each of them will be exposed and purged.

    edit: Another example of interactive storytelling is a famous sequence from the otherwise forgettable Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth. The set up is basic, classic horror: the protagonist is spending the night in a town full of monsters passing themselves off as humans. They attack his hotel room and chase him, and he must escape into the sewers. Typing it out, it sounds boring. Watching it, the scene is interesting, but really nothing special. Actually playing it will leave you breathless, frantic. It's too bad so many games (Resident Evil 6 being a recent example) will stick you on rails or completely dictate to you how this sequence plays out. Leaving it in the player's hands to find a way out, letting them experience the same feelings as their on screen avatar, that is the potential video games have, and what makes them a unique medium for storytelling.
     
  3. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Personally I really hate the recent attempts to force stories onto games, because so much of it is done so badly. A typical example would be that I'm walking around the game world minding my own business when I'm suddenly interrupted by a cut-scene showing my character doing something really stupid that I would never have done myself, because the game developer needs me to do that in order to progress their story. Then there are the games which force me to go through half an hour of cut-scenes of sub-Sci-Fi channel movie quality before I can actually do anything. Games are meant to be played, not watched.

    In order to work, it has to be done well and it has to be integrated into the game itself. I'm not sure I'd count the Half-Life games as a good story, but at least I always felt I was playing the game even in the story sections.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    NOTICE:

    This thread will remain open only as long as it remains squarely on topic of the specific question posed. We have a Gaming Thread to discuss general gaming.


    You are forewarned.
     
  5. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Video games are already becoming vastly popular among normal people - that is, you can find doctors and lawyers, 80-year old grannies, and so on, playing some sort of video game. And I don't even mean the "casual" games like Angry Birds or something. I mean more "hardcore" stuff like MMORPGs or shooters and so on. If I remember correctly, the majority of adults these days - both male and female! - play some sort of game in their free time. As games become more widespread among the population, naturally developers will have to adjust what sort of games they produce. This will mean that there will be some games, I think, with literary-quality storytelling, worldbuilding, characterization, and so-on. Not that there isn't already some. But I think it's much easier now than it was decades, even a few years ago.


    From personal experience, the only two games I can confidently say were good "stories" (as opposed to merely good games - for instance, a strategy game almost never has any shred of a story... sort of) were Morrowind and Fallout (3 and New Vegas). Morrowind's main plot wasn't the greatest - and most of its side quests were rather generic - but it was a triumph of worldbuilding and also giving its plot a lot of subtlety and it raises questions about Tamriel's metaphysics, who exactly is good or evil - and how one defines it, and whether you yourself are really a hero or not; stuff like that. The Fallout series has choices that matter in the sense that they actually gave me crises - shuld I really do this or not? - that no other video game really did; for instance, in one of the Fallout 3 DLC, the Pitt, I basically have to choose between kidnapping the baby of the leader of a huge slaving operation who's well-meaning and kill the baby's parents (basically), or I can help said leader and put down the slave rebellion against his rule. I chose the former, and though it was the obvious choice to me, I felt terrible.

    Even games without much a plot in their design - such as strategy or simulation games - can provide some literary aspects. My example here is Crusader Kings 2, which is probably one of the greatest story generators I've ever played. For those of you who don't know, in CKII, you basically play a dynasty of medieval European (or Muslim) warlords. Thanks to the way the game works, it's not really a game about winning - it's a game about struggling as everybody - including your own children and siblings and spouse - try to assassinate and plot and scheme against you and everybody else, Game of Thrones style. You don't worry necessarily about "min-maxing" traits and stats - you worry about your ambitious younger brother, who had daddy issues, trying to raise a huge rebellion against you, the favored son. These sort of things fold them out naturally to create a story, if you're creative enough. Many of my funnest games in Crusader Kings 2 were fun precisely because I was creating stories of my own as I was playing the game. In essence, CKII is like a sophisticated story generator. Other games can - and will, in the future - provide that sort of experience. Certainly it's *not* the same thing as an actual story per se, but it does provide the ability for one to create stories oneself. This explains the appeal of games like the Elder Scrolls series, or even more abstract things like the Sims and SimCity - you are the one creating the world. You are the one creating the story.

    In fact, I remember that was something I had even with SimCity. You might think - what the heck does a game about building cities have to do with telling stories? But it does. SimCity 4 is probably my favorite game of all time - poured so many hours into it throughout the last decade, basically. Yet when I do even that, many of my decisions have a bit of a story to them. Maybe that corner of the city has a history of housing Asian immigrants, and it's time they got some justice; maybe this town I built is a farming village that refuses to grow, and it struggles with this as huge skyscrapers rise in the neighboring cities. Here, it is not necessarily individuals who are the characters - but the citizens as a whole, the city as a whole. And I make a story out of them. And that's really awesome.

    Speaking of which, maybe I should play some SimCity again.
     
  6. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    Man, I was gonna mention Amnesia, but Agreen beat me to it. :D

    I definitely think that video games are approaching much higher qualities than they've ever had before. I mean, yeah, you still get the typical shoot-em-ups and arcade games, which are both great, but in terms of story, games like Amnesia are absolutely fantastic, and they relay a story of that kind better than a book or movie can. Amnesia as a book or movie would be scary, but as a video game is when it's the most terrifying, because of the interactive aspect.

    Seeing game companies explore that interactive aspect in relation to storylines is something really exciting, because there aren't really many art mediums that you interact with in the way you do with video games.
     
  7. lixAxil
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    lixAxil Self-Proclaimed Senator of the RPG subforum. Contributor

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    Games are a good source of inspiration in many situations.
    I got inspirations from games like Shin Megami Tensei series or Legacy of Kain for example. Also from visual novels (yet I don't consider those as games)
    The plot in games are very underrated, I have read many books, and played many games and I can say that there are many occasions in the one the plot in the games are better than in the popular novels.
     
  8. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    You forgot the heavily developed world of Mass Effect. It's known for it's amazing storyline. Halo is too, but more in the novels then the games.
     
  9. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Mass Effect was one of the games I was thinking of in my comment above. It seemed to require sitting through about half an hour of poorly written cut-scenes before I could actually control anything in the game, then there was the hilarious part with the super-gung-ho soldier who was obviously going to die in seconds when we met the bad guys. Then cut-scene after cut-scene interspersed with shooting a couple of bad guys, followed by a cut-scene where my character did something really stupid that I would never have done myself.

    I gave up an hour or two later at the point where I was being randomly killed by giant worms while driving a space SUV that steered like a drunk whale.

    To me it really epitomised the decline of gaming as designers try to force players to follow their idea of a story rather than have fun. At the opposite end of the scale, I played sandbox games like Operation Flashpoint for years because I could do what I wanted while following the basic storyline, which I found far more satisfying than the tired old quest mechanic in Mass Effect (not to mention that the final mission in Flashpoint is one of the best game endings I've ever played). I was particularly impressed in Mass Effect when I convinced the aliens that I was the first human in history tough enough to join their Elite Butt-Kicker Club, only to find NPCs still sending me on 'collect rat tails' quests afterwards...
     
  10. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    I don't know how Mass Effect is known for it's poorly - written cut-scenes unless you mean the regular endings in the third game. Extend Cut were much better written then the original endings.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, I do. However, we have to judge video games differently than we judge literature because they serve different purposes. There's also the issue of technology. I consider graphics and animation to be an art form, and with so many advances in technology, is it really fair to compare a video game from today to one from 10 years ago (in my opinion, storytelling in video games hasn't gotten any better or worse, so that's not really an issue)? Literature doesn't have this problem because novels, stories, plays, and poems don't change very much, even over hundreds of years.

    I'll end by saying that if I had to choose a video game that I consider to be a great artistic achievement, it would have to be either Flower or Journey (developed by thatgamecompany for the PS3). But again, technology plays a big part because the animations are very important in both games.
     
  12. Fivvle
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    Fivvle Contributing Member

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    If I ever find a video game with a story and characters worthy of "literature" status, I'll eat my ferret.
     
  13. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Halo I did play somewhat, but I didn't think the story was really that great - as you said, maybe the novels deal with it better.

    I've never played Mass Effect, so I can't comment on that. Still, I have a sense that I wouldn't really enjoy its story - and my gut instincts tend to be right for pretty much most stories I come across, no matter what medium they're from. I've rarely found a video game plot that was actually good (although I would like to say that this is pretty much true with every single medium, be it books, films, TV series, anime, etc. - it's just real hard to impress me!), but of these it'd probably be Morrowind and Fallout to a lesser extent.




    As in all mediums, anyways, video games' stories tend to have certain cliches and frustrations, although these are occasionally justified by the fact that gameplay sometimes has to take precedence over storytelling.
     
  14. Kingtype
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    Kingtype Always writing or thinking things XD Staff Role Play Moderator Contributor

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    They are a good story tellling medium. But I don't know about literature as a whole.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    art form?

    no!

    literature?

    he** no!
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Video games are already an art form, but a 'literary medium'? I think the word 'literary' should be googled.
     
  17. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Absolutely agree with this, Lem. I don't think I could have put it any better.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Why not? I consider animation and coding to be art forms (as do many people), so I don't see how video games aren't art.
     
  19. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I sincerely wonder if some of the people posting in this thread even play video games. Video games as an art form is not a new concept. Also, some video games (namely the RPG genre) have more text and "literature" in them than the average novel, (and that's not even counting the scriptwriting/dialogue that goes into them). Case in point, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has over 300 in-game "books" (most of which are just short stories and such) which the player character can read at his/her leisure. The total text adds up to something like six novels worth of content, most of which is more interesting to read than some "professional" short stories I've seen.

    Furthermore, look at the various games that get novelized. Someone already mentioned Mass Effect which, in my opinion, has deeper, better characterization than some novels I've read, and a fully fleshed out sci-fi universe, which has been even further explored in various novels. Halo has also been novelized many times over, as has World of Warcraft, and there is even a Grand Theft Auto fanfic on this very site. We don't live in the days of Pong and Super Mario anymore; games actually have stories now and those stories are powerful enough to inspire, critique, and even cause uproar. You should've seen the fan outcry over the ending to Mass Effect 3. Yikes. You would never see that sort of thing is this was just two rectangles swatting a pixelized ball back and forth.

    Now, I'm not saying every video game is a masterpiece or has good writing, but all it takes is one to prove that this is a viable artistic medium. Also, why can a video game not be a literary medium? If I can turn on a video game and read a textual story, how is it not a literary medium? If having visual queues bars a video game from being "literature" then what does this say about books with pictures or cover art, especially a game that has six times more narrative text than a novel?
     
  20. MissClood
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    MissClood New Member

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    I have to agree that some video games are very well written with fascinating plot lines. Bioshock was one that really stayed with me and encouraged me to write a number of short stories set in the world that was depicted.
     
  21. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I believe that with the level of design, creativity, artwork (modelling, backgrounds, world design, music, story threads, etc... and even writing) that it is now an actual art form. While not considered high art (yet), it is on the level that books and paintings were for domestic use throughout the last few hundred years. It isn't old enough, culturally, to have developed a reputation beyond it's core use... but it will. We need to remember that Shakespeare plays were written purely for entertainment. Who knows what impact some games will have in the future on our perceptions of high art. They already have dramatic impacts on culture.
     
  22. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've not played many video games recently but I've found many to have quite compelling and intricate plots to rival any other storytelling medium. I see no reason why they can't continue to get better and better. Lots of untapped potential here, IMO.
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Gaming is a gold mine for writers who care more about building a general writing career than focusing on a particular medium. I've been to several workshops and discussions about screen-writers getting solid jobs in the gaming industry, and really developing their skills to suit the specific requirements. In some games you don't write one story arc, you write dozens, if not hundreds. That's tricky!
     
  24. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    It all depends what type of game.

    Most RPG games have the potential of literature style because those games are all about the characters and the conflict they face. While developing the main character to become stronger, the players explore that character's world, his or her relationship with other characters, and the personal problems that character faces. However, if the players can make their own characters in a game, like Skyrim for example, they still follow the basic storyline. The reason Skyrim is so addicting, there are many quests to find and many story subplots to discover.

    Final Fantasy is all about the story than the game play. Because of the lovely cut scenes and the interesting characters, players couldn't stop playing it for a while. With every twist and cliff hanger, the players have to keep playing the game in order to continue the story. I never completed any Final Fantasy game because it gets too hard.

    Not all games can have a story. Like Pong; it is all about hitting the ball to score points. As long as the players know what they have to do, then they will focus on that goal.

    Some games also put too much into story telling when players just want to play the game. Like why should I learn about my character and the world he lives in? I just want to kill that enemy boss.

    Good story games should give the players enough of inactive moments for them to keep playing it.

    And some day, games will not just be games. They will become movies that players can change a lot for fun.
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Keep it civil. Respect others' opinions, even if you don't share them.
     

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