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How Can Games Speak To Us?

February 3, 2010

In my on-going ponderings about visual storytelling, I really believe that I’ll be working on video games in the future – even though I’m a filmmaker by trade.

My son is a budding game developer and we have discussions all the time about the place of storytelling in games. I challenge him to think in terms that are beyond the current state-of-the-art. What could be done in terms of meaning and cultural influence in a game? I have a friend in the major game world who says the development studios are looking to Hollywood for screenwriters who can help them amp up the characters and story arcs of their games. If you read reviews of games like Mass Effect 2, you know that there is a real effort being made in some games to create more depth and nuance beyond a few cut scenes that move a player through to the next battle.

Mass Effect 2

However, when I think story and when my son talks about story in games, there is still a wide difference. Mass Effect 2, for instance, uses a dialogue wheel to give a sense of choice and independence to conversations, but you don’t mistake the game for anything written by Robert Towne.

When will we get there?

Chris Remo talks about it in this article.

If you’re reading this, you probably love games. I certainly do, but I’ve been thinking about what makes games important to me, versus what makes books or music or film important to me.

… there are still some parts of my life that games don’t address that well. They do the “fun” thing well, and they give me a lot to think about, but they rarely speak to me the same way a wonderful novel, film, or album does.

…the reason I bring this up is because I think games are certainly capable of more. I think games have the possibility of speaking to us as people, not just as gamers, in the same way a film by Scorsese or Bergman or Welles or Kurosawa or the Coen brothers can speak to us as people, not just as film buffs; in the same way The Beatles or Beethoven or Charles Mingus or the Flaming Lips or John Adams speak to us as people, not just as analysts of music theory; in the same way Vonnegut or Nabokov or Shakespeare or Orwell or Hammett speak to us as people, not just as appreciators of literary prowess.

[Read the entire post from IdleThumbs]

I believe that visual storytelling is about entertainment, but not merely entertainment when it reaches its highest level. I want to make films, and perhaps games, that open audiences’ eyes and hearts. When the master storyteller, Jesus, explained why he told stories he said, “…to nudge people toward receptive insight.” When I think about the potential of games, with open worlds and personal participation in the story, I am excited to see what’s possible.

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