Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Video Games Aren't (Insert Art Medium Here) Debate

Heavy Rain tried to hard to be a movie?
There have been many back-and-forth discussions about if games are art, how much they are like other mediums, and what sort of standards they should be held up to. This particular post is a reaction to seeing the pilot episode of The Escapist's Jimquistion titled "Video Games Are Not Movies, Get Over It." Focusing on the argument rather than the presentation, the main topic was a push against comparing video games to movies and a specific critique against Heavy Rain and it's director David Cage.

One of the points he brings up that I find important is the different ways movies and video games engage audiences and players, which could be differentiated by just that; movies have audiences and video games have players. So looking to tell a story like a movie would be a fault of the developers as it would leave out the player. I thought Heavy Rain had a decent narrative that involved the player enough to not seem too movie-like; I would go as far as to say Heavy Rain treats its narrative elements much better than the standard game that attempts to, though I could understand someone feeling like they were being taken along for a ride instead of playing a game. What has gone on is remediation, where the aspects of one medium are present in another, and therefore the techniques of the prior medium can be adapted to the more recent one. Video games, especially ones that prioritize narrative, are naturally cinematic and employ film techniques to affectively use this aspect; in essence, we've already been telling stories like a film, and now certain developers want to emphasize this quality. However, to focus so much on the movie aspect takes away from the interaction, which I think the Xenosaga series commits moreso than Heavy Rain, would make the game suffer (though, I personally didn't mind the first Xenosaga).

While I can agree that it's unfair to criticize such a young genre of storytelling, there is a stagnation of games with well thought out characters and storylines, even with the awareness of the direction games are going. I see what Cage is talking about, even though I don't think he's the best example of such a change, I do think Indego Prophecy and Heavy Rain contribute to the effort; why else are they see as so avant-garde in comparison to most games? If video games were chugging along at the right speed and properly incorporating narrative with all of its features, Heavy Rain would get no special attention. Game writers are still an odd position and frequently narrative isn't present at the beginning of game development; most of games' characters are stereotypes and uninteresting. Of course, not all games need involved narratives and evolving characters, but to be insulted by developers who compare video games to other art mediums is ignoring the floundering that has been happening as of late, though some companies are starting to step up and produce great games with quality narratives.

Video games draw on many disciplines, which makes it unique: film, prose, visual art, musical composition, theater. Tying in interactivity with these elements along with the narrative will produce great games. Completely ignoring film's influence and standards would only be ignoring the aspect of games that are strengthened by film technique, however, idealizing  film will have the video game industry wallow in masochistic self-loathing.

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