Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

This idea has been rattling around in my head for quite some time, and so I will attempt to be clear about what points I am (and, maybe more importantly, am NOT) trying to make.

My recent play through of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [a masterpiece, albeit flawed (NOT the point of this post)] brought this question back to the forefront of my mind... Specifically, what are the limitations of the video game medium? On this point I want to be clear: I am NOT trying to decide if video games are art. But every medium has limitations, and I think, in order to make something truly great within it, you must have an understanding of what they are.

My position is that video games are inherently limited in terms of narrative or story. Now, I really loved the story in Skyward Sword, and I feel it is integral to the enjoyment of the game entire. Further, I believe that the story in Skyward Sword could not have been told better in any other medium. On the other hand, can the same be said of a game like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? Here is a story that's been done better in film, namely Indiana Jones. Without a doubt, Uncharted 3 does an admirable (probably the best) job of emulating film narrative, but folks - lets really be honest here - it's still an emulation.

Not unlike many movie posters I've seen...

I do not want to pick on Uncharted 3 as I really enjoyed my time with the game, and there are many worse offenders. But it's precisely the fact that Uncharted 3 is a good emulation that proves the point better than highlighting a bad one (a la Battlefield 3's campaign).

I think there is a child in all of us that wants to be the star of our own blockbuster. These emulations have effectively granted us those wishes. Is it all we hoped it would be? Here's a better question: What are the limitations of film? Here's one: most films are roughly 2 hours long. Do you really want to be the star of a 10+ hour blockbuster? These are important questions.

Portal 2 is a perfect example of a video game which plays to the strengths, and avoids the limitations of it's medium. Is there another medium which could even present that narrative coherently? There is nuance in this medium which can be used as an AMAZING narrative tool. Take, for instance, the thrill of uncovering a story thread in Skyrim just by stumbling over a cave or discovering some new location, or finding a wandering behemoth in Shadow Of The Colossus. These are moments which are unique to video games, and validate the medium. This is a double edge sword however, because emulations don't validate the medium; they may actually invalidate it.

Validating the medium, one alternate universe underwater new years celebration at a time.

In conclusion, I believe there is a place for video games as art, but it does not continue by emulating other forms. As the industry matures I hope that more developers will understand the limitations of the medium and use it as an advantage. (CHEESY) It is here where you can feel and actually believe you are writing your own narrative; and that is a powerful source for art.

Anyway, comments welcome! Goodnight, Giantbomb!

#1 Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

This idea has been rattling around in my head for quite some time, and so I will attempt to be clear about what points I am (and, maybe more importantly, am NOT) trying to make.

My recent play through of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword [a masterpiece, albeit flawed (NOT the point of this post)] brought this question back to the forefront of my mind... Specifically, what are the limitations of the video game medium? On this point I want to be clear: I am NOT trying to decide if video games are art. But every medium has limitations, and I think, in order to make something truly great within it, you must have an understanding of what they are.

My position is that video games are inherently limited in terms of narrative or story. Now, I really loved the story in Skyward Sword, and I feel it is integral to the enjoyment of the game entire. Further, I believe that the story in Skyward Sword could not have been told better in any other medium. On the other hand, can the same be said of a game like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? Here is a story that's been done better in film, namely Indiana Jones. Without a doubt, Uncharted 3 does an admirable (probably the best) job of emulating film narrative, but folks - lets really be honest here - it's still an emulation.

Not unlike many movie posters I've seen...

I do not want to pick on Uncharted 3 as I really enjoyed my time with the game, and there are many worse offenders. But it's precisely the fact that Uncharted 3 is a good emulation that proves the point better than highlighting a bad one (a la Battlefield 3's campaign).

I think there is a child in all of us that wants to be the star of our own blockbuster. These emulations have effectively granted us those wishes. Is it all we hoped it would be? Here's a better question: What are the limitations of film? Here's one: most films are roughly 2 hours long. Do you really want to be the star of a 10+ hour blockbuster? These are important questions.

Portal 2 is a perfect example of a video game which plays to the strengths, and avoids the limitations of it's medium. Is there another medium which could even present that narrative coherently? There is nuance in this medium which can be used as an AMAZING narrative tool. Take, for instance, the thrill of uncovering a story thread in Skyrim just by stumbling over a cave or discovering some new location, or finding a wandering behemoth in Shadow Of The Colossus. These are moments which are unique to video games, and validate the medium. This is a double edge sword however, because emulations don't validate the medium; they may actually invalidate it.

Validating the medium, one alternate universe underwater new years celebration at a time.

In conclusion, I believe there is a place for video games as art, but it does not continue by emulating other forms. As the industry matures I hope that more developers will understand the limitations of the medium and use it as an advantage. (CHEESY) It is here where you can feel and actually believe you are writing your own narrative; and that is a powerful source for art.

Anyway, comments welcome! Goodnight, Giantbomb!

#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

I think the more interesting question would be "what are these limitations, if indeed there are any"?

#3 Posted by NlGHTCRAWLER (1215 posts) -

Uncharted 3 was awesome.

#4 Posted by JasonR86 (9657 posts) -

The biggest limitation and advantage of this medium is the technology at hand. Technology can just as easily hinder creative as it can spur it.

#5 Posted by mikeeegeee (1553 posts) -

This was... a really great read. Enlightening stuff!

#6 Edited by killacam (1284 posts) -

Great points and examples, but i don't think that the medium's potential lies in its ability to allow you create your own narrative.. more in how it has you discovering that narrative, through gameplay (important). Bioshock, in much the same way as in Skyrim, has you traveling about, unraveling its narrative through its environments as you go, but the two games are vastly different in terms of the flexibility and ambiguity of their narratives. They still utilize a storytelling mechanic that (i have to believe) can only work in a video game, and while it has to do with autonomy in putting the pieces together, whether or not that narrative is SHAPED by you isn't the issue.

#7 Posted by whistlebottom (193 posts) -

I wouldn't say time is a limitation on film, as most films are 2 hours long out of choice rather than necessity. But I'm nitpicking, on the real issue.

I completely agree that the emulation of film doesn't play to the strengths of video games (i.e. interactive vs. participatory) and I actually think that conventional ideas of narrative (a series of unbroken events and character developments that are created before consumption) always feel forced in videogames. A collage narrative though, made up of landscapes and artifacts as in Bioshock, Fallout 3, and Zelda, is a great fit for the medium.

I had a thought thread here, but I completely lost it. In short, there are a lot of limitations, but to define something by privation takes longer than defining something by it's... er.... not-privation. What's the word I'm looking for here?

#8 Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

@killacam: I think you are absolutely correct, discovery is the key

#9 Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

@mikeeegeee: thanks dude

#10 Posted by Jrinswand (1703 posts) -
#11 Posted by FmeDry69 (58 posts) -

oooooooh, no you didn't. Videogames are far more valid than any other medium as an art form, andeven more so as a means of expressing narrative. If you want my honest thoughts onthe matter, read my blog post because it is too long for me to re-iterate here.

In short, I have been more engaged by the best video game stories than by the best stories in film.

#12 Posted by FmeDry69 (58 posts) -

@killacam said:

Great points and examples, but i don't think that the medium's potential lies in its ability to allow you create your own narrative.. more in how it has you discovering that narrative, through gameplay (important). Bioshock, in much the same way as in Skyrim, has you traveling about, unraveling its narrative through its environments as you go, but the two games are vastly different in terms of the flexibility and ambiguity of their narratives. They still utilize a storytelling mechanic that (i have to believe) can only work in a video game, and while it has to do with autonomy in putting the pieces together, whether or not that narrative is SHAPED by you isn't the issue.

The difference is Bioshock has a great story with great characters and plenty of allusions, metaphors, and symbolism. Skyrim, on the other hand, has crap writing and characters that aren't worth a damn.

#13 Posted by BoG (5187 posts) -

Well, I agree. I wish you had expanded on your idea. The same can be said of any medium. When writers play to the strengths of their medium, something great happens. Games are unique in that they can still be good doing nothing more than emulating an action movie, but to many of us this type of game is less satisfying than something like Bioshock, where the writers took the player's involvement, and creatively wove it into the story.

One limitation I want to bring up here, and one that's being discussed more and more often, are the people we must kill in our games. If you really think about what you do in context, Nathan Drake is absolutely twisted killing so many people without really giving it a thought. Some games can fix this problem. It's easier to justify killing monsters and enemy soldiers.

#14 Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

To say there are limitations to the medium is not to give up on changing them... but there ARE limitations. To say there aren't is not helping anyone.

If you prefer video game narrative, doesn't that really mean that you value the weaknesses of the medium less, and the strengths more?

#15 Posted by cexantus (131 posts) -

@FmeDry69:

I'd really, really like to read that blog post. Because as much as video games have improved in regards to narrative, I don't think there's a single game that even offers what the best films can.

#16 Edited by believer258 (11785 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

I think the more interesting question would be "what are these limitations, if indeed there are any"?

This. What, pray tell, are these limitations that you speak of? They exist, I agree, but what are they?

@FmeDry69 said:

oooooooh, no you didn't. Videogames are far more valid than any other medium as an art form, andeven more so as a means of expressing narrative. If you want my honest thoughts onthe matter, read my blog post because it is too long for me to re-iterate here.

In short, I have been more engaged by the best video game stories than by the best stories in film.

Linky needed. And it had better be pretty damn persuasive to beat out movies or, even better, books. I like some video game stories (Bioshock, Halo 1), but none of them can compare to the expert stories of a good movie or, my personal favorite comparison, something like Baccano. Or, for books, The Hobbit.

#17 Edited by Jay444111 (2441 posts) -

There is NO limitations with out medium! None at all! We will pierce the sky with our determination and fighting spirit for we are!!!!!

FOR WE ARE VIDEO GAMES!!! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK WE ARE!!!???

Also, a story can work in any fashion including video games. Sure they might seem boring but that is literally how most classic books are as well. (Not all, most. Ever read Pride and the Prejudice? more boring than shredded wheat. Thankfully there is Fahrenheit 451...)

All it takes to make any story interesting is to work on it, whether that be something hard or easy depends on the project. Devs that say they cannot do it are lazy and incapable of new ideas so they should be swept aside like the garbage they truly are!

@believer258 said:

@FmeDry69 said:

oooooooh, no you didn't. Videogames are far more valid than any other medium as an art form, andeven more so as a means of expressing narrative. If you want my honest thoughts onthe matter, read my blog post because it is too long for me to re-iterate here.

In short, I have been more engaged by the best video game stories than by the best stories in film.

Linky needed. And it had better be pretty damn persuasive to beat out movies or, even better, books. I like some video game stories (Bioshock, Halo 1), but none of them can compare to the expert stories of a good movie or, my personal favorite comparison, something like Baccano. Or, for books, The Hobbit.

Realistically, The Hobbit was the beginner of cliches, sure, it is WAY more readable than the LOTR books but that doesn't make it great. I would call it a good book though. There are way better books out there. (SWAN SONG BY ROBERT R MCCAMMON!!!!!! FUCKING BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Also, a movie story is better than any video games? BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Sorry... but I gotta laugh over that one! a medium that condenses their stories into a 2 hour show for the driveling masses is better than a medium that you can literally interact with for hundreds of hours in entire worlds with stories that fill them!?

I honestly think it is a joke to even TRY to consider movies better than video games. A absolute joke really. Metro 2033 could not have been done as a movie, because then it would've just de-evolved due to executive order and would've gotten something more like a whitewashing like Avatar the last airbender. While with video games, they nailed the book and it still was a great video game that lasted for a very long time with some truly amazing moments that no movie could even TRY to copy.

Never seen Baccano... Currently watching Panty and Stocking... weird ass show made by my very favorite animation studio.

#18 Posted by FmeDry69 (58 posts) -

@believer258 said:

@Video_Game_King said:

I think the more interesting question would be "what are these limitations, if indeed there are any"?

This. What, pray tell, are these limitations that you speak of? They exist, I agree, but what are they?

@FmeDry69 said:

oooooooh, no you didn't. Videogames are far more valid than any other medium as an art form, andeven more so as a means of expressing narrative. If you want my honest thoughts onthe matter, read my blog post because it is too long for me to re-iterate here.

In short, I have been more engaged by the best video game stories than by the best stories in film.

Linky needed. And it had better be pretty damn persuasive to beat out movies or, even better, books. I like some video game stories (Bioshock, Halo 1), but none of them can compare to the expert stories of a good movie or, my personal favorite comparison, something like Baccano. Or, for books, The Hobbit.

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/fmedry69/the-importance-of-narrative-and-art-in-gaming/30-93018/

Comment your honest thoughts on it after reading it

#19 Edited by believer258 (11785 posts) -

@FmeDry69 said:

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/fmedry69/the-importance-of-narrative-and-art-in-gaming/30-93018/

Comment your honest thoughts on it after reading it

I will later. Some preliminary thoughts: your post is really wordy, seemingly unnecessarily so, and your prose could use some work. At a technical level, it's fine, save for an issue with what tense you're using. However, it's uninteresting to read and a lot of it could be cut out for the sake of conciseness.

Well, you asked for a comment.

@Jay444111 said:

Realistically, The Hobbit was the beginner of cliches, sure, it is WAY more readable than the LOTR books but that doesn't make it great. I would call it a good book though. There are way better books out there. (SWAN SONG BY ROBERT R MCCAMMON!!!!!! FUCKING BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Also, a movie story is better than any video games? BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Sorry... but I gotta laugh over that one! a medium that condenses their stories into a 2 hour show for the driveling masses is better than a medium that you can literally interact with for hundreds of hours in entire worlds with stories that fill them!?

I honestly think it is a joke to even TRY to consider movies better than video games. A absolute joke really. Metro 2033 could not have been done as a movie, because then it would've just de-evolved due to executive order and would've gotten something more like a whitewashing like Avatar the last airbender. While with video games, they nailed the book and it still was a great video game that lasted for a very long time with some truly amazing moments that no movie could even TRY to copy.

Jay, Jay, Jay... tsk, tsk, you've made quite a mistake here. Length does not equal quality, and never has. A video game which contains hundreds of hours worth of playtime and storytelling does not ensure a good story. Brevity is the soul of wit and video games do not seem to have mastered that quite yet. To cite something as an example, Bioshock delivers one of the most compelling narratives in video games yet, while something like the Kingdom Hearts series lags behind as a teeming black mass of loose threads, plot holes, and cheesy dialogue. Yet Bioshock is only ten to fifteen hours long, maybe twenty if you're going slow, and no Kingdom Hearts game clocks below twenty-five on an average playthrough.

EDIT: And fucking watch Baccano. Now. Best anime I've ever seen, possibly even beating out Full Metal Alchemist.

#20 Edited by lexpar (31 posts) -

The limitations of the art form are limitations of current technology. I would argue that traditional art and storytelling mediums (spoken word, printed word, video) are far more limited than video games. The limitations we run up against now are the limitations of how we can interact with (and vice versa) current technology.

If you think about games, we've come a really really long way using already well-established technology: the screen and controller. People praise how much "games have changed" over the last 3 decades: near life-like graphics, fully scored music, rich voice acting and stories- but all this is confined to the playground of what you can do with the screen and controller. Video games can (and will) move past these antiquated delivery forms and will ultimately become the most immersive and indisputably superior form of entertainment.

Think about it. Books, radio and movies have gone just about as far as they can go. Papyrus gave way to paper, hand writing to print, and now you can get thousand page long tomes for less than 20 dollars. Great- books have gone as far as they can go. TV and movies, as long as they remain passive activies, are also very close to hitting this technological wall. As long as the act of consuming TV or movies involves passively watching a simulated image, no matter how you alter and enchance that image, there is an upper limit as to how good that piece of cinema can be.

Video games, on the other hand, have only skimmed the surface. So far they've existed in the same realm as cinema, a simulated screen. But already we're seeing new forms of control that involve the absence of a controller. In a few decades we'll be experiencing games without a screen, through a neural interface perhaps.

And of the worlds created in games. Its only a matter of time until these worlds, aided by increased computational power, will become as real as the real world. Thats the logical end, we get virtual worlds indistinguishable from the real world. At that point, how could you possibly compare a book or movie to a simulated world?

At this exact moment, yes, there are some very real limitations on what you can do with a video game. In 50 years a lot of those will have disappeared. In 100, most. In 1000 years, it won't even be a question that virtual worlds and interactive virtual play is the premier entertainment medium.

While your post is really good, its like if we went back 50 000 years and were comparing cave painting to storytelling. A painting will never be as vivid as spoken word. Look, you can use charcoal and animal blood to draw the bison, but it just doesn't look or feel as real as hearing about a bison charging across the plains from a gifted storyteller. Cave painters need to realise the limitations of their art form, and stick to what they can strongly portray using fingertips and blood.

Obviously painting came a huge way, and today its almost silly to think that a description of a scene could be as descriptive as a masterpiece. It all comes back to the technology available at the time.

I think this is what I meant to say. Hopefully I don't sound like an asshole.

#21 Posted by astrodoggy (145 posts) -

@lexpar: god I hope it doesn't take 1,000 years.

#22 Edited by Jeust (10548 posts) -

I think that you choose badly Uncharted 3 as an example of a video game narrative, because the story was actually rearranged during development because of the unavailability of the actors (mainly the ones playing Chloe and Cutter), which makes the plot a bad example.

Curiously I think the Uncharted franchise elaborates well the downside of games. While games can be great in dealing with narrative, they literally the worse when it comes to emulate cinematic events. Either they are presented through cutscenes, or if playable they have a small degree of freedom of action for the main character, or the emotional effect portrayed will with dificulty be transmited to the player. So you have an interactive medium with little interactivity. The Uncharted franchise is a very good example of this.