Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Symphony of Play

Ollie Barder | 24 Nov 2009 12:23
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The issue at present is that games give cinematic stories far more credence than those told through gameplay itself. Most current games flirt with the conventions of film in the same way opera did with literature, wherein a libretto, or script, sat atop the musical foundation and forced a narrative on the viewer. This isn't to say that operas aren't meaningful musical compositions, but merely that their approach to storytelling didn't fit with the medium, and the form died out as a consequence of that.

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Narratives in games have become increasingly more important over the years, but the cultural influences that have shaped them aren't necessarily the most apt. While cinematic narrative seems on the surface to be the most logical approach, they're actually rife with issues that halt the basic elements of a player's in-game performance. Most notably, they require the player's viewpoint to be relatively fixed or controlled in order to tell the story, limiting how the game can be played.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Games like the wondrous Demon's Souls afford you a huge array of functional diversity and control without trying to make you feel like you're watching a film. You're part of the process of how the game operates, and as you roam the twisted remains of Boletaria you unravel an unspoken narrative entirely in your mind's eye.

In the same way, both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus also tell emotionally affecting stories through the act of playing the games themselves. The almost complete lack of dialogue and, in the case of Ico, a script that is only half subtitled (on its first play through), make players' interpretations all the more personal. Actually guarding and guiding Yorda through the castle ruins is far more meaningful than simply displaying a fixed cut scene. Likewise, both games use geography magnificently to infer a story - the Colossi act as silent narrative totems. Both games tell potent stories, but they're suggested to players via how they play rather than told in dialogue or cut scenes.

Videogames are changing, though - subtly, admittedly, but changing nonetheless. Much like in Richard Strauss' tone poem, Tod und Verklärung, gaming is undergoing a narrative death and transfiguration. Cinema has taken gaming narrative as far as it can go. It's time for games to look inward and honestly acknowledge that they are a performance art, not a passive one.

Ollie Barder is a senior games designer at doublesix. He also plays the trumpet and has sung in a fair few symphonic choirs over the years.

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