92: I'd Rather Game than Read a Book

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"In a 2002 New Yorker essay titled "Mr. Difficult," author Jonathan Franzen of The Corrections fame argued that in the face of increased competition from movies, videogames and (oddly) extreme sports, fiction should mainstream itself. Fictional literature was under siege by figurative barbarians, and by perpetuating literature's difficult and inaccessible, the literary establishment was alienating potential readers. An intrepid reader might, at the suggestion of the literary establishment, pick up a "lyrical" book, only to trudge through page after page of unnecessary adjectives. For fiction to survive, according to Franzen, it has to cater to readers, the consumers who actually purchase and consume the product.

"I'm here as a Visigoth, banging on the gates of a doddering imperial Rome. Videogames have the potential to tell narratives and deliver experiences that fully outstrip those told by film, poetry and, yes, fiction. Yet, in terms of cultural respect, videogames are marginalized."

Vincent Kang sets his sites on the de-marginalization videogames.

I'd Rather Game than Read a Book

This struck me as utterly idiotic. Using Star Wars adaptions as the frame of reference killed any validity the argument may have had. If Timothy Zahn is the best example of fiction you have to hand, then you obviously need to expand your horizons a bit. The problem is that you're using a crappy writer as a case study ("The TIE fighters pulled up like an exotic fountain.") and then using it to justify an argument that is actually based upon crappy writing.

It's not about using "100 adjectives in 100 sentences" to describe "every last pixel", it's about describing the situation as concisely as possible using the least amount of words to convey the mood and emotion that resonates with the reader. Mood and emotion are two things that videogames don't do well, apart from extreme ends of the spectrum (darkened rooms in Splinter Cell, histrionic character deaths in Final Fantasy, etc).

Basically, the article seems to be saying "I like to think I'm a jedi knight and I can do this better in a videogame than in a book. Therefore videogames are better than books". As I said - idiotic.

whistler77:
Basically, the article seems to be saying "I like to think I'm a jedi knight and I can do this better in a videogame than in a book. Therefore videogames are better than books".

That seems a very unfair mangling of the article's argument to me. There was no implicit claim that Timothy Zahn is at the forefront of modern literature. The question here is really: Could Heir to the Empire be rewritten to be, in some sense, better than Knights of the Old Republic ?

If the answer to that turns out to be "no", this then leads to the question of whether games are only good at addressing a very narrow class of story. Vincent Kang goes on to ask "Could there ever be a videogame that delivers the same impact as Franzen's The Corrections?". I don't quite agree with his answer, but I think he's asking absolutely the right question there.

In the field of writing it has occasionally been observed that one of the greatest weaknesses of fantasy and SF literature is the average standard of its writers. Whether or not we accept that claim, it is interesting to ponder whether games suffer from exactly this kind of problem.

Take, for example, the Broken Sword series. Could a game in this series have been an interactive Foucault's Pendulum ? It seems to me that it could - and I would certainly have preferred that myself - but in reality it comes nowhere close. Whether that is a failing on the part of the writers or a choice they made, I don't know.

The comparison was between "a critically acclaimed" videogame, and a "universally loved" novel. This is inferring that they are equal in credibility as far as their respected mediums are concerned.

Because of this fallacy - comparing one of the best videos of all time to a book written for a franchise - the argument is weaker. Bioware vs Timothy Zahn; an industry leader vs a franchise writer. Surely it would have been better to compare KOTOR to something written by Iain Banks.

The fact is, you would not compare the game series Elder Scrolls and submise that it is narratively better than the book series Discworld. Where the characters and locations in Discworld are often full of life and charm, Oblivion's are mostly forgettable. True, Oblivion has a lot of things going for it, and the painting quest was excellent, but these only stand out because of the limited supply of other *gasp* events. Aeris' death in Final Fantasy is constantly talked about because it has very few peers. There are very few games that you can compare to books - Final Fantasy, Monkey Island, and perhaps Half Life 2 being noticeable examples, but even games that have tried so hard, such as Fable, end up coming tacked with a clichéd uninvolved plot and numerous cardboard characters.

I agree with the notion that video-games can be the ultimate media, but right now they are not, and if we truly want to get them there, then this kind of optimism really isn't helping. The best books are full of life and charisma, only a select few video games can claim that. The time-stop conversations and random babble that NPCs spew out to each other in Oblivion can't, nor can the standing-around-aimlessly, whilst-repeating-phrases-every-now-and-then characters in most story-led games can't either. Too often do games seem robotic and forced, and this is partly to do with technical limitations and also to do with the lack of imagination that goes into titles.

The Article:
Books are limited by what the reader has to draw upon in imagining scenes.

The limitation & disatvantage of a book is the fact that you have to excercise your own imagination? Oh my. I'll have to go a little grandpa-old-school on you here, but - put down that controller, sonny, and go read a book! Videogames imagine things for you - that's why they're easier to enjoy than a book. IMO pretty much every non-gamer (and some gamers) would argue that that acutally makes video games inferior to books. I don't agree with that, I think that trying to compare them is like comparing walking to driving. Neither is better than other, they each have their time and place.

Shadowbird: your last sentence perfectly captures my main confusion about this piece. Games and literature are not a zero-sum game. The problem with the current system of delegitimizing games over other mediums is the assumption that we need some hierarchy of art in the first place. Nobody debates about whether painting or poetry is somehow inherently better, because such a debate would be absurd. It's equally absurd to compare books to video games--they're different mediums with different strengths.

The other thing that's absurd about the debate of games as a respected art (or entertainment) form is that it reflects the rise of pretty much every new medium. For a good time, check out the debate surrounding novels when they were first gaining broad traction. (The debate around the mid-to-late 1700s is a good example.) They were completely disregarded. People who read novels clearly had a defective intellect, a weak moral character, or both. The last of which is to say "were female." Much of the debate centered around the fact that lower classes and females seemed to like books, and pamphlet after pamphlet asserted that they would lead to social decrepitude. As a counter, critics held up poetry, didactic nonfiction, painting, and music. (I would imagine that the same held true for early film, an art that's still struggling for legitimacy in some areas.) I'm pleased to report that, since then, society has not devolved into brutal savagery.

My problem with this article is that it tried to take on a "books vs. games" debate on its own terms, when actually the foundation of the argument is broken. At its strongest, the article asked, "Could there ever be a videogame that delivers the same impact as Franzen's The Corrections?" Even that question reflects the assumption that an apples-to-apples comparison between mediums is possible, but it's a lot better than the argument that video games are somehow the apotheosis of art, that they will someday transcend all other art that has come before and create the perfect... what? Entertainment? Experience? Jonathan Franzen should not jump ship--he would make terrible video games.

(devil's advocate mode. I'm aware of the sweeping generalizations I'm making here.)

I think one of the points of the article is describing inherent shortcomings of the medium of written words. The choice of comparison (star wars franchise) is up for debate, but I think one of the points he is trying to illustrate is the inadequacy of words in describing visuals and action. It takes several paragraphs to paint a detailed picture -- with very little accuracy. Whether or not you see that as a virtue, I hope you can agree on that.

Videogames imagine things for you - that's why they're easier to enjoy than a book. IMO pretty much every non-gamer (and some gamers) would argue that that acutally makes video games inferior to books.

how? If it's more vague, more unnatural, and less immediate in description compared to a more direct, natural representation (art, photo, film, animation, sound/music) that makes it superior? This is the kind of argument that drives me crazy, as if imagining some "tie fighters pulling up like an exotic fountain" is inherently more intellectual, or inherently more engaging and stimulating than seeing a well-realized animation of it. IMO the only thing words handles well is conveying dry/intellectual information and well, dry language. This is why I largely don't bother with fictional narratives in the written word -- it's like hearing someone desperately trying to describe what could otherwise be a decent comic or movie. It's like a placeholder for artistic vision and production value.

And the way words rely on your mind's eye... I want to argue that that's less intellectually stimulating if all you're doing is wanking your mind's eye rather than being confronted with new images and stimuli coming from an external source.

There's also the issue of interactivity versus non-interactivity, but I feel that's where things become a little too "apples and oranges" (or generally too wide open) to discuss all at once -- as if the subject wasn't wide open enough :p

te2rx:

Videogames imagine things for you - that's why they're easier to enjoy than a book. IMO pretty much every non-gamer (and some gamers) would argue that that acutally makes video games inferior to books.

how? If it's more vague, more unnatural, and less immediate in description compared to a more direct, natural representation (art, photo, film, animation, sound/music) that makes it superior?

If it's "more vague, more unnatural and less immediate" for you, then - well, I'm sorry. When I read a book, the way I see the events described happening has never ever been surpassed by any visual medium - be it comic, movie or a book. The argument is that well-written word has unlimited potential and different (while still similar) for each reader. Also, imagination is basis of all "above basic survival" thought, meaning anything that exercises imagination also excercises one's ability to think for themselves. Not to say games don't do that at all, but in this specific area a good book beats a good game any day.

It takes several paragraphs to paint a detailed picture -- with very little accuracy

OK. Now tell me, how do you imagine this ONE SENTENCE shown in game: "Though none of the crew showed any emotion, a sudden cold from the feeling of impending death gripped at their hearts - and each knew the others were just as scared."

Exactly. Writing can get into the heads of characters in a way that games and movies largely can't -- text adventures excepted. They can capture and describe internal intellectual and emotional experiences, and, at their best, do so in beautiful and moving ways.

If the books you're reading are nothing more than visual and auditory descriptions of scenes, I submit that you're reading the wrong books. So, put down the Timothy Zahn, and pick up, say, Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, or Peter Watts' Blindsight. No game comes close to the depth of experience offered by those books -- and I say that as someone who loves games, especially games that push the envelope in terms of exploring emotion and morality (e.g. Planescape: Torment, Shadow of the Colossus).

I want to argue that that's less intellectually stimulating if all you're doing is wanking your mind's eye rather than being confronted with new images and stimuli coming from an external source.

Processing visual and auditory stimuli is something the brain can do at a subconscious level -- do you have to think about looking left or right, or can you just do it? Do you have to decide to listen to the person standing in front of you, or do you just hear them? When you read, your brain has to create all of that context and then process it.

I realize you're in devil's advocate mode, though. :)

OK. Now tell me, how do you imagine this ONE SENTENCE shown in game: "Though none of the crew showed any emotion, a sudden cold from the feeling of impending death gripped at their hearts - and each knew the others were just as scared."

In a way this sentance also suffers from the "tie fighters pulling up like an exotic fountain" problem. If you were a filmmaker you could (and I know this is "cheating" in a sense) have some voice-over narration that simply stays "Though none of the crew showed any emotion[...]" -- but there are tons of ways to go about conveying this visually, and surely you've seen this kind of scene conveyed in movies previously:

The crew deadly silent and "emotionless" in contrast to whatever grim revelation that just came to light. Maybe to better convey their struggle to appear emotionless, grant a few of them some subtle nervous ticks. One crew member looks at the other and sees their hand shaking or their fingers twitching. That crew member looks back at the other and also recognizes similar signs of nervousness. With those exchanged glances, you can convey how "each knew the others were just as scared". All the aspects of sound, lighting, and cinematography can be used to further convey the subtext. The result can prove to be more emotionally gripping and convincing than simply reading a very direct dry description of how the crew was frightened. I used movies as an example because it's simpler. Re-imagining this scene in a game requires a lot more context -- like what kind of game is it, how does the game convey information, and in what ways can the user interact with the scene, and so on

But in general I agree that getting into the head of characters and straight-on showing their internal thoughts is a real virtue of written narrative storytelling. The only way to accurately convey internal dialogue in a movie or a game is still with words -- on-screen text or voice over narration. You can imply some of it by injecting your film/game with lots and lots of rich, layered subtext, but that approach can fail if what needs to be conveyed is far too elaborate and sophisticated to be described without words. That approach won't be as direct and tangible as reading the words themselves, "this is how I feel" and "this is what I think".

This opinion piece is a new low for unsubstantiated ranting at the Escapist. At least it was mercifully short.

Because visual media are so different from textual ones, there's no point in comparing them. It comes down to personal taste, which is the only argument that the author puts forth. He likes video games more, therefore video games are better. That's the kind of opinion one would expect a grade 2 student to have. I expect better from a paid writer.

Chocolate is better than baseball because chocolate gives me an experience that baseball can't match. Playing a game of baseball doesn't come close to the sensual taste experience of chocolate.

I love lamp.

cthulhie:
Shadowbird: Nobody debates about whether painting or poetry is somehow inherently better, because such a debate would be absurd.

Actually, from a recent biography, it seems that Leonardo De Vinchi and Michaelangelo had an argument, through a mutual friend, about which was superior: painting or sculpting.

Literature is a highly refined and highly democratized art form. Not only is the barrier for entry very low, but its conventions are ingrained on our very civilization, making room for a true master's subtleties to be noticed.

I would bet that, among the designers currently floating out there, both in corporate-land and the indiesphere, video games already have their Isaac Asimov, Upton Sinclair, Hans Christian Andersen, Homer, Franz Kafka, and a few others. The difficulty is that as a medium, games are still so poorly defined and refined that the subtleties these people (and groups - don't think that literature can't be made by several people acting in concert) include are lost among the broad strokes which most of its fans value and in terms of which most of its creators think.

Games may have their visceral Hollywood thrills and their emergent Zen strategies, but they simply don't have the history to identify what constitutes this medium's avenue for transcendent greatness. And without that knowledge, you can't have a Goethe or Mark Twain to act within and explore that avenue.

I wonder if this argument is going to be around by the time I get to making games...

If it is, I hope I can finally end it, though in all reality I'd probably turn it into WWIII...

I have always thought that gaming journalism US and WEurope readers, and especially the Escapist readers, are a great community because, in Escapist's case mainly, they are mature and respectful and would never "byte" a new writer because they are wise enough to know that being bad will never help.

Although I disagree with the stated things, the article did make me ask myself interesting questions, such as, "Should we compare books with games now?" or "Will there ever be a time when we can compare books and games?" I personally believe that right now, the best thing to do is not to compare, but to combine books and games - as there are so many games with wonderful history and legend that would, in my humble opinion, deserve a "history" book for me to read from time to time - since I am starting to learn IWD and Warcraft and such by heart :). However the author stated he rather plays a game than read a book - and that's something that could very well characterize many of today's young people. Why? It's clear that games do have something books don't have, as it is also clear that the world of today - maybe - has changed too much to allow books to be one of the most important... entertainment thing to do. I think games could make young people read more, and books could make people play more. I think the immersion a book offers, in a story, is too different from the immersion a games offer, to make a sane comparison. But that in a world where free time is becoming so rare, there are people like the author of the article, who are forced to choose.

I don't think that the article was bad. I found it interesting. With a slight change in wording, the debate would have disappeared. For example, I agree that there are many things that games do better than books. You can't reduce a game to book format without losing something significant. However, it doesn't follow that games are always better than books. Try turning Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment into a game without losing something. Vincent did an interesting comparison between a book and a game -- I liked it -- but that result can't be generalized to all books and games.

te2rx:

OK. Now tell me, how do you imagine this ONE SENTENCE shown in game: "Though none of the crew showed any emotion, a sudden cold from the feeling of impending death gripped at their hearts - and each knew the others were just as scared."

In a way this sentance also suffers from the "tie fighters pulling up like an exotic fountain" problem. If you were a filmmaker ... there are tons of ways to go about conveying this visually

There's other ways to do it than just visually as well; even without resorting to the visual tricks you specifically mention, you could use music to convey emotion pretty effectively.

I think there's a limitation on the ability of the written word to communicate because it's only got words to do it (let's leave out the potential of the reader's imagination, since that's outside the creator's control). In cinema and in games, you've got all sorts of visual tricks and audio that you can use to build tension, emotion or any other emotion you want to elicit in your audience.

cthulhie:
The other thing that's absurd about the debate of games as a respected art (or entertainment) form is that it reflects the rise of pretty much every new medium. For a good time, check out the debate surrounding novels when they were first gaining broad traction.

This post got me thinking: 'books' are talked about as both a medium and an art form, while 'movies' and 'games' are differentiated even though both appear on a screen. Maybe the problem is that an 'art' form is being compared to a medium, like if one was comparing poetry to marble.

It seems to go back to something te2rx said about how movies can have voice-over narration, like the literature of William Blake also has images, and the ancient Greeks and Romans I believe never read poetry in silence. Maybe rather than focusing on the work itself in comparing games to movies and literature, maybe the focus should be on what experiences/feelings/sensations are more easily evoked in each genre. Focus on the human reaction rather than on the work itself.

For example, it would be pretty hard to incorporate rumble into a poem. And words can never produce an identical experience as an image. Like it occurred to me that when I read "tie fighters pulling up like an exotic fountain" I not only think of tie fighters, but I think of exotic fountains--I've got two images in my head when I read that. On the other hand, if I was watching some film and the screen was split between tie fighters and footage of fountains, I'd be like, "What the..." or wonder who tried to tape the Travel Channel over my Star Wars movie. In that case the two experience are not identical, but, that doesn't mean one can be 'ranked' over the other. If the author's purpose is to excite me with tie fighters, the movie is way better. If the purpose is to produce a rich imaginative experience, the written text is way better because it calls up images of fountains and even the Coleridge's poem _Kubla Khan_. Not that movies don't spark the imagination; in fact, that's the 'advantage' if you want to call it that of movies over books--it's much easier for me to have my own internal narration when watching a film than when reading a book.

Maybe that's a better place to start--what is each genre better at incorporating. A poem can be almost nothing but metaphor and simile, but, it's much more difficult to use those techniques in movies and games, a technique that gets us to hold two images in our head. On the other hand, games seem to be the best way of getting us to have an identical experience as a character. What I mean by that is I just finished _Call of Duty 2_ and I can't imagine a book or even a film getting me to have the same thoughts as I imagine a fictitious-soldier-character in a work of fiction would. If I'm watching a movie or reading a book, I want to know what happens next, I'm thinking about what the character is feeling and thinking, etc: no matter how much I've identified with the character or how well the author describes them, his/her/its thoughts are something I'm observing while I'm having very different thoughts of my own. When I play a game, I'm not thinking of my 'character' at all! I'm thinking 'will that rock provide enough cover' or 'should I use a grenade here or save it'.

It seems that movies and games and literature aren't really *better* than each other as much as they are better at doing certain things, all of which are equally valid, and for the most part incommensurable. Maybe the distinct advantage the game has is that it allows you to have identical thoughts as the main character, rather than just thinking more about the main character than any other character. When I watch _The Princess Bride_ or read a fairy tale about a knight slaying a dragon to save a princess, I never feel like *I* saved the princess. Yet, when I played _Ico_, I wasn't thinking 'boy, how will Ico figure this out so he can save the princess!'; I was thinking 'boy, how am *I* going to figure this out so *I* can save the princess!'.

So maybe the question of which genre is better is one that can only be answered after you've decided what kind of experience you want to have--literature and film and games are more like tools for different jobs than they are solutions to the same problem. If you prefer one to the others, maybe it's not so much a statement about games and movies and books, but rather a statement about the kind of experiences you prefer. Maybe that 'preference' for books or movies or games is really just a rational choice as to how best scratch the particular experience you happen to be itching for.

Well, looks like the article stirred up a shitstorm :)

So, to clear things up.

1. I originally described Timothy Zahn as the best Star Wars writer. I know that his stuff is low-brow pulp, but I also think that he's the best Star Wars novelist (before the EU books went to la-la land with the Yuuzhan Vong silliness). The "universally loved" bit came from the editor. The idea was to find a place where books and video games can be compared directly, and see what could be gleaned from the comparison. And, I actually think that Zahn's "tie fighers pulled up like an exotic fountain" bit was actually a well-written and economical use of language. They're both seemingly disparate objects (fountain, tie fighter) which hold a common property (movement). My problem is with writers who think they can set a mood just by using the word "red" over and over again, or those who spend paragraphs describing setting with no regard to flow.

2. This article is more an attack on fiction than anything, although with the way it's worded, and the size constraints, movies could be used interchangeably with video games (adding movies to the mix would make for a whole 'nother topic).

3. I came to this article mostly after frustration with critically acclaimed novels which are touted as having "vivid imagery" and possessing "lyrical language." They weren't any fun to read, and I'll wager that much of the acclaim comes from the aura of impenetrability, religious mystical posturing, which at the core holds nothing. There is a good reason why fiction is in decline.

4. Yes, I like video games more than fiction. They're more visceral, they're works of art to behold, they're fun. In the end, it's all entertainment, a way to pass time, and perhaps impart a lesson. The article tries to get to why that is.

vincent kang:
Yes, I like video games more than fiction. They're more visceral, they're works of art to behold, they're fun. In the end, it's all entertainment, a way to pass time, and perhaps impart a lesson. The article tries to get to why that is.

I think this is a telling line--for you it seems that 'more fun'='more viceral' and 'more easy to behold'. And that's perfectly valid, but, that's not the equation everyone has when it comes to what is and isn't fun. I think that's what people are trying to say: it depends on an individual's 'fun' equation, and which form hits their own personal sweet spot. For example, you said, "Books are limited by what the reader has to draw upon in imagining scenes." Well, what about someone that *likes* working within that limitation? Painting is more limited than sculpture by one whole spatial dimension. And when you think about it, movies are limited by what the filmmaker has to draw on in imagining scenes.

Which is why sometimes the filmmaker throws away that advantage, because sometimes it's more powerful to get the audience to do their own imagining--like the "Stuck In the Middle with You" scene in _Reservoir Dogs_, or not showing the creature in _Alien_ or the girl in _The Ring_ until the end: when it comes to scaring the bejeebus out of you, it's always more powerful to get the audience to do the imagining than to do it for them. Like I said in my other post, when you do your own imagining you can have two or more images in your head at the same time, all of which play over and over.

So maybe the issue should also be a question of which medium fits better with each story: _Star Wars_ makes a way better game and film than a book; on the other hand, _The Andromeda Strain_ made a great film and book, but I imagine it would be a pretty bad game. So would The Sims: Jane Austin edition. And you mentioned _The Godfather_, the game of which, from everything thing I've read, doesn't come close to the novel or the film.

And even between the book and the film there are differences in _The Godfather_--the film certainly does a better job with the visceral action, but, the book does a much better job communicating the story of the Mafia as a shadow of the legitimate world of power that Italian immigrants were shut out of. In the book you get much more of the sense of how Vito became powerful not so much through taking things away from people by force, but by letting people become indebted to him the same way in the legitimate world do--by using his connections. His use of violence tracked that of the state--for punishing evildoers--for people who couldn't get the state to punish evildoers because they weren't as well connected in the legitimate world; it was also used to 'convince' people to allow *him* to owe *them* a favor--if you play ball, you wind up with Vito as a 'friend' instead of the horse's head under your covers.

I don't know if a movie ever could get that across as well as a book. A game? I don't know--collecting favors might be the most boring game ever, or it might be the most awesome strategic game ever made if it was done right. Then again, that would be an interesting twist--a Godfather game with *less* violence is the one that might provide an experience approaching that of the source material.

Maybe what is holding back video games isn't the technology of textures and lighting from rising to the level of film and literature. Maybe it's the limitation of *gameplay* technology that is holding video games back. The gameplay of 'shoot all the aliens/Nazis/zombies/zombie Nazis from space' is pretty well done; the gameplay of 'become a man of respect, a man with a belly' isn't because the game imposes those rewards on you, rather than have you just naturally gravitate towards them. And it emphasizes violence at the expense of empire-building; maybe the better Godfather game is one that has as much in common with Civilization as it does with GTA.

To return to _Ico_, I think people find that game so great because the gameplay itself creates the emotions. They don't *tell* you to care about the princess; they just build it into the gameplay where you need her to get out, and sometimes even to just solve a puzzle. And again--it's probably the best use of the rumble feature in any game.

So maybe the question of books/movies/games has more to do with the story. Maybe film and games really *are* just better for telling an action story. On the other hand, maybe books and games are better for telling 'empire-building' stories than film, because empire-building isn't a visceral experience--instead in a movie they have to throw in a montage to show that kind of long-term development. Really, movies run into the same problems in describing lengthy plot developments that books do when describing tie fighters. To amend my other comment, maybe the question of book/movie/game is a function of how visceral you like your experiences, and what kind of story you're looking for. And the breakthrough games need isn't the technology of graphics, but the technology of making better escort missions.

Games have the POTENTIAL to be the greatest form of story telling imagined thus far.

However so far we haven't got there.

For every other form you can hold up one thing as a shining example of greatness.

So far games haven't produced something so good, but they could. Whether they will or not is another matter. In the current development model i doubt it will though...

What the hell? ~~

It almost impossible to tell a complicated story in a game without using similar lenghts of text as in a book because of the limitations on both imagination and interface. The choice part of a game will always stomp all over story complexity because it has to be kept relatively simple as to not get different timelines etc mixed up.

"An intrepid reader might, at the suggestion of the literary establishment, pick up a "lyrical" book, only to trudge through page after page of unnecessary adjectives."

Unnecessary? What? I mean, sure, you could take out everything that gives spice and style to a reading experinence and leave only the story elements, but who would like to read a novel written by a ten-year old boy? ~~

If necessary I'd put a brick wall between books, movies and games. They do not function in the same way, and asking one side to imitate the other will most likely result in failure (take The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for example); both fiscal and artistic.

Lightbulb:
Games have the POTENTIAL to be the greatest form of story telling imagined thus far.

However so far we haven't got there.

For every other form you can hold up one thing as a shining example of greatness.

So far games haven't produced something so good, but they could. Whether they will or not is another matter. In the current development model i doubt it will though...

First real post. You're absolutely right.

At the moment my favourite books outshine even the best games I've played in terms of story/writing. But games have some things which books don't have, naturally.

I think attempting to denounce games by saying that they marginalize books is just luddism. Books ARE being marginalized though. And well-written books are getting read less and less.

Well, i dunno, for me it's hard to pick up a book, and start reading in it.

Allthough i can get captivated by the story, and read the book through, it just doesn't feel like i did something, like videogames do. It seems i like to play actively, rather look passively at what is happening. Maybe that's the same opinion youths might have, if they were being serious, for once.

Well, it's not like you reeeally influence anything in a game either. I say it's a matter of finding the right balance for what kind of story you're trying to tell. Bioshock has, imo, found the right balance for an fps while the old FF-games had found it (then lost it again) for linear rpgs.

For "non-linear" rpgs (the end usually works out basically the same. You face the same final boss in the same place for only marginally different reasons etc) I'd say Torment would've been perfect if it had had more voice acting. The writing is excellent and the atmosphere is unbeatable. Every little side-quest has quite a bit of background (obvious or not), but the problem lies in the fact that it's a far bigger strain to read large quantities of text on a computer screen than on paper. As such, reading in a game takes effort, reading a book is relaxing. The evidence suggests you should either be fed the in-game material in pictures (which strangely isn't happening) or as spoken words.

Philip Pullman said something which I thought summed up how great Literature is. Can't remember the exact quote, but I'll summarise and elaborate:

Fictional literature is good because it is so personal. When you watch a film, tv show or indeed a game, the characters are there in front of you. You can see their eye colour, hair colour, height, etc, all physically laid out. Literature, however, lets you create in your mind's eye things how you want to see them. You may be given an overarching description of a character or setting, but the details are yours to play with as you see fit. Your vision of Gandalf the Grey, Severus Snape or whoever is your own, completely different to anyone else's. Films and games rely on sight and sound in order to present everything to you. Literature goes straight to your mind, and can create all sorts of fireworks in there.

This is part of the reason why I haven't seen the Golden Compass yet. Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel?? Are you kidding me!!?!

To elaborate further, a story in written form allows you to take away as much or as little as you like from it. You can enjoy it as a rollicking good romp (ahem), a lesson in morals, an analogy for our times, or whateverelse you can think of. Films and games, while certainly capable of this, are usually more heavy handed in their themes, relying as they do on physical presentation. If you read a deep,meaningful story, no-one can tell you what it's about other than you. Not the author, not your english teacher, no-one.

And to the chaps calling reading nothing more than mental masturbation: Are you having a fooking laugh??

Ironically, there's a book called "Everything Bad is Good for You" (which is the sort of thing *I* read) which goes into some depth regarding the value of games compared to traditional mediums such as books, and paints gaming in a very favorable light.

As has been stated before, games are a different media than books and have completely different strengths when it comes to engaging us. Books are (currently) the best way to transmit large quantities of data into our brains. Fiction or non, if you want ALL the information/story/history/detail you want a book. Games, on the other hand, can provide an interactive experience that books can't touch. Good/complex ones allow you to explore, ask questions, make choices about the outcome, and generally exert a level of control over the experience. It's a *different* kind of experience and it tickles a *different* part of your brain.

On the other end of the spectrum, playing a mindless game isn't any better or worse for you than reading a mindless novel. There's nothing wrong with plain old entertainment.

Books and games try to do the same thing by taking you into a world (that may/may not be the real world) and have you take the perspective of a person or a group of people.

If you have a good imagination (and a good book) then you can turn the writing from books to real images and actions, But you don't control the actions, you watch them in your mind. Whereas in a videogame you control the actions but the world isn't yours, its from the imagination of the developers.

Thats the difference between the two mediums, their isn't much difference between them when it all boils down.

Of course though you can't have multiplayer books and the book industry isn't dominated by large companies (aka EA) that ruin some games.

Wildcard6:
Ironically, there's a book called "Everything Bad is Good for You" (which is the sort of thing *I* read) which goes into some depth regarding the value of games compared to traditional mediums such as books, and paints gaming in a very favorable light.

As has been stated before, games are a different media than books and have completely different strengths when it comes to engaging us. Books are (currently) the best way to transmit large quantities of data into our brains. Fiction or non, if you want ALL the information/story/history/detail you want a book. Games, on the other hand, can provide an interactive experience that books can't touch. Good/complex ones allow you to explore, ask questions, make choices about the outcome, and generally exert a level of control over the experience. It's a *different* kind of experience and it tickles a *different* part of your brain.

On the other end of the spectrum, playing a mindless game isn't any better or worse for you than reading a mindless novel. There's nothing wrong with plain old entertainment.

Unfortunately, even in complex games like Morrowind, all the outcomes have been pre-planned by the developers. You can't make your own ending, or even your own path, just follow one of the (admittedly very many) paths that the devs have laid out for you. You're given the illusion of freedom, but that's all it is. It's not really too different to those 'choose your own path' books they pop out every now and then. You know, the ones where if you do this you have to flick to page 85, if you do that you have to go all the way to page 163.

Speaking as a wishful-thinking "games are art hippie" I would say that games have the potential, as many have stated above, to deliver unique experiences and content as well as interacting with the end-user on new, previously unimagined levels. Examples of excellence in the medium, or demonstrations of aforementioned potential are few and far between.

As a student of literature however, I must argue that the article referenced in this thread is talking rubbish. Timothy Zahn is NOT a writer worthy of critical praise. The same can be said of J.K Rowling. Just because a lot of people like it, does not mean that it is any good. Generally speaking the public respond better to marketing than they do to artistic merit. If that were not true, the Phillip Pullman trilogy 'His Dark Materials', which has been voted by critics to be the greatest children's books ever written, would sell in the stupid numbers Harry Potter does, and J.K R. would still be living in a hovel.

The real problem with the gaming industry is the same one that threatens the future of Literature: the marketing man. Games like 'The Sims' will out-sell genuine works of art like 'Monkey Island' and because the profit margins are wider, the financial support will always lean towards the mass produced rubbish. In turn this stifles the creativity of developers (or writers) who want to push the boundaries of their artistic medium.

Its not all doom and gloom however: Bioshock and S.T.A.L.K.E.R, for all their (many and often glaring) flaws, represent the most artistic steps forward in the gaming medium for years (i am no longer counting Half-Life as it is now an old franchise). Playing through both of those games I felt and experienced things I had not thought possible in a computer game (the 'Would You Kindly' twist possibly is the best moment in a game ever). Games have not yet reached the lofty plateau inhabited by the likes of Dickens, Tolstoy, Kafka or Sartre, but there is signs that they may yet.

Alan Wake and Spore are potentially the next steps up the ladder to cannonised glory for gaming, let us hope that these titles live up to their hype.

//edit//
Also, for those of you who will watch 'The Golden Compass', as good as that film MAY be, it is a disgustingly censored and sanitised version of the original novel; the incredibly clever (and subtle) critique of society (against all forms of unquestioned, secretive, ultimate authority and promoting rational thought and shared knowledge, rather than just being an Atheist polemic - which is probably why the Catholics find it so offensive) written into the narrative has been crudely white-washed so as not to offend the many millions of christians in the USA. So rather than being a thought provoking critique and a great story, we instead are offered a dumbed-down "adventure".

"Games have not yet reached the lofty plateau inhabited by the likes of Dickens, Tolstoy, Kafka or Sartre, but there is signs that they may yet. "

Psychonauts? : )

"Alan Wake and Spore are potentially the next steps up the ladder to cannonised glory for gaming, let us hope that these titles live up to their hype"

Isn't Spore more of a Sims:ish game? ~~

OK, psychonauts had slipped my mind, it is exceptionally original and creative. But that lofty plateau is lofty for a reason, but i chose those authors as examples because their works changed the way people thought, having profound effects beyond the field of literature itself. Psychonauts is about as close to that as a game that i've played has gone so far i suppose, but imo it isnt there

I had high hopes for Spore when i first read about it, the code and content being based on potential variables rather than fixed scripts, though to be honest I havn't read anything about it for months, if it is going the way of the sims and will be cut down further than I thought, I can accept my wrongness in that respect.

Still, its all only opinion, and is a forum post, rather than an authoritative statement.

Wildcard6's comments are probably the closest to the truth of the matter (different stimuli of the brain and whatnot)

edinflames:
Speaking as a wishful-thinking "games are art hippie" I would say that games have the potential, as many have stated above, to deliver unique experiences and content...

I think they already do. Even Pong did. There's nothing like Pong in the real world.

... as well as interacting with the end-user on new, previously unimagined levels.

You want more control on the machines? Deeper interfaces?
Aren't you asking for cybernetics? :)

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