(Editor’s note: In response to a letter to the editor last week, The Escapist contributor Tom Rhodes responds.)

Dear Karl,

When I first read your letter, it seemed fair and reasonable enough to me. But as I read and re-read, I started to find that, although you were supporting such games’ right to exist, you were also condemning the people who played them.

You said “there will always be individuals who make unwise choices in the games they play.” At that I took deep offense. Perhaps for the same reason that you chose to include Dungeons and Dragons in with Grand Theft Auto, something of which I was stupefied to read. Almost as much as reading “…there are destructive books, TV shows, movies, etc. that should not be read nor watched.”

You further state that, “The proper response to destructive games is not to ban games, rather it is to becreative and make good games that are at worst, fun ways to relax, and at best games that have a positive influence on our lives.” But to relegate games, or other “destructive” types of media, to a world of demons and ghosts, we are really placing ourselves in this happy bubble, ignoring that the so-called destructive games, television shows, movies, and books can illuminate something about our world, or perhaps ourselves. Does Hamlet have a positive influence on people’s lives? I’d say, from the strict perspective of the narrative, it doesn’t. But does it enrich our lives? Most certainly. While Grand Theft Auto is no Shakespearean drama, I don’t think any piece of media in the past year has caused more reflection on ourselves and society than it has. Random, senseless violence managed to get us all talking, and how about that?

As for the bloodsports, surely anyone who associates pixelated violence with true loss of human life possesses neither the clarity, nor the opportunity, to look down on others.

My advice? Find a shorter horse to ride on.

Regards,
-Tom Rhodes

To the Editor: I was refreshed and inspired by Gearoid Reidy’s article in last week’s Escapist. Thanks!!

I’m an artist at Irrational Games in Boston. We’re working on Bioshock which, by all appearances, is shaping up to be a decent sci-fi shooter with some RPG elements. It’s my first developer side job and I love it. Bioshock is a cool project with some innovative design features and a relatively sophisticated story, however, at its core, it’s a fairly conventional game from a genre and execution standpoint. The real reason I got into this industry is because I’m hoping that games will graduate to an artistically legitimate art form over the next decade. I feel like currently we are in the infant stages of exploring the interactive medium. It took awhile for filmmakers to come up with anything beyond novelty when it was first invented 100+ years ago…and now it is arguably the most affecting and definitely the most widely appreciated and socially significant artistic medium we have (at least in the west) . I have such high hopes and ambitions about “gaming” that Ithink it could theoretically disrupt the monarchy of film and bring artistic expression and commentary to a new level of immersion and emotional significance.

I want to make a dramatic game, or a tragic game, or a comedy….is it even possible? Is it possible to make a game that’s like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, or Terrence Malick’s Badlands? Would it even be called a ‘game’ at that point?

I thought I was the only one with these thoughts out there … thanks for keeping me optimistic.

-Hoagy de la Plante

To the Editor: As a game developer, I found Warren Spector’s despairing diatribe on the woeful lack of innovation in the industry offensive and hypocritical. Two words: Ion Storm. I don’t recall hearing about stagnant creativity, rising development costs, or gloom and doom speeches. Yet right up there with the piles of Atari ET cartridges in land fills, we have Ion Storm, a developer of adolescent power fantasy, hard core titles, whowasted an obscene amount of money, and became a huge embarrassment to game developers and the industry as a whole. And who was a partner at Ion Storm? Mr. Spector, of course.

If the industry is as stagnant creatively as Mr. Spector believes, he himself is part of the reason why. The man credited with some of the most beloved, hard core games of all time, like Deus Ex and Ultima Underworld, has the nerve to lecture the rest of the industry that we’re not trying hard enough to reach outside the 18-25 male adolescent power fantasy? His last titles were Deux Ex: Invisible War and Thief III – both examples of, as Mr. Spector writes, “licenses, sequels and ‘me too’ games – vain attempts by publishers to increase the odds of breaking even or…Profiting.”

What game has Mr. Spector created that hasn’t fit into the mold of the adolescent power fantasy?

I’m a hard core gamer and proud of it. But we’re the very audience he insults by implying they cannot to be trusted with the future of the gaming, the ones “willing – even eager – to settlefor the mediocre, the rehashed, the non-interactive experience masquerading as interactivity.” You mean the very titles you yourself offered up?

Please, I beg you. Just shut up and work on your game like the rest of us. Let your game speak for itself. Don’t lecture us with your grand plans when all you’ve given us are sequels to glory days FPS franchises.

-Anonymous

To the Editor: First off, great job; I really take my hat off to this sort of thing, we need so much more of it in the industry. For a long time it seems Edge has been the lone voice when it came to intelligent writing on games. I’ve only just found you at issue #37, but I’ll be reading every one from here on in.

Warren Spector’s piece really struck a chord with me, as did the subsequent articles. I’m a big believer in narrative driving the player experience and not shoe-horning stories into pre-made levels, having quality writers create our content and leaving the fan-fictionwriters to do it on weekends and in their role-playing groups. After 5 years in the industry as a Designer and Producer, I left it late last year, tired of the general direction we as an industry were heading with the seeming lack of real initiative amongst Publishers to take games to the places people like Spector seemcapable of taking them to. I say Publishers because to lay the blame at Developer’s feet is, I think, unfair. Right now it is just too hard to do something truly unique without the backing of someone with deep pockets who believes in what you’re doing.

I come from a more traditional creative background, by that I mean theatre, writing and music, yet I’ve played games since I could crawl. In the medium, as Warren says, we have an unmatched potential for communication, for conveying messages, to inspire the people we reach in ways that movies, literature and music can only dream of.

I’m tired of story-telling that amounts to at best, somebody’s Friday night role playing group, and at worst, well, Resident Evil was mentioned, and for good reason. Where are our stories based on Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck? Narratives that are more than adolescent fantasy, ideas that give way to the gaming equivalent of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Lost in Translation, even Brokeback Mountain? There will always be a place for action adventure, what I’m interested in ismore subtle story-telling, better writing, and starting from a story and deciding from there what the best way to tell it is.

The self-imposed exile from the industry won’t last I’m sure, gaming gets in your blood like few other things. What I hope is not too long from now, a new surge of creativity will have begun where developers craft experiences out of stories they want to tell and messages they want to convey. Everyone has a story to tell but not nearly every story is worth telling; it’s time for the industry to stop taking so much pride in being marginal, male-fantasy driven and clichéd. That’s not to say people aren’t taking steps toward it yet, but it remains a severely minor group within the greater development community. Warren Spector, Doug Church, the guys at Valve; these are the people leading the way. When a few more people start to follow, I’ll come running back. Until then I’m looking for a means of creative expression that doesn’t confine itself to stereotypes, technologies used to enhance the player experience rather than limit it, and a few more stories I think somebody wants to hear.

Like a favoured child throwing away an obvious gift, the industry I adore is just too frustrating to watch right now.

-David Gillespie

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