Video Games As Art

Sooo…I’m trying to convince this raven that, even though I’m not at the top of the food chain up here, I’m higher than he is.

It ain’t working.

Damn this bird. He’s reminding me just how little control I have over the critters around here…

At any rate, as you can guess from the late posting today, I have once again failed to go with my “Yellowstone Practical” theme.

Nope, not gonna do it today, either. Ah well, so goeth most of my plans…

I was watching podcasts last night with a friend of mine, and I got to thinking. As a general rule, “getting to thinking” is dangerous for me.  I should probably add, these were video game podcasts…and, yes, my friend (Billy) and I are very much nerds-of-a-feather.

Two things I miss up here, more than just about anything else: cooking and games. I love to cook…I live for cooking…and yet I have to eat three meals a day prepared by other people. I already have about three weeks worth of meals planned for when I get back…

Just below cooking, however, comes video games. I miss playing games…especially good games.

So, at any rate, Billy and I got to talking about games…and especially about games that mattered, games that had something to say. And, to those of you that scoff, I’ll reissue a challenge I gave a year or so ago: go play This War of Mine. Better yet, go play That Dragon Cancer. Only after that can you try and tell me that games don’t have anything to say. The first of those made me well-and-truly uncomfortable (in the best literary sense of that word), while the second made me cry like a broken-hearted six-year-old.

Now, look…I know that most games are mindless trash. I know that most games have no message beyond, “Me mash button…me kill…rawr!”  But – and this is the important bit – not ALL games are that way. In fact, as a writer, I have to admit that there are things a game can do that a written story cannot.

There is an immersion to games that no book, no matter how good, can match. With a book, you (the reader) are simply too far removed from the circumstances. In a game – err, in a well-made game – it is very much a personal, intimate thing. Think about it: as writers, we use dialogue and action to carry and move the story. Hell, most of the time, we use them for exposition and set-up just as much as we do for action.

In a game, however, you can use many, many other things to carry that message. Lighting, “set” design, color scheme, character design…

“But, but, movies!” I hear you scream. Nope, not the same. Think about it: in a movie, we need movement and action and dialogue in order to create tension.

Try this exercise: imagine a scene with one single, lone character walking down a dark hall. Pretty simple, when you get right down to it. In a book, I would need to have certain things happening in order to create tension. Whether those things were internal, like flashbacks or internal thoughts/monologue, or external like noises or movement, it would be something that was NOT integral to the scene itself, something “beyond” the dark hall.

In a movie, that problem gets nothing but worse. I would have to have a great deal of “external” stimuli in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Whether those stimuli were music, or dialogue with an off-screen companion, or sound effects, it would have to be (like the book) something external to the dark hall.

But in a game…but in a game…but in a game, I could put you walking down a dark hall and, if the perspective and set-up were right, do nothing else. With the intimacy and immediacy of the player experience, the simple tension of walking down a dark, unknown hall can make the experience terrifying.

I have, I should add, written for video games in the past, so I am not completely objective in this discussion. I love long-form writing. I love, especially, novels. Shit, you all know enough about me, by now, to know that I’m a wordy bastard, so novels are about the only way I can really sink my teeth into writing a story. But, and this is a big but, the options and imagination that game-writing opened for me were some of the best training I have ever had.

Apologies to all of my professors from college (err, both colleges), but I learned more about writing from those times I wrote for games than I did over all the years it took me to earn two liberal arts degrees.

Got paid better, too.

And, yep…if you haven’t guessed…we’re well into real-time, drunk-bloggin’ at this point. Just deal with it. I haven’t done one of these in a loooong time, and I needed the outlet. Returning to the the real world is right around the corner, and I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not ready.

Seriousness and business and work? Paying attention to shit over which I have no control?

I would much rather be heading off for one of my solo, off-trail hikes. When I’m off-trail, I own everything. Which, in the end, really just comes to the most simple of facts: if I survive, I did it right. If I die, I fucked up.

When you get right down to it, that’s what life is all about…isn’t it?