I’m not gonna do a whole lot of introductory stuff cause every reading this probably knows me anyway, but just in case, I’m Rob and I made this blog because I had a good idea and didn’t want to lose it. I don’t know if I’ll be posting a lot but I guess it’s good to have something like this just in case. Anyway, here we go.
So, I play a lot of video games (yeah that’s totally something no one’s said on the internet before), they’re my main hobby and primary source of recreation, and like a lot of gaming enthusiasts, I feel the industry is currently in a rut, wallowing in mediocrity and not living up to its potential as a literary medium. I’ve become quite jaded by the whole process, and, with a few exceptions, I rarely find myself getting excited for upcoming releases in a way I day just a year or two ago. This bitterness towards one of my favorite activities has recently begun worming its way into my enjoyment of other things, but luckily my roommate Michelle took notice. I spent a good few hours venting to her and after I was done I realized, “Hey, this isn’t a half bad idea for a con panel,” and with that, here we here.
This is just some rough ideas and obviously subject to change/feedback. I don’t do stuff like this often and I don’t know if there’s much in here that hasn’t already been said by people better at this than me, but I’m gonna give it a shot.
As a game enthusiast, I’m very much interested in the idea of interactive fiction, and the potential/advantages it has over other kinds of fiction. When reading a book or watching a movie, the audience is just that, an audience. You can engage with the characters, plot, or setting of a novel/film, but you can’t actively change any of that to fit your own personality. The reader/viewer is given strictly what the author/filmmaker created. With interactive fiction, however, the potential exists to engage the audience on an entirely different level. The role of the player is participatory, and his or her avatar within the game can perform actions that shape and personalize the experience.
Unfortunately, I believe gaming as an industry and a medium, is not meeting this potential, and both developers and gamers are to blame. The industry is currently dominated by shooters modeled after Call of Duty and Halo and I have nothing against that, but it is the attitude of large companies such as EA and Activision, where quantity (releasing essentially the same game every year with incremental improvements) trumps quality (truly innovating, pushing the medium forward), that causes the disconnect. I realize that ultimately these are businesses and the goal of any business is to make money, but as long as greed continues to stifle innovation, and as long as the poster children of the industry are shallow and juvenile, gaming will never reach its artistic potential. At least not from the perspective of the general public.
I primarily play WRPGs, which are known for being open-ended and heavily driven by player choice. Based on that, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that what drives me to play a game is the opportunity to shape the world and narrative to my own specifications. That said, I fully recognize the need for mindless fun in any medium (obviously chesseball action movies aren’t going anywhere, and we’re all very thankful for that). However, as more and more companies recognize the ease and success of the Call of Duty business model, series celebrated for their intriguing plots and well crafted worlds, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age, begin to suffer for it. This the exact same industry climate that led to the video game crash of 83, and while I don’t predict another one of those based on the current shape of the industry, I do fear that an extended period of stagnation is possible.
However, there is hope! Games such as Fallout: New Vegas, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Bastion (which I have yet to play unfortunately) prove that the strengths of interactive fiction are not entirely lost on developers. These are games with clear goals, but myriad ways to reach them, games that truly let the player shape and personalize the experience, games that, while maybe not very polished and a bit rough around the edges, have a soul, a human touch sorely lacking in blockbuster titles these days.
The games industry isn’t dead, and it isn’t going to die, and if the majority of gamers would rather developers continue to produce simple games of frag-your-friends, then I guess that’s the direction we’ll go. And I’m OK with that. But if a large enough number of people realize the potential of what we have here, a literary medium that, for the first time in human history, allows the audience to not only engage with the story, but actively participate in it, I think something truly great could come of it.
OK I guess this turned into more of an essay than I meant it to, but I could see something like this working in panel form. Obviously feedback is greatly appreciated.