Most days you think Square Enix has the right idea and that games just ought to be really long movies cut up into 20 minutes scenes with little tiny arenas in between where the players get to micromanage a bunch of seemingly irrelevant numbers and useless items and maybe punch some bad guys while they’re at it.
I replied to him in his comments, but felt I should include the comment here as part of the Round Table proper, as it seems fitting.
I appreciate this is tongue in cheek, but even so I must take task with how you tried to run this…
“Inefficient” doesn’t mean ‘flawed’. All media are flawed in some way, especially when compared to one another (as you do here).
Efficiency is about economy of means. Novels are a supremely efficient narrative media. Nothing else comes close except perhaps oral storytelling. From there, there is something of a continuum of efficiency which goes, roughly and depending upon the specifics, TV/indie film, comics/graphics novels, theatre, blockbuster movies - and then there’s a quantum leap to videogames.
Now sure, there’s a continuum within games as well - a 2D game can be a lot more efficient than a 3D game, for instance, and a text adventure more efficient still! But as the audience for games expects more and more swish for their cash, the inefficiency of videogames as a mainstream narrative media gets worse and worse.
You must know I’m not advocating a continuation of the practice of splicing an animated movie into a game and calling that the best that game narrative can achieve - but that happens to be one of the more efficient forms of game narrative, which is why it persists, and to deny this is to deny one of the basic problems the games industry is facing.
Efficient narrative does not mean good narrative. But let’s not kid ourselves about the problems we’re facing in game narrative. Making videogames is expensive, and it’s expensive because it’s time consuming and laborious to implement. Making games that compete in the mass market is cripplingly expensive, it is absurdly time consuming. And sad as it may be, inventive narrative is not a commercial saving grace in the current market. You cite Psychonauts. It perfectly underlines the relevant point: everyone seems to loves its story content, but it’s still a commercial failure.
I’m not saying “abandon any hope of interesting game narratives!” Perish the thought! I am saying that trying to make creative game narratives is a struggle against the inefficiency of the medium, that this is difficult if not impossible to achieve in the mass market while remaining in synch with the standards of expectation curve, and that it is a sisyphean task to attempt to remain on top of this problem as mass market budgets continue to skyrocket.
Neither am I saying “the narratives coming through the mass market are as good as they could be”. They are not. Not even remotely. But many of them are about as efficient as they can be, and that happens to be monstrously inefficient.
Let the independent games create their creative, expressive, wonderful narratives when they can! I will praise them! But let’s not kid ourselves about the amount of work that goes into getting a narrative into a game, especially in the mass market.
The motivation behind this post was to provoke some debate. I felt we needed some. I hope in this regard it will prove a success.
With sincere best wishes,
Two years on, and Corvus and I are still arguing vehemently about games and stories! There's something strangely satisfying about that.