29 December 2010

Story Transplantation - Part 1 - by Josh Foreman

      Posted 08/09/10 04:16:00 pm  

In my last blog I complained about the way cutscenes/cinematics in games erode player Agency, which I take to be the most important aspect of our art form.  I argued that we currently rely on a game/cinema hybrid experience because of technological limitations, but I think there is a strong element of group-think leading the way as well.  And I’m worried that our game/cinema solution is stunting the maturation of our craft for a couple reasons I will get to in a sec. 

But first, I want to confront an ugly truth about our industry that I believe is a primary motive for our reliance on the game/cinema paradigm.  In my 14 years of game development I have discovered that the vast majority of artists, animators, musicians and writers would leave the game industry in a heartbeat if they were offered a job in Hollywood.  So many of us would just rather be in the movie biz, but for lack of connections, talent, experience or some other reason, are stuck in the game industry. 

I’m not sure if there have ever been studies about this secret desire, or how accurate those studies would be; but I’ve worked at several studios on all sorts of projects with all sorts of people in a variety of places and I’ve noticed that this Hollywood envy is pervasive and palpable. 

It’s just way cooler to tell friends, family and strangers that you worked on Batman or Avatar, than to tell them you worked on some space shooter or MMO they’ve never heard of.  The average man-on-the-street would look at you with admiration and envy rather than that consternated “What the hell do you actually do?  Play games all day?” look we all know so well.

I think this Hollywood envy is so pervasive that it hugely influences our thinking when it comes to the way we design and create content.  The problem is that our big influence is a different medium with different goals and expectations associated with it.  So while we call ourselves “games” it is clear that our passions are a mixed bag of gameplay and film. 

This reminds me of the South Park about wrestling.  It’s in season 13, titled W.T.F. if you haven’t seen it.  (http://www.southparkstudios.com/)  The boys are so inspired by WWE that they start their own “wrestling” association.  But they find that real wrestling is nothing like their inspiration.  The actual mechanics of the sport are lame and boring compared with the melodrama and choreographed fights in the WWE. 

I think entertainment wrestling is a pretty good corollary to the games biz.  In both you have game mechanics with interspersed “story” elements.  Both rely on flashy, unrealistic moves and awful, soap opera drama.  Both use “story” to provide a meta-narrative that is supposed to provide motivation and additional drama and suspense to the mechanics.  And both industries are filled with people who would rather be in the movies.  Another good example of this is “story-driven” pornography. 

Is it a coincidence that the stories, acting and general level of maturity is very similar between porn, WWE and video games?  And as a thought experiment, what if you put a room-full of the best Hollywood writers together and forced them to write the next WWE event or porn movie?  Would those productions be significantly better than what is currently being produced?   The issue with all of these products is that there is a primary reason people consume them.  WWE

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