Response to “The Promise of Video Games”

by on February 21, 2013

Responses Takes
Illustration by Sally ScopaIllustration by Sally Scopa

When I was a kid, video games meant watching as much as they meant playing. It’s not that I didn’t love to play—and didn’t play plenty—but that, as a youngest brother whose closest friends wereyoungerbrothers,I wanted to see what happened when older, better players beat the levels. We’d all sit around with a game like “Zelda” or “Mega Man” or “Metroid”—or maybe, for the CPU gamers who are as old as my oldest brother, “Alone in the Dark”—and, no matter who was playing, we’d find ourselves engrossed. The action, the discovery, the cut scenes—they all blended into an immersive pseudo-cinematic experience, and one that felt like part of our lives.

Teddy talks about video games in the context of music, but the more relevant medium, to me, is film. Look at the examples Teddy uses: ascending a hill, plunging into a bunker, and exploring the void of space are events; they require not only sound and music, but plot, character, and visuals. This is clearest in the most sophisticated games, the ones whose fans obsess over the stories and concepts as much as the gameplay. “Halo” proved a natural adaptation for novels, comics, and anime; “Gears of War” announced itself with a stunning trailer that has nothing to do with the game and everything to do with the world in which it’s set.

But while these tendencies have become more pronounced as gaming technology has advanced, the basic phenomenon isn’t new: at least since 1981, when Shigeru Miyamoto mixed “Popeye” and “King Kong” to create an archetypal damsel-in-distress skeleton for “Donkey Kong,” most games have been fleshed out around some type ofnarrative,andthis plays a large role in making gamers fall in love with them. Even arcade-style games like “Rogue Squadron,” which I also played as a kid, do this to an extent. (Check out the Wikipedia page: the first section is called “Gameplay,” but the second is “Synopsis.”) As with other forms of narrative, these games provide us—in a way that is collective and shared but connected to the personal and emotional—with an immersive, ordered experience of the ineffable. (If you’re interested, I talked in more depth about video games-as-narratives and the importance of cinematic narratives in “Hours and Days” and my response to “Degree of Life,” both in Issue 1.)

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