July 21, 2010

Movies, games, media et all

As posted in a reply to this blogpost in Gamasutra:

We should cut it off once and for all. Simply put, it's utterly pointless comparing games to films, just as finding frustration or looking for culprits in games not being able "so far" to achieve the same high level of public acceptance or academic recognition. They're on absolutely different leagues.

When you go watch a movie, you lay down on your couch or back at your chair and you relax. It's a passive endeavor and, no matter how much the film provokes the viewer, it'll keep being so. Nothing you can, as a viewer, do may impact the story ending - it's storytelling in its purest form. That's what our brains are used to in terms of enjoying storytelling, it provokes a deep-rooted form of pleasure related to learning. The possibility that such pleasure can be caused by language communication and not only by visual or sensory experience is the one best differentiator that we as a species have from the other lifeforms in our planet. In the same token, reading a book is so much more thought-provoking and adequate for the primal story-telling receiver experience than movies. Shapes and forms are created by your mind, an exercise generally leading to images derived from experiences and visual elements we've been exposed to along our lives. That brings each block of text you read, each new scenario described, many steps closer to "pre-acceptance", simply because your brain accepts as good representation anything it has stored or created on its own.

Compare these two media experiences to the gaming experience for a second and you'll easily realize how absurd such comparisons are. Games are interactive, like it or not if they're not interactive they're not even games to start with. Not only you need the proper mindset to be willing to interact - which also means accepting the possibility of failure doing so - but it's also a much more demanding activity, be it perceptually or sensorly, generally both.

Even as a former hardcore gamer, many times I find myself choosing to watch a movie over playing a game not because current games aren't like this or like that, it's because a movie it's an "easier" experience - and all I want to do is relax and be (usually) granted a nice experience.

We as game makers have to invest such an insane amount of time just to make the interaction with the game media we're providing easier/smoother, to make sure all possible angles of action are "believable" or acceptable by our intended target audience (and don't think for a second that movies don't have to do the same), that it's easy to get lost on that and put aside or forget some or many essential content and experience enriching elements to the media.

My point is that with game media, we're not just trying to reverse-engineer one mind so that we can shape up a proper experience for a vast spectrum of possible actions a certain player might take in a given situation - a task incredibly hard on its own, ask any psychologist. No, we're trying to do it en-masse! While we don't accept the fact that that's a ridiculously harder endeavor than film-making or any other non-interactive media, we'll keep feeling bad about the industry results as a whole, and trying to point fingers to why we're "falling short". In fact, as much as there's room for improvement, we're far from that. Lack of understanding of our own media is our main downfall.

We don't need multiple new and amazing 'auteurs' to improve the situation - we might need entire new generations to come, with different responses to stimuli written in their 'mental firmware', to even dream about peaking in our business. And that's one of its brightest and most motivating beauties :)


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