Video Games Are Stories

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This essay was inspired by this piece by Ian Bogost in The Atlantic, the title of which reads: “Video Games are Better Without Story.” I encourage everybody to read that piece first before continuing. As always, I will be leavening the serious stuff with funny pictures. I apologize in advance.

McCloudPiece

Sorry for the bad quality; I am but a poor man with a bad scanner.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud discusses (among many other topics) the aforementioned gutter. It is here, between the images, that sequential art separates itself from other media. The white space holds the imagination of the reader. It makes that person complicit in the narrative. The creator(s) has done the heavy-lifting but the burden of filling in the blanks is on the part of the person holding the book.

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A Very Steele Look at Aliens and Isolation

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When last we met (many, many moons ago), our talk about passive and active media led to quite a lot of attention. I got record-high viewership totals. My blog got bandied about on the interwebz like a rain-slicked football at a Pop Warner football game. For a split second, I even began to trend. It was heady to receive this attention, and it brought in a lot of work, hence my absence on ye ol’ blogosphere.

But enough about me. Well, no… keep it up with the laudations…

But enough about me. Well, no… keep it up with the laudations…

I did receive a few questions about it all, naturally. People were genuinely interested in talking about some of the more detailed aspects of my missive, which generally fell into the following categories.

  • Can you talk about the franchises you worked on in the past? Alas no.
  • Will you give me writing lessons? If you’re willing to pay.
  • Are you trying to imitate Abe Lincoln? You tell me.

AbeLincoln

So I decided to give you guys a peek into what I mean about the usage of storytelling between platforms. Let’s look at this from a franchise perspective so that the themes are congruent, the characters are similar, and it’s reasonably well known enough for a broad audience to understand.

I’ll save my Farscape fanfiction for another day.

I’ll save my Farscape fanfiction for another day.

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Passive Media, Active Media, and The Five Building Blocks of Every Good Story

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A key feature in any transmedia roll-out is the ability to utilize each medium’s core strengths. A campaign tries not to reiterate the same story over and over again not just because it’s boring and not just because you want to reach new fans, but because, say, a story that’s best told in film doesn’t necessarily translate well to the video game environment, or vice versa.

Sounds simple, yet you’d be surprised by the amount of people who don’t understand this concept.

Sounds simple, yet you’d be surprised by the amount of people who don’t understand this concept.

This can be intimidating to the media fledgling. A producer has to oversee an entire array of platforms and content creators in order to establish a coherent and profitable story world. That requires connections, of course, but also an often intimidating amount of knowledge of production across a wide variety of distribution points. Does he or she really need to understand how every media works in order to create a great roll-out strategy?

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Gone Home: Complicity and Subconscious Agency

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GoneHome

Spoilers ahead. Thou hath been warned.

There’s a lot to talk about in Gone Home, The Fullbright Company’s award-winning “story exploration video game.” The subversion of horror that it presents, the “is it really a game” argument, LGBT issues that it brings up, or any of the controversies surrounding it. But this is a transmedia blog, and so what I’m interested in is how the title makes use of multiple media platforms to make the player complicit in how the narrative unfolds.

Sorry for being long-winded on this one, but we’re talking about art, so I get to act all hi-falutin’.

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Star Wars, as Told by Michael Corleone

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Disney is getting rid of the entire Expanded Universe for Star Wars. If you haven’t heard, and are a fan, then I’ll wait right here while you cry yourself to sleep. I’ll wait.

To be fair, though, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Disney has already axed pretty much anything regarding Star Wars that began even a little outside of their control. LucasArts was the big one that most people gnashed their teeth about a la some biblical figure, but there are numerous other moments of grief playing themselves out across the House of Mouse. The Clone Wars, an Emmy-award winning smash-hit, only managed a graceful exit thanks to a receptive home. For everything else, it’s been a spring cleaning that is matched only by the ending scene of The Godfather.

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Sonic’s New Multi/Transmedia Push

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He's back, and this time, he's... kind of concerned, I guess.

He’s back, and this time, he’s… kind of concerned, I guess.

It’s been a tough road for Sega’s fast blue furball. Sales of his games and merchandise have never come close to hitting the peak of his 16-bit heyday. But Sega has just announced a brand-new take on the franchise, complete with a TV show and not one, not three, but TWO new games: one for the WiiU and the other for the 3DS.

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MORTAL KOMBAT: WHAT RATINGS HATH WROUGHT

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This piece originally appeared on Pixeltheque.com in a slightly modified format. It has been included here to discuss how unintended consequences of legislation can radically change art, particularly new forms that are based on emerging technology. 

People decried the influence of video games on popular culture long before Mortal Kombat. Arcades were time- and money-wasters. Tetris rotted your brain. Portable gaming systems destroyed kids’ patience (or tried that of their parents, really). If you are a gamer who grew up in the 80’s, you know what I’m talking about.

These were just the typical technology-as-portents-of-doom and proved to be almost entirely without base. Most people knew it. How dangerous could dumping blocks on top of each other really be? Were Mario Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, worse than the A-Team? Hadn’t people heard the same kind of arguments about film, television, and rock n’ roll? Despite a couple busts, video games got more and more popular every year with little-to-no outside intervention regarding their content.

…that is, until 1992, when a gamer could finally rip the still-beating heart out of an opponent’s chest.
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