Spector: Games Are Not Meant To Be Movies

Lovely Warren Spector.

Warren Spector has been making some interesting comments at GDC Europe, regarding the differences between games and film. And more specifically, developers who are trying to make the former like the latter. Stop it, he cries. “If you want make your game as a movie,” Develop reports the Epic Mickey developer saying, “you should be making movies”. He then goes on to discuss what games should be doing differently. But I’m not sure I agree.

Gaming’s insecurity as a medium certainly does seem to have led to attempts to be a bit like something else. Spector picks up on this point, asking for people to be more strident in finding a unique identity.

“We are in a sense an amalgamation of all these other media. But is that all we are? That question has always really bothered me. I just can’t believe that. We don’t want to make games like other media. We cannot be bound by the conventions of other media. We have to make our own conventions.”

I’d heartily agree, right up until he explains further.

“We have to embrace what makes us unique. I believe in the power and potential of games to change things. Movies use dream logic, radio uses imagination, and we are different. We are special in that we are different. Other media can evoke emotions, but we can offer the reality of choice, and I think that’s what we’re meant to do.”

Is he saying that games shouldn’t be evoking emotions? That can’t be the case, as his own games have clearly aimed to do this. So presumably he means that the emotional response should come from the choices we make, rather than from the story we’re being told. At which point I start to deviate. I don’t want to deviate from agreeing with Warren Spector, a man I’d like to hug more than most others!

If you read the Develop article, Spector makes some interesting arguments about which aspects of other media gaming shouldn’t be trying to emulate. But he also seems to be taking a slightly narrow perspective of gaming.

“We all know about those [memorable scenes] in games when dogs fly through windows, but games are not about magic moments, or one-shots. Games are about the repeated action. Our job is to change the context around the repeated action.”

That’s certainly true of some types of games, but not all. And especially not those that are narrative-centric.

He then goes on to observe that games should take a lot more cues from radio (literally), recognising the importance of sound. But over all wants to make the point that games should be unique, not just an amalgamation of parts from other media.

“If we embrace what is unique about our own medium, we allow our own audiences to express themselves creatively. We are unique in the human history in allowing audiences to be creative with their entertainment. We need to stop telling players what to do. We need to get them to tell their own story.”

Oh, it all sounds so good when he says it, but I still can’t agree! I already know my stories. I don’t want to tell me a story. I want to be told a story by another brilliantly creative mind. And no, I agree that I don’t want to hear that story in a way that may as well be a film or radio programme. I want it to be presented in gaming’s unique form, letting me manipulate my access to that story, and even the path that story takes.

But what do you think? Do you think games should leave the emotions to other media, and focus on letting the player create their own story within a structure? Or should games be plundering other media more, maybe? Is it a medium that should be trying to tell a writer’s own story at all?


  1. Derf says:

    It’s down to the player. I prefer to “fill the gaps”. Other players love a tale or two.

    • DMcCool says:

      I think Grandpa Spector is all about giving us that choice. Its the old “art in games, games as art” arguement. IE, the really special thing that games can do, they do seperate from that other old narrative stuff, and if your game isn’t doing that first (not to say it isn’t telling stories in movie or bookish fashions too) then you should be making films or writing books or whatever.

      Actually this sounds like a carbon copy of a talk he gave in Texas that RPS linked too years ago. It was the one that made me settle on being a games designer. So, yeah, I’m with Warren S. on this one.

    • wolfpox says:

      The best analysis I’ve ever seen of games as art, what makes games unique as a medium and the creative process is this:

      link to metagearsolid.org

      It deals with the Metal Gear series especially, but also games like Portal, and in general. Obviously games can be art, but they can also just be a game. They can be lots of things, because games aren’t like “movies”, games are like “film”. Films can be movies, but films can also be home videos or porn… That’s not what the article says, that’s just my take on it

  2. Sam C. says:

    Isn’t there room for both? Games like The Sims are all about the player creating their own story with help and guidance from the game, while at the other end of the spectrum there’s Modern Warfare, where every event and encounter is carefully scripted, and games that have a little of both. Is one necessarily better than the other?

    • Arathain says:

      It doesn’t matter so much what you do, it matters if you do it well.

    • jonfitt says:

      Hear hear!

      This smacks of some farcical argument:
      “Games should be stories!”, “No! Games should be about free will!”, “No, Games should be art!”, “No, games are entertainment!”

      Games can be all those things or none of them. To try and deny any aspect takes away the beauty of a medium where you are unconstrained by form, format or style. There is room for everyone!

      The only thing I would say is that to try and completely imitate another very successful medium in every respect is to put yourself at a disadvantage, but by all means try it!

    • Sam C. says:

      Ok, I think this helps clear things up a little.

      link to gamasutra.com

      This is an interview with Warren Spector, and he talks a bit about his keynote before he actually gave it. The important bit:

      “In terms of game narrative, there’s a broad spectrum of possibilities and implementation styles. On the one hand, there’s Will Wright who’s not even interested in telling stories to or with players, he wants to provide them with the tools to create their own stories. That’s perfectly fine. I love Will and the fact that he exists. I love playing his games. On the flip side there are the roller coaster rides like Half-Life. I’m loving Twilight Princess right now. The Square-Enix games. Those are games that put you on rails, they’re roller coaster rides. They’re exhilarating, exciting, fun and challenging… all the things that games should be.

      There’s also a middle ground, and I don’t think that it involves the choose-your-own adventure approach. There’s a philosophy that I like to apply: as a developer I want to control the overall narrative arc. Using Deus Ex as an example, JC Denton has a brother, he works for this agency, and the agency turns out to be not what you thought it was and you have to switch sides because they turn on you. The terrorists are the good guys, and so on. All that stuff provides context and meaning for all of the minute-to-minute player choices. In that sense, I own all the acts and why you do things. Now, saying that, it’s possible to own why you do things and leave how you do them in the players’ hands. The key for me is creating linked sandboxes and letting players explore those little narrative chunks on their own. I’ll determine why it’s important that you get through a door, but how you get through it, what happens and whether you kill, talk to or ignore everyone on the other side belongs to the player. That concept of sharing authorship is where the sweet spot of game narrative is. There are some things that I think we can do to take that to the next level, and things that can be done a couple of years from now that can take it to yet another level. The end goal for me now isn’t for me to allow players to play a movie, ride a roller coaster ride or provide a sandbox so they can do what they want, but is to find the compromise where I can have a dialog with each player virtually. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

      So it seems he really is all about the middle ground, having a little bit of both.

  3. Sobric says:

    Spector seems to be talking mainly about narrative direction and story telling methods, and I think that the beauty of games as a story-telling platform is their ability to do many different types of narrative, in different games or even in one.

    Linear FPS, for example, do follow film narrative to an extent (i.e. this happens, then this happens, etc – no player involvement other than, y’know, playing). Does that make them bad games? Not if they’re well done. If the characterisation is strong and the story arc appealing then I’m happy.

    Spector seems to be focusing on emergent narrative, which is obviously a wonderful and exciting (relatively) new focus of game developers.

    Really, what I am saying is that both forms can co-exist; one form does not deny the existence of the other.

    Also: Sleep Is Death. Stick *that* in your pigeon-hole and smoke it.

  4. mlaskus says:

    I don’t like how he deals in absolutes. Games, unlike any other kind of media can be presented in an incredible number of ways. There sure as hell is place for games offering players the so called “cinematic experience” just as there is place for any other kind of games.

    • dadioflex says:

      He isn’t dealing in absolutes. JW’s interpretation of what he said is dealing in absolutes.

      Spector is saying that games differ from other medium in that they allow you to make choices. The only choice you have with a movie or a book is whether you consume it, or not.

      Games allow you to make choices and that’s their primary strength. Which implies, correctly IMO, that if you have a game which favours evoking emotions over making choices, then it would probably do a better job of evoking emotions in another medium.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Could always just be that he didn’t mean for people to read so much into it and didn’t choose his words carefully enough.

  5. Schrodinger's Lolcat says:

    Isn’t the interesting piece that in gaming the emotions evoked can come from both directions? (Out of the narrative and forced on the player, forced on the narrative by the player’s actions.)

    I guess I’m advocating a kind of “meet in the middle” approach but it seems that the alchemy involved in making this mix is the most crucial.

    Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste, but I want a narrative that lets me identify with the main character – to empathize with their predicament and then make choices as I see fit (noble, vengeful, pragmatic, etc.) depending upon how I react to the greater narrative context.

    I do not want a game entirely about choice (a sandbox) nor a game entirely scripted (a movie) but something of that juicy in-between. Isn’t that the true gift of this medium? That it can find compromise between the freedom of existence versus the vision of an artist?

    • Sam C. says:

      “I do not want a game entirely about choice (a sandbox) nor a game entirely scripted (a movie) but something of that juicy in-between.”

      Arguably, Grand Theft Auto is an attempt to blend both. Not very well, since there can be a disconnect between the actions of the protagionist in the sandbox bits and in the storyline missions. How do you still give the player meaningful choices and then suddenly remove that freedom without resorting to deus ex machinia? Maybe you had a game in mind?

    • Schrodinger's Lolcat says:

      “How do you still give the player meaningful choices and then suddenly remove that freedom without resorting to deus ex machinia? Maybe you had a game in mind?”

      Well I have some pretty cool ideas certainly. Let me give you an example:

      In an RPG, the first section of the game has you fighting a pitched battle on a pretty desperate front. Let’s say WWI style. You’re a young man facing bad odds. You’re scared and utterly vulnerable to the machinery of war coming down on you.

      Now in order to heal yourself between battles, you can scavenge food items and things of that nature from around the trenches: canned beef, soup, bread, cheese. Cigarettes remove status effects. And liquor gives you a bonus in battle while healing and removing status effects.

      So far all of this is what I’d call the pretense or static part of the narrative (Spector’s “cinematic”): these are the rules that cannot be changed. The situation of the war, your youth, the odds of battle, and the basic mechanics of fighting.

      But in the next section of the game, you play as this man’s son. Now, depending on how you fought, the narrative here can very wildly.

      If you were a coward in the first section and avoided battles, your father might be a mild-mannered anti-war intellectual. If you were particularly aggressive in the first section, your father is a decorated veteran and hero of the war – in your town he’s extremely respected and politically connected. If you let his health stay in the red too often, he’s been severely maimed. If you didn’t smoke often enough or quickly enough to prevent status effects lasting their full duration, then your father suffers terrible PTSD and is a manic depressive. If you drank too much when healing yourself, he’s an abusive alcoholic and the terror of your childhood.

      This, to me, is the middle ground. Narrative reality emerging from gameplay choices. What I like about this example is that it shows that these choices don’t have to be between “save the village / let it burn.” They can be much more subtle and strategic, built into the game logic and mechanics yet emerging naturally in a way that gives the player a cogent sense of cause and effect from their actions.

      To go back to GTA, I haven’t played it too much but, the titles I remember didn’t really achieve this. The narrative and the sandbox were essentially strapped together without actually touching one another. I haven’t played the newest title, so maybe it has changed. But ultimately this example may not prove so useful for what I’m getting at.

      I’m not asking for a sandbox element from games necessarily. I’m asking for a narrative that notices how the player plays the game and reacts to it. Does that make any more sense?

    • Sam C. says:

      That actually makes perfect sense, and sounds like a hell of a game idea to boot. I’d play it. I can see that sort of change based on actions working on an even shorter time scale, and that makes me think of Alpha Protocol. It sounds almost like how in STALKER, the “false” ending changes depending on your reputation, amount of money you have, etc. The STALKER example feels artificial, since the game just shows the PC making a decision for you at the end, but I think your example is excellent. And I’m certainly for less binary decisions, but I think the extra work it requires is what stops us from seeing games where the player’s actions have a real impact on the game world very often.

      And you’re correct about GTA, there isn’t really an attempt to link your actions in the sandbox to what happens in the story, it’s limited to a few points where the story can branch.

  6. vecima says:

    I don’t think you’re ideas are necessarily incompatible with the things W.S. is saying (though I haven’t read the whole article). I think he’s pointing out areas where gaming can take the lead. These are areas in which gaming can prove itself and what it’s capable of as a medium. Telling you a good story is something any medium can do, and indeed games should do that, but means to that end are wildly different, and gaming, by it’s interactive nature, is capable of achieving that in a slew of ways. The possibilities are probably only just starting to be explored, even decades after the start of (computer) gaming.

  7. Gritz says:

    I absolutely agree with him. Video games are a unique medium in which the audience is participant instead of observer, and should embrace that. Rather than being told or shown what is important in a scene as in a book or a movie, the best video games let me explore the things I find most interesting and important.

    Storytelling in games can take away from that, by forcing the participant to move his or her attention even if they may not want to. An ideal game like Morrowind presents its story in the background, as another option for the player to explore but without forcing them to stop what they’re doing to pick it up. On the other hand you have Grand Theft Auto IV, which puts its story directly at odds with its form, constantly harassing the player to quit playing with the world and get back to the cinematic storyline. And further down the spectrum you have “games” like Mass Effect, where interactivity completely takes a backseat to storytelling and the cinematic experience.

  8. DangerousDan says:

    John Walker, I had thought better of you. Choice is the defining thing offered by gaming. If you want to be told stories by a brilliant mind, I figure there are far better mediums to do it- try to compare any storyline offered up by a game (with perhaps the notable exception of PS:T) and you’ll find they fall short when compared to other mediums.

    Choice is what allows us to make a story ours- I can still talk about Deus Ex to this day and have different stories to tell to my friends. That to me is pretty special.

    • Patrick says:

      I can’t agree with this more:
      So presumably he means that the emotional response should come from the choices we make, rather than from the story we’re being told.
      …particularly when “emotionally evoking” stories are goofy power fantasies like ME. Awkwardly fidgeting, uncanny-valley virtual actors (performed by 3rd rate voice talent) don’t engage me emotionally. Neither to their tales of romance while saving the world from an ancient evil. Christ, most games’ stories aren’t fit to be midnight cult films. People play them because they’re leading you to new places where you can play. Hopefully they let you have some kind of effect on what’s happening rather than letting you act out the script they’ve written for you.

      As for PS:T, it is a great example of how choice can be what differentiates games from other mediums. You make serious, consequential decisions throughout the game, many of them running in tandem with decisions your character made when he was out of your control (in the backstory). This leads up to a host of conclusions that can be reached, most of which don’t just reflect a decision you made at the game’s ending. It’s not the greatest story ever, but there is no other medium that could give you that experience.

      Shit, I have more hope for Epic Mickey now than anything Bioware has in the pipe.

    • bleeters says:

      There’s nothing that says stories and choice are mutually exclusive, though. Deus Ex didn’t dump you in a sandbox and leave you to it. It had a story, just one which the player could exercise a significant amount of control over the direction it took.

      Besides, saying games that focus on narrative at the expense of some/all choice should stop attempting to be more like other forms of media ignored the element of involving the player. Operating as a character within the given story rather than, say, with films and the like being an outside observer can make a hell of a lot of difference.

      Example? Mass Effect 2’s story was largely trash, from my perspective. A goofy power fantasy, perhaps. That didn’t make me any less concerned when Garrus collapsed against a wall, clutching his side. Get up, Garrus!

      (I’m aware this isn’t the best example to choose by far, however it seemed more appropriate given that Mass Effect was specifically singled out)

  9. geldonyetich says:

    I share certain convictions about Warren Spector, although Deus Ex 2 was a bit of a disappointment. In any case, anyone who has had to suffer through certain Final Fantasy games could certainly agree that there’s a definite line not to be crossed in terms of limiting player interaction in the name of displaying pretty cut scenes.

    • Nobody Important says:

      Please name which Final Fantasy.

      IX is my favorite in the series, and even that one has quite a few cutscenes. The difference is that I had played with and hence become attached to the characters and their struggle. X is my least favorite, because the cutscenes are there, and they’re just bad. the characters are dumb looking the script is beyond awful.

      XII, on the other hand, was amazing. Great and complex plot, fun gameplay, tough as nails. I think that one got the balance between cutscenes and gameplay just right (eg. 95% gameplay).

  10. Gassalasca says:

    Walker is just afraid the choice-making won’t be able to make him cry. :D

  11. Alex Bakke says:

    SamC’s nailed it on the head. Isn’t the idea of computer games that with the necessary technology, you can do so much more than other forms of media?

    Radio uses imagination – video gamers use this too.

    Movies use dream logic – games can do this too.

    To cut away vital aspects such as emotion from games you deprive the world of brilliant storytelling; TLJ, Deus Ex both use emotion within the narrative, for example.

    I think the mistake Mr. Spector is making, is that games are supposed to be just another form of media, which has a pre-defined role. But in my mind, developers are given enough freedom to do whatever they want, brilliantly.

    • Alex Bakke says:

      Add on: Shouldn’t games be able to use the story to invoke choices based on emotion?

  12. spicycho says:

    The fact this genius is at Disney is tragic. Wish the storm was still around.

  13. DojiStar says:

    I think I’m going to have to go with W.S. (despite him selling out to the Disney lite-gaming crowd). I don’t want to play a game to have a story told to me. I don’t want to see someone else’s vision. I don’t like JRPGs. I hate “interactive” movies. If I wanted a story, I’d read a book; I think novelists are much much better writers than game writers (or, for that matter, screenplay writers).

    I play a game because I want to DO something. My own thing. Sure, it’s better if it has meaningful content within the gameworld: if I have real choices that have real consequences. It would be even nicer if the game were able to weave this into some kind of narrative, but, frankly, my brain can do that already. Dwarf Fortress does not have a narrative engine, but the game engine is complex and rich enough that we can tell our own stories within its context.

    • Hyperion says:

      thats what I thought warren was talking about at first when I read the headline. Games like Xenosaga (20 hours of cutscenes and 20 hours of gameplay).

  14. Tim Ward says:

    I think Warren Spector is good at phrasing banal statements in grandiose, academic language to make them seem more insightful than they actually are. A game can be ‘like’ a movie, a book or a pop record with added interaction or it can be a totally freeform open world type game; so long as it does what it does well and it does something for the people who play it then it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Drawing such sharp distinction between media and declaring techniques used in other media out of bounds for games because of is flat out retarded: I say this as someone who absolutely loves open world games.

    I’ll call it ‘design apartheid’ – seems to be the sort of completely inappropriate political comparison he’d appreciate. Maybe the next person who interviews him could ask him why he’s in favour of apartheid?

    Of course, if he was going to say that *too many* titles are too tightly scripted, especially when the scenario/setting/gameplay would actually be better suited to given the player more choice and freedom, then I’d have agreed with him completely. It seems to me that the health of the industry is measured by its variety.

    • James T says:

      You simultaneously fail at reading, writing, and criticism. That’s impressive, in a perverse way.

  15. Zogtee says:

    I love Warren in a manly, not-sexual-at-all, way, but I think this is rather vague. I want to see some actual examples before I make up my mind.

  16. Cinnamon says:

    I think that they should take inspiration from wherever they can but the way that cinema dominates the discussion about games is unhealthy. It seems that many people who take games seriously are more interested in talking about movies than games.

    I’m more interested in games that offer rules and systems instead of just choices. Choices themselves seem like too much of cinema type approach to games if you implement them at the most simple level. Like, imagine that the director is asking you if you want this character to wear a hat in this scene or not? Except the director still shoots the scene in the same way and the costume person decides what sort of hat should be worn.

    A good thing about Deus Ex is that the AI characters react according to rules which you could play with. It even had some really cool scripted reactions that were triggered when you pushed the rules to the limit, like saving Paul. In a movie or radio play you cannot test the limits of the work yourself except maybe by analysing it to find things like multiple levels of meaning or plot holes. If you are an improvisational Jazz performer you can maybe test the limits of a piece of music. Games have a whole other level of possibility. We are talking about a medium where the starting point is games like Pac-Man which can be analysed to a level of depth that compares well with the great movies. Why go backwards and make the games themselves trivial in order to add movie type depth that is actually on a lower level than movies?

  17. James G says:

    Yeah, I’m with the guys in the middle (which I think also includes John). If a game can do something, then it can do it, and we shouldn’t be drawing boundaries just because those same experiences exist in other media. I’m very much like Walker in my gaming tastes, I like my narrative rich gaming for instance, and I get a little depressed when I hear people saying that gaming SHOULDN’T be some of those things. At the same time, I’m not trying to argue that these elements are necessary for gaming. Emergent narratives can be great when they work, yet while I’m happy to sing the praises of Dwarf Fortress in that regard, I’m hard pressed to think of another game where I’ve found the emergent narrative to be truly satisfying (outside of the more short term vignettes, something that plenty of games provide), other than perhaps EVE, which I know I’ll never play. While I’m sure there are some people reading that thinking, “well if its narrative experiences you want, why don’t you just read a book?” But I think there are two answers to this, firstly, that gaming is still a distinctive experience, interaction changes the impact of a narrative, even if large parts of the narrative are themselves linear; secondly, why not? I can still read, and do still read, and can quite happily do so alongside gaming.

  18. Justin Keverne says:

    Games have the inherent ability to make use of the techniques of other media in combination with interactivity and we should be focusing on getting that combination balanced correctly. There is room for games that swing the balance towards linear media and provide highly scripted experiences and there is room for highly systemic games that focus on core mechanics and dynamic systems. However the former can strip the player of agency and the latter struggles to provoke an emotional response in anything beyond an ad hoc, inconsistent manner.

    It’s the space between those two extremes that I think is most important but which is often overlooked, those who want a cinematic experience gravitate to one extreme those who praise gameplay over narrative gravitate towards the other. Operating in that middle ground means finding a balance between the embedded narrative and the emergent mechanics, with a narrative that is reinforced by the mechanics and vice verse. There have been some steps towards that but far, far too few. There are so many elements of games that can be used to create and define a narrative experience but they are ignored, it can be as simple as the structural layout of a level or the growth progression of a character in an RPG. When designing a game it’s either the story gets the focus or the gameplay gets the focus, when we should be finding that ideal balance between both.

    Great works in other media are great because they were made with a holistic approach; everything was created in service to the core theme, the core emotional reaction the creator was looking for. Games are always trying to serve two masters the narrative or the mechanics; we shouldn’t be making that distinction. I’ve heard Warren talk in a number of places and he consistently talks about sharing authorship not abdicating it and that’s what I think he means here, the problem is very few games are really doing that, they are either entirely abdicating it and allowing the players to create their own stories, or they are trying to strictly enforce a authorial dictatorship where what the designer says is the law; the middle ground is where the new experiences are…

  19. What I Say says:

    I wish there were more Warren Spectors working in the industry.

    Also wish he teaches that course again so there are more lectures to watch.

  20. mesotes says:

    Id think you misunderstood Mr Spector a bit, though he doesnt explain it to well too.
    Its all a matter from which games you look at, where the things he says dont fit quite right.

    I interpreted his words as, doing MORE than movies and radio do, but doing something more in the direction what makes games so unique: the interaction, immediate feedback.
    Using that to let the player create their own experience.

    About the repeated action context thing:
    Well he IS talking about games which shouldnt lean too much on movies/radio so of course it doesnt apply to narrative-centric games (eq. movie like games).. -_-

    and finaly: stories.
    How come you know your stories? I cant follow this argument.
    Also, its not about a story you tell yourself, but a story you create by experiencing it, or telling it to fellows. Maybe you think too tightly about some particular games which you really like and which dont fit with what he says.

    so yeah, little misunderstanding there i suppose.

  21. Jimbo says:

    I think he actually meant a lot of that how you wanted him to mean it.

    “Other media can evoke emotions, but we can offer the reality of choice, and I think that’s what we’re meant to do.”

    I don’t believe he is saying leave emotions to other media at all. On the contrary, I believe he is saying that *because* games can make choice a reality, they ought to be able to be evoke emotion beyond what a passive medium is capable of. This kinda ties into the Starcraft 2 narrative discussion we were having the other day, and (from my POV) what you lose by undermining the integrity of genuine player choice.

    I agree that games should be more than just be an amalgamation of other media. The real skill is not in telling a great story in an RPG (you can tell a great story in any media), or in making compelling gameplay without context . What makes the very best games more than the sum of their parts is when the two halves – the gameplay and the story / context – can impact upon each other and resonate for the person playing the game. Your actions are altering the context, and the context is altering how you act. That’s what a great game can do that passive media cannot, and that’s how they can evoke emotion beyond that which passive media is capable of. The emotions can be your own – rather than merely being felt empathetically for a third party – and those emotions matter, because you are in a position to act on them.

    • Jamesworkshop says:

      I agree about the fact that unlikly books that can only convey and implant into your imagination games are while ultimatly digital are much more solid constructions that can be played and interacted with in a way that books cannot do
      you don’t imagine jack killing a little sister you direct him to do so

  22. Fumarole says:

    Uwe Boll has proven that game/movie crossovers are a bad idea. The industry needs to learn this works both ways.

  23. Freud says:

    It is getting a bit tedious with the complaining that ‘games want to be movies’. I don’t think Modern Warfare 2 want to be a movie, but more that they want complete control of the tempo of the gaming experience. Basically they want a short non-stop rush for the most part. The story elements and character portraits aren’t better/worse/different than other games. I don’t think MW2 at it’s core is much different than Half-Life 2, except it is faster, worse and slightly more scripted.

  24. Garg says:

    It strikes me that since he references Half-Life and KotOR as good examples of the medium that he doesn’t have anything against linear stories, and that its more about playing to the mediums strengths (immersion in the former and meaningful choice in the latter).

    • Sam C. says:

      I think you’re right, and it is hard to draw conclusions off the sound bytes in the article. Is there a full transcript or video of the keynote available? A quick search didn’t turn up anything for me.

  25. Jeremy says:

    One of the main purposes of art is to inspire an emotional response in others. Usually art is created out of an emotional experience within a person, and that in turn will create a response in others, and not necessarily the same emotion. Art in general has one focus, one purpose for being created, and that is within the heart and mind of the artist alone to know, and it doesn’t have the intent of being created for the public. I think this is where the difficulty comes in creating “decision rich” games. It’s hard to marry the two concepts of creating art, and also catering to the “decision making needs” of gamers these days. It stops becoming your project, it is no longer your art, because you are specifically creating the game so that people can make decisions, and decision making doesn’t always translate into an emotion, and I would argue in the context of games it rarely does. There are games where I’ve had to make a decision that I respond to emotionally, but it is not as common for me to feel an emotion about a decision I make in a game (usually because I’m picking between bullet points) as it is for me to feel an emotion about a story someone is telling me (literature, films, paintings, drawings, etc.). If we strip away all of these “systems” our games have… morality, friendship, etc. then I think we’ll start moving the right direction with games in an emotional way. I know that if I give Morrigan a book, she’ll like me more, and I know she likes me more because her friendship bar gained 10 points. There’s nothing emotional about that, it doesn’t create a bond in the game, I don’t want to keep her alive because she has +10 friend points. Think about it in terms of real life, if you knew you could gain friends by offering them gifts (which some people do), then you would cease to have any emotional connection to those people (which is true of those people who buy friends). It’s the same in a game. If, before any important decision I had to make in real life I was given a bullet point list of potential choices, and their moral weight on my life and the world around me, it would cease to be emotional. Fear, failing, making the wrong decision… these inspire emotion, but gamers are afraid to make the wrong decisions and so companies have told us exactly how to get where we “want” to get. It is actually impossible in Mass Effect 2 to make an uneducated decision. Blue is good, red is bad, everything else is neutral. You actually have to make the decision to NOT upgrade out of your limitless pool of resources to lose a party member. In essence, you have to specifically choose to kill someone in your party, for no other reason than to see them die. It is this ability to decide their fate that makes it sociopathic and it robs all emotion from their death.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I haven’t had a strong emotional response to any game in a long while, and I think it’s because we’re obsessed with decision making, and having absolute control, when it is that very lack of control in our own lives that more often than not creates an emotional response.

    • Sam C. says:

      “If we strip away all of these ‘systems’ our games have… morality, friendship, etc. then I think we’ll start moving the right direction with games in an emotional way.”

      But what replaces the systems? Unless there’s going to be a human on the other end, there has to be an underlying formula that calculates how an NPC feels about the player. Maybe if the focus of a game was narrowed down to just one or two characters, we might be able to introduce more subtlety into interactions, but there will still have to be underlying systems, some variable that changes in response to the player’s actions.
      But I think what you’re arguing is that there just needs to be less transparency in interactions with NPCs? Would you have as much of a problem with NPCs liking or disliking you if they didn’t show you the exact numerical value of your relationship with them?

    • Jeremy says:

      Yeah, I think it’s the transparency of the interactions and systems within a game that kill any emotional response a person can have. I know that the systems have to be there, because we can’t transport a living breathing world into a game, but the transparency of those systems never let me experience it as anything other than a game, or a static series of decisions. Just giving someone the ability to choose doesn’t make that choice emotional, or any more important, and in fact sometimes not having the ability to choose at all gives that moment more weight and emotional impact.

      Would anyone be talking about Final Fantasy 7 today if Square had given us the ability to save Aerith/Aeris? It totally would have robbed that game of a huge emotional moment, perhaps the single most important moment of that game. If you save her, you’re the hero, big deal.. you were already going to be a hero. If you let her die, you’re a sociopath, the moment loses all emotion. The fact that she dies and it’s entirely out of your control is the tragedy that the entire story hinges on, and was one of the more emotional moments in a video game I’ve ever played.

    • Kadayi says:

      “One of the main purposes of art is to inspire an emotional response in others. Usually art is created out of an emotional experience within a person, and that in turn will create a response in others, and not necessarily the same emotion. Art in general has one focus, one purpose for being created, and that is within the heart and mind of the artist alone to know, and it doesn’t have the intent of being created for the public.”

      You have some very quaint ideas about what constitutes ‘Art’, as well as how it operates. Consider Rene Magrittes painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”).

      link to upload.wikimedia.org

      Does it provoke a response in the viewer? Certainly. But can we really ascribe it as an ’emotional response’? Or would it be more accurate to label it an ‘intellectual response’? Would it also not also be fair to say that the work was quite clearly intended to be seen and digested by the public?

      See now either Magritte wasn’t an Artist, or your definition of what ‘Art’ is doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny.

      Now don’t get me wrong, ‘Art’ can certainly be obscure (and plenty is), but it would be foolhardy to claim that a clear message cannot be Art.

    • Jeremy says:

      I never said all art would only ever account for an emotional response, but that one of the main purposes of art (as in, just one of them, not all of them, hence my use of the word and phrase “one of the main purposes of art…”) is to inspire an emotional response. A broader statement would be, “all art is trying to inspire a response of any kind”, which I felt to be a bit bland and off topic from what I was saying.

      As far as my statement towards whether art is created for the public or not, I can understand how what I said was misunderstood. I meant it in the sense that an artist doesn’t think before hand (usually) “How can I please the public with my next piece of art?” I would agree that art is created with the intent of the public seeing and “digesting” it, but only in the more mainstream mediums do we find companies or groups of people attempting to create “art” with the express purpose of pushing units. There are true artists in each of these fields of course, but usually they have a story to tell, something to express, a goal other than selling a massive amount of their product.

  26. perilisk says:

    I don’t know that “choice” is exactly the right word — but games are the medium most suited to second-person storytelling, and that is both powerful and unique.

  27. Eight Rooks says:

    Count me in half way, perhaps slightly more over to the narrative-centric sides. I’d take the whole ‘cede control back to the player’ movement more seriously if they were brave enough to admit the vast majority of the stories players end up telling for themselves are a) utterly interchangeable and/or b) rubbish. The graffiti left on the walls in Left 4 Dead is interesting. Your co-op after-action reports – my co-op action reports, even – are not interesting to anyone beyond a select group of friends, and not for any longer than a few days, tops. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of other people have experienced pretty much the exact same thing. LittleBigPlanet is a staggeringly versatile toolset which revolutionises the industry and enables players to create some of the most jaw-dropping user-generated content yet seen. It’s also a somewhat vapid platformer with floaty, imprecise controls many find hugely irritating, with its online component stuffed full of disposable rubbish made by the talentless.

    There should always be a place in any medium for storytelling which basically expects you to sit through a Big Moment, to accept that this is how things play out, to shut up and listen, to accept that the point of it all is that in these circumstances, with this catalyst, in this context, This Is What Happens. And you don’t get to change it. Real, significant choice has virtually no place in Shadow of the Colossus and it’s a better game for it. Don’t like that? Don’t play it.

    I don’t automatically assume that Spector has to be implying the complete opposite, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out he’s saying things which make it look like he might be, and I don’t like that.

    I want my big moments. I want people to accept that just because they get to act like a lunatic whenever they feel like it doesn’t mean everyone will agree the game in question is the second coming – I don’t care if I get to ride a sewage tanker in Saints Row, I don’t care if I can play as a three hundred pound Samoan transvestite, I find it an ugly, soulless world devoid of convincing detail, emotional weight or any kind of real interest, and I find every story I’ve ever read about ‘Oh, dude, I did the most amazing thing on the Row the other day’ good for a couple of brief laughs at best. I want control. I want direction. I want opinions thrust upon me I don’t necessarily share, to force me to think, to decide how I feel when I don’t get to do what I want to do. The day gaming becomes largely about player agency in a thousand interchangeable sandbox gaming platforms in whatever portable platform is then the norm, well… just one more reason to give it up for good.

  28. Kyle says:

    I think the medium could borrow more from theatre, specifically improv. Think of the game world as “giving you an offer.” That is, it suggests a context for you to riff on as the player, using the props (or interactive tools) that are laying around the stage. The designer suggests the boundaries of meaning, but it’s the players (in both senses) who interpret it and express it through action.

  29. Cooper says:

    Very simply, shouldn’t there be space for heavily scripted, single-narrative games (whether CoD style aping Hollywood, or less movie like, but still single-narrative) AND open choiced, emergent narrative games.

    If the argument is that, currently, the gaming publishers are weighted far far too heavily on the former (the single narrative games) I’d agree.

    If the argument is that these types of games should not exist, then, no, I very much disagree.

  30. unholy waffle says:

    Probably I’ll meet with some disagreement, but here goes…

    So this is a topic I’ve thought a lot about. Indirectly, not so much about video games being similar to movies, but in the arena of thinking about video games as art. Via contrasts do I arrive at the comparisons to other media.

    If you look at great artistic mediums, it seems to me they manage a couple of things in order to be great art, the first and most important, is the medium is capable of communicating compelling humanistic content. Secondly, they manage to communicate subtle content, whether it be metaphor or analogy, simile or symbolism, they can manage subtext such as to communicate thoughtful, profound, interesting, whatever it is, ideas.

    I don’t think video games (so far) have managed to meet the first of my criteria. (And they’re not so hot on the second either) There are moments, rarified moments where I see something humanistic and fairly compelling in games. But to me that is insufficient. The incedents people point to when I get into these debates seem ham-fisted or overly simplified. It needs to be more commonplace, have a greater “caliber” or the way in which humanistic content is communicated in video games needs to become understandable for it to be a real argument for video games as great art.

    One of the main reasons that I don’t think it will ever manage really compelling humanistic content, is that there are limits to control schemes. It’s pretty much impossible to engage in a human level dialogue with another character in a game given the need to make controls that could encompass the variated and depth of human emotions, feelings, thoughts, what have you, assailable to players. Also, AI is not capable of the depth we need for it to be really compelling in a substantial way.

    In this way, I don’t think video games should be trying to be similar to film. This is what gives film it’s capacity to be great art, the capacity to show human interaction. I think video games have failed to do this, and I doubt they will.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing artisitic about video games. But I honestly think video games are more about being so much fun they’re addictive, like WOW, or tetris, or perhaps the first L4D when it came out. That is art, when a game-maker can make something you just can’t put down, I think the effort to lump it in with other greater medium (and I do mean greater) is a mistake. There is a level on which everything we do and think and say references our own humanity. Sometimes closer to the surface, sometimes further away. It is the capacity to reference these things directly and make them compelling that makes for great art. Without that, it’s missing the ability to reference the real world in an important way.

    I think the most compellingly humanistic moment I can think of in a video game is Eli Vance dying at the end of HL2 EP.2. And that is a pretty ham fisted moment. Eli had to die for it to be compelling, that kind of enormous dramatic moment shouldn’t be necessary for it to be compelling. The medium has to do better if they want that kind of status.

    DO NOT get me wrong, I love gaming. It’s a huge pastime for me, but the idea that it somehow manages the humanistic depth that cinema, books, paintings manage is just ludicrous to me.

    The last point I want to make about this is that games are explicit. Like cinema they are an explicit medium they include sound, video, there isn’t as much being created by the consumer of the art as compared to a book, painting, or piece of music. Film is similar in this way, in that it has to be explicit, the virtue it has over video games is that real humans communicate the points in ways computers cannot. They express human comments, of real merit to human endeavor (At least the medium is capable of it, not necessarily that they always manage), in a way that can be compelling.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Not really sure what you are talking about with humanism in art. Are you talking about enlightenment thinking like reason and ethics or just about the emotional responses that art can trigger in humans? Certainly, I think that games can be much better at giving experience of reasoning and ethics than movies since they can give the player actual practice in the thought processes. I remember some examples of these that the RPS staff have written about on subjects like deciding the fate of the character Heather in Vampire Bloodlines and handling the natives in the strategy game Colonisation.

    • holy hand grenade says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by “enlightenment thinking” either. But what I mean by compelling humanistic content is that it reflects on the human condition in a way that that produces either feelings or thoughtful responses that have a spanning importance. That is to say, they’re value isn’t limited to one person or a small group of people.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Well, The Sims is all about the human condition and there are not many computer games that have a broader reach. The ethics examples I gave are very much about the human condition. I’m still not entirely understanding what “compelling humanistic content” is unless it just a way of saying “one person directly communicating emotion to another.” And there are certainly better examples of games doing that for me than Half-Life.

    • unholy waffle says:

      I want to give an example of it, but people react an amount differently, so specific examples can be bad for this. Humanistic thinking, is considerate of, the human condition. Compelling humanistic content would be something that had some weight, or “moved” you or something like that.

      A good modern example might be something like FIght club. The life of the main character, and the dreams of freedom from it, to me at any rate, are compelling. He gets so caught up in them that he takes action. His conscious self won’t allow him to do it himself, because he’s too timid. But part of him has to. Those feelings, my ability to relate to his problems are humanistic, it’s compelling because I feel an amount similarly. I want that kind of visceral response, to feel so strongly that intuitive parts of me take over and force me to act against things I consider unfair, or unreasonable. That might be an example of compelling humanistic content. Though you may feel differently about Fight club.

    • Huggster says:

      I am sorry but most A+ games only barely touch upon the great emotional narrative of good films and novels as you say. Sad but true.

    • Cinnamon says:

      I’m sorry, but bypassing reason by making emotional appeals isn’t really exactly humanism in action to me. It might be jolly entertaining for all concerned and may motivate us to question things but it isn’t always the best way to examine the human condition and change things for the better.

  31. sfox says:

    The special thing about games is that developers have great freedom to create almost anything, only limited by their creativity. Variety is possible with games more than any other medium.

    Some games can let the player tell their own story, like the Sims, but not everyone is out for that kind of experience. Some games tell their own story, like Final Fantasy. Some games even let people tell their own sidestories within the framework of a story the developer is telling, like Grand Theft Auto and other sandbox games.

    Games should not be limited purely by what the player does in the game. That would be limiting creativity and variety.

  32. Risingson says:

    Jumping over your probably brilliant and very interesting parragraphs, I have to say that Spector’s words have sense if you think about the games Spector has done.

  33. elmuerte says:

    Hmm… Frederick Raynal said the same a bunch of year ago: link to digitalgamestv.fr

  34. Salem5 says:

    Just to be sure, he isn’t saying that the awesome Airplane crash in Left 4 Dead’s last map shouldn’t be there? Because I enjoyed it, even without having any influence on it at all. I wan’t to take action in my game, but I wan’t to do so in an environment I enjoy, which can be quite cinematic at times. That’s fine.

  35. Drakkheim says:

    I think we need to start thinking of games as a medium rather than a genre.

    You don’t make generalizations and theories about Video. You make them about comedies, dramas, documentaries, web shows.
    You don’t do it about Words. You do it about poetry, journalism, radio drama, biographies.

    The thought that you can make any kind of ‘Games are ____ and need to ____.’ statement that encompasses, Tetris, Monopoly, Quake, Farmville and Dungeons & Dragons and maintains any level of relevance is a bit silly in my opinion.

  36. Archonsod says:

    Mr Spector is getting at a specific school of design I think, which has nothing really to do with the narrative or lack thereof, or even the choice or lack thereof.
    What I think he’s basically saying is the point of a game should be to play the game, not to unlock the next set piece / plot twist / cutscene. In other words, the player should be engaged in the game as a whole, and not grinding through a “gamey” section in order to reach an “exposition” section.

    To take it to an extreme example, imagine a movie (say the new A Team) split into five minute cutscenes. Between each cutscene you get to play Pacman, with the next cutscene being shown each time you complete a screen.
    Now from a designer’s perspective the gaming is just getting in the way – they want to tell their story to the player, not produce an excellent version of Pacman. Similarly, to the player the game is in the way – they’re playing to watch the movie, not Pacman. Both have a similar problem; some players won’t be able to master Pacman to see the whole movie; some might take so long to finish the Pacman screen they forgot what happened in previous cutscenes. A better experience for all is to remove the game element and simply show the story as a movie.

    So tl:dr, if the only point of your game is to reach the next cutscene, then you really need to ask yourself why you’re adding in a game in the first place.

  37. Dilyan says:

    It would be great if games were to break free of the chains of association with other media and go their unique way. We would probably be in for some marvelous experiences. However, I would hate to miss out on the many excellent games that do nothing but amalgamate elements from different media to perfection. Why should that be a bad thing?

    The issue I have with many so-called cinematic games is not that they are like movies. The issue is they are like bad movies.

  38. noclip says:

    I think the one thing everyone can agree on is that games shouldn’t be “movies that you can control”, and yet that’s exactly what everyone keeps trying to make. The problem is that everyone (Spector included) frames the discussion from the standpoint of “games are like _____ except…”, which is just the wrong way to go about it. The real focus should be on is figuring out what games are in their own right, not how they compare to other mediums. Designing a game from a “like a movie but…” standpoint is like trying to make a movie by filming a stage play (which, by the way, is essentially what they did in the early days of film). Eventually someone figured out that you could move the camera around and cut between different shots and the modern idea of film was born. That’s what needs to happen in gaming — we need to abandon the notion that there is an analogue to gaming in another medium and figure out what this medium is in and of itself.

    • Josh W says:

      Gaming is interacting with a world that is not real but behaves like it is, that is from someone else’s imagination but has it’s own laws that it sticks to.

      It’s somewhere you can explore, you can make guesses about and up to a point, find out the answer for yourself, it’s a place where you can do things that only have consequences within the scope of the game, and even at the worst the whole game can be restarted, so you can try things out.

      Although you can make changes, you can only make changes up to a certain point, because of the laws that make it that game, so there is always an interplay of freedom and restriction.

      Is that helpful? Can we work stuff out from that? Well it suggests that if you made a game that you could not restart, that constantly reworked itself with no guarantee of any set rules, and that offered you no feedback to tell you how you were effecting it, and also had a permanent and continuous effect on stuff like your bank account, it might be pretty annoying!

      But I still think there’s value to doing analogies; films just based on cutting and camera angles without actors might be pretty different from plays, but they would be missing some of the value that being like a play produces.

  39. TCM says:

    There is nothing wrong with a game striving to be as cinematic as a movie, even to the point of depriving player control outside of simple choices.

    Similarly, there is nothing wrong with a game going as far in the opposite direction as possible, with not a single scripted event in the game, and everything left up to whatever strikes the player’s fancy.

    There’s nothing wrong with being formulaic, and there’s nothing wrong with being esoteric. There’s nothing wrong with doing what others have done, and there’s nothing wrong with breaking ground nobody has broken. There’s nothing wrong with comparing games to movies, and there’s nothing wrong with saying movies are absolutely nothing like games.

    There is nothing that has not been done in game form, and there is everything yet to do.

    I think we can agree that gaming, as a concept, is wider than any other form of entertainment. To try and constrain or limit that in any way by saying what games should or should not be demonstrates a lack of appreciation of this fact.

  40. Shagittarius says:

    The story should support the game play and not the other way around. I think that’s the only thing you need to do when making a game, everything else will fall into place once you make game play your master.

    As far as letting me choose what I want to do in a game, no, he’s wrong about that. I just want to master the game play. Mastering the game play can be very emotional, you experience all kinds of emotions when winning/losing etc…its just not because of the story.

  41. CreamyGoodness says:

    “Other media can evoke emotions [too/as well], but we can offer the reality of choice, and I think that’s what we’re meant to do.”

    Although it’s only text, I read either “too” or “as well” into the intonation of the above statement.

    Thus, Games, like other media, can evoke emotions, yet games, beyond this, offer the ability to make choices.

    • CreamyGoodness says:

      Just to elaborate, I think W.S. is attempting to make an additive statement.

      Games have all the storytelling options of the other forms of media. We read in games, we listen, we watch.

      To focus on only one of those aspects is to become the defining media. So, if we’re only watching a game, the game has become a movie.

      What games bring to the storytelling world is all of the above plus the ability to allow audience choice – without resorting to performance art.

      So, by all means read, listen and watch, but also make choices.

      In the above quoted statements, I believe that W.S. is saying we should embrace that ability to choose while maintaining the rest.

    • Archonsod says:

      Part of the problem is that games tend to lift from cinema though. I mean the whole idea of a cutscene is basically a “mini-film”. I think the majority of designers are still thinking in terms of movies when it comes to actually getting the point across, rather than looking how they can achieve the same thing in an interactive environment.

  42. Shnyker says:

    I think Mr. Spector is being just a little misinterpreted, and that he had to phrase things with more of a lean to deny falsities. He does seem a bit off, but I think he might be talking about a very specific brand of mainstream games, and considering that string of games and the fact that they ARE mainly comprised of repeated action the context IS the special part, along with the choice. Let’s face it, the endless “GOTCHA!” moments where the hero catches the falling guy’s hand are getting old, and as he says, choice really is something that needs to be expanded in games beyond the whole “one good, one evil, and one neutral choice” or things that should be choices but aren’t such as (spoilers) saving the dieing scientist in Singularity.

  43. Jason Moyer says:

    I think videogames have reached that point cartoons were at in the 70’s and 80’s where, instead of being designed by cartoonists, they started being designed by mediocre writers using a committee system and focus testing – which resulted in 20+ years of cartoons that were/are terrible. Videogames now aren’t being designed by guys like David Crane and Bob Whitehead, they’re being put together by a collaboration between guys who want to be movie writers and aren’t good enough and guys who want to make a pile of cash off this new-fangled videogame phenomenon (i.e. what killed the arcade and console industries in the 80’s). There are some mainstream companies that are obviously still run by gamers, but for the most part the people still making games rather than slightly interactive, poorly written movies are the indie devs.

    • noclip says:

      I have to disagree. Gaming has long since reached technical maturity but is intellectually still in its infancy. We know how to render photorealistic hair yet we still don’t know how to elicit emotions or communicate ideas. I really believe that if you’re going to compare gaming’s point in its history to another medium — that a more apt comparison would be to the film industry of the late 19th century. Just because nobody has figured out how to do something right yet it doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

  44. Jakob B Rogert says:

    While it’s some repetition, he does summarize it well. It’s the first time I heard someone combine this “choices make emotional meaningfulness, bringing our egos validation and acknowledgement” with the idea of games being similar to music in that we work with repetition, not one-shot moments (which I believe I heard a great speech on from <a href="link to designcave.typepad.com; title="Jonathan Morin" at GDC this year, but I believe others have presented the idea as well).

    I heartily agree with Spector's summary (and most theories i presume it is built on).
    It is unique to games that we can give the player the authorship over her play session, her story, her play, which she built, or played in the game we made. No other media can really do that, save the ability to interpret narrative in books or films differently. And put simply, in my experience, most game developers do not have an especially well developed ability to tell their own, emotionally enthralling, personal story through games, yet. The craft has not yet developed that far commercially, or matured to that point culturally.
    (Must be god-awful a task to get – "Why don't you hold our keynote? And, well, you know, summarize the state of games, our future, our past, in 45 minutes ?")

  45. Shagittarius says:

    Games make us feel many emotions using the medium that those other traditional mediums cannot.

    When was the last time you watched a movie and felt greed? Never, movies and music are terrible at conveying greed, yet a video game manifests greed in a manner that you feel it in your stomach. Who hasn’t pushed their skills to the limit to try and get the power-up or rare drop or what have you?

    I think it’s important to maximize the emotions video games are good at, and perhaps when technology becomes capable of producing these traditional theater emotions everyone is familiar with then it will be time for games to explore those other emotions better conveyed by traditional media.

    • Josh W says:

      How about inserting “trailer” for “movie”? That’s a whole form of media designed to invoke greed, which is really quite similar to movies, not least because their mostly made out of them!

  46. bildo says:

    “Games are about the repeated action. Our job is to change the context around the repeated action.”

    Videogames narrative must be built into the mechanics. Since every videogame has the players pushing buttons over and over to roughly do the same thing mechanically, the story must be built around the mechanics. Therefore, the interpretation of the mechanics will create the players narrative in a different way than someone else. I agree. This is really what Deus Ex is mainly about. How many ways can I crouch, shoot, sneak, search and talk my way to end? Each action is repeated endless times through many games (if the game has a stealth feature, but I think you get the idea) by the push of a button or a gesture for you motion control types. The man makes sense.

  47. Magwich says:

    Man, my favorite game stories are from the Battlefield series’ multiplayer modes. The stories all come from online matches while I was playing with friends at a LAN party. The times we all flew around in a Blackhawk and threw crap out the windows, trying to blow up men, machines, and whatever else was down there. Or when we were all defending the M-COM against the dirty, dirty Russians and my buddy got two headshots with one shotgun slug, saving the point from destruction and us from losing the map. And there’s so many more great stories from Starcraft and C&C matches, Splinter Cell spy vs. merc mode, The Ship, Left 4 Dead, etc.

    I think the best stories games tell are the ones the players work out together on the fly, halfway between glory and utter shame with everything hanging on the actions of real people. Why do games stories only come from singleplayer or cooperative modes? Why to we have to sit in the chair and push the right buttons on the videogame machine until the story pops out?

    • negativedge says:


      No one in games knows what “narrative” actually means because no one in games has studied other forms of creative expression. This is no different than it is in other realms, to an extent. Who reads a great novel for a story? Someone that will never understand why it is great.

      A “video game” is exactly what the phrase says it is. It is a game–ie, a set of rules governing the actions of its players, as well as the objects involved in play–visually projected into a virtual environment. Whether or not your game is “good” is determined almost entirely by whether or not its rules are good, and to what degree they are fluidly projected into the virtual. Most games’ ruleset consists of “run forward” and “shoot the things in the way” before the game ends. This is a really shitty game to play and we’ve pushed it about as far as it can go (which is not to say shooting things is a bad thing for a game to do; rather, the shooting ought to either be the means to accomplish a certain end or it aught to be nuanced enough for deep expressions of individual skill).

    • negativedge says:

      Addendum: this ballyhoo over “emotion” is garbage. Is “emotion” something you inject into a game? Do you inject it into a film, or a book? is it a piece of code that must be nailed down? Emotion is a response to quality. It naturally arises out of nuanced and learned expression. Someone being killed is an emotional event. Writing a story that consists of “Jack was going to the grocery store one day when he was suddenly accosted by two armed men. After a brief quarrel, the men killed Jack and stole his money. When informed of the news of Jack’s passing, Sarah, his wife, become noticeably and understandably distraught.” does not evoke emotion. If your “emotion” does not relate to the rules of your game, it does not exist. Children will intuit it because they are children. Adults will either move on, or they will waste their lives away in immaturity. Appending a “complex” story to your game is wasted effort.

      Half Life 2 has a simple story. Half Life 2 is an emotional game. What emotions does the game invoke in players? Where do these emotions arise from? Do they have anything to do with the characters, which are largely non existent? If you wrote down the text in the game, and transformed the play into a textual equivalent (“Gordon arrived at the enormous suspension bridge looming over the shanty town he had just destroyed. Determined to press forward past the Combine blockade, he decided to traverse the bridge’s complex skeletal underside blah blah blah”), would you find emotion? Think.

  48. Barman1942 says:

    I don’t think he’s saying games shouldn’t evoke emotion, rather they should do more than JUST evoke emotion, considering the power of choice and emotion go hand in hand.

  49. John says:

    When he talks about the player’s stories, Spector’s talking about the player’s actions in a game. He’s not talking about plot or narrative, or even branching storylines.

    He’s talking about the stories we tell to other people when we describe our experience with a game: ‘I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this.’ Those are the player-told stories he wants us to have, and can almost entirely separate from the actual plot.

    I suspect the kind of game he’s criticising are ones that use a barrage of cutscenes to tell a story rather than allowing a player to explore the world and tell their own stories about it. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the best (and therefore worst) example of this I’ve ever played. There’s one point where you watch a cutscene, walk 5 or 6 steps, and then another cutscene starts. That’s the point at which I stopped playing.

    I also fear that Deus Ex 3 is taking steps towards MGS’s formula, which is mighty annoying.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Sounds correct to me. Modern high-end games all seem to be more interested in getting the player to slap the buttons that the on-screen prompts tell them to like a trained chimp so it can play the next cutscene/setpiece of something “awesome” happening.

      Should the broken captcha system have losted the association, this is a reply to John on page 1.

  50. reginald says:

    games need to be a lot more surreal. A LOT more surreal. and they need to get more adult. not “XXX” adult, just flat about involve things that you wouldn’t have appreciated as a child. ambiguity, sexuality, absurdity, etc.

    basically, people need to Lynch the fuck up.

    • James T says:

      If the difference between adults and children is that adults have the ‘maturity’ to go ga-ga over non-seqitur bullshit, what of the Teletubbies?

    • TCM says:

      I love Salvador Dali.


      (possibly with a rhinocerous horn, he was obsessed with those)