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Spector: Games Are Not Meant To Be Movies

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?

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