The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Some Thoughts, Part Seven – Games

Posted by BigWords on April 7, 2010

This follows up some of the themes which have threaded themselves through the previous posts, but I’ve managed to avoid presenting any proper views about computer games as they fall a way short of the central themes. Revolutions in gaming maybe a tougher sell than any of the other suggestions so far, being as they are (by necessity) group works rather than the output of an individual. The role of a writer in developing new games has changed significantly over the years, with the glory days of text-adventures giving way to the effects-heavy FPS genre. Is this a retrograde move for the writer? Can we still have deep, meaningful discussions within the framework of games which exist with the direct intent of shooting as many people as possible in the face and crotch? Okay, that may be a tad unfair. There are some very intelligent games out there, and using the possibilities which an interactive narrative provides is something which needs more thought than merely setting up the reasons why the NPCs must be obliterated.

The first thing which I have to point out is in regards to in-game fiction – the metafiction – which has been underdeveloped as a tool. I remember spending as much time reading the contents of the books in Deus Ex and Fable, and reading the pads in Doom 3, as I ever spent actually trying to beat combatants. The contents of those documents were, and are, fascinating insights into the world surrounding the characters, but they always seemed to be unfinished. They were scraps rather than texts. The hint of a wider world outside of the confines of a game is, in some way, very relevant to what I have been going through regarding the novel. I pointed out how, by building the world of a story, we are slipping away from novels as single entities, and I am now of the belief that this is an area in which games so much more than they are at present. This isn’t, as much as it may seem, an attack of any sort on gaming. The prospect of something in an existing medium being fully deployed as another tool in the writers’ arsenal should be something everyone looks for, and it entirely possible now thanks to larger memory capabilities.

I thought that the reading material in games would have expanded by now, but there seems to be a hesitancy in developing any part of the game which isn’t essential in moving the story forwards to each successive climax. The “boss levels” may have died away somewhat, but the insistence on pushing the game ever-onwards has stunted the quiet moments between firefights. I like those quiet moments, so their deployment in modern games is something of a disappointment. There doesn’t even have to be much work done to fill out the in-game books, seeing as how Project Gutenberg has done all the hard work of separating the public domain titles from those still under some degree of protection. Even without resorting to the plunder of PD novels, there is a large and untapped group of short story writers who would be grateful for the exposure which ‘publication’ in a game could bring. It’s unconventional, but it’s an entirely acceptable way of breaking through the walls holding new talent back.

I’m not going to cover ARGs again, mostly because the collected thoughts of the last few posts have managed to lay out my views on the subject well enough for now, but it wouldn’t hurt games to look to the ways that ARGs have fully embraced immersive worlds. How much better would GTA4 have been if it truly blurred the edges its’ in in-game internet and the real internet? It is all to easy to see that the fiction is just that, but by engaging gamers through verisimilitude (that word again) there are untapped possibilities. Even the small concessions to reality in most games are tainted by in-jokes, references, and sly digs at the competition. Lets imagine how, if we expand the game outwith the confines of the PC, the console, and the limits of current thinking, we can begin writing a new dimension into entertainment. I’m coming back, of course, to world building again. This time, in light of what has been brought up in the last couple of posts, I’ve the feeling that I may be pushing my luck.

This is the Big Idea for the day. This is the idea which will tighten your sphincter and make you wish you never started reading these thoughts. This is the idea which has the potential to break the internet. This is… Okay, so it’s damn clever, maybe a little insane, and probably illegal in several countries, but it’s giving me immense enjoyment to have found an outlet for mega-fiction on a scale as yet untried. We know that in fiction there are several areas which are expected to be completely made-up, because saying that a well known fast-food companies’ products are dangerous is a fast road to the courts… But what if there were companies whose sole reason for existing could be to drive fiction? What if there were a few name-only companies, branded and given web identities, listed in various directories, and with supposed shareholders, employees and offices, whose sole reason for existing was to drive the narrative of story.

Think about this for a moment. I’m dead serious. Writers need companies they can say anything about, otherwise the games, novels, television shows and films they craft would be lacking in credible realism, though using fictional companies can only lend so much realism. If they could access the rights to use several companies which “exist” (at least in name only) to insert into their fiction then the problems of finding decent-sounding company names would be eliminated. Adding a further level of complexity, the companies could use the fictions crafted around them to either attack each other or to merge, making their existence a strengthener for the fiction. How many times have you seen a company mentioned in a film or television series, then hit Google looking for the company’s home page? It would add so much value to writing about business… Add a fictional stock market in there, and you have an ARG, the background for film, television and novels, a MMO, and ten kinds of interactive fiction which still requires naming.

Yes, thank you. I am a fucking genius.

####

ARG developers are advised to check out the new Transmedia Producer credit which the PGA have ratified. It legitimizes an area of writing which has long been important to the internet, and may encourage others to join me in coming up with new ways of thinking about the ways in which traditional outlets can be subverted.

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