Plays You Can Play
PD: At the rant today, Seamus Blackley, who was arguing about this from a pro-business standpoint, put out an interesting phrase: "Brokeback Mountain." Where is the "Brokeback Mountain" of games? Why isn't there a game that makes conservative people feel uncomfortable about riding horses with each other? (Laughter) And that ties into the question of storytelling; most of the storytelling in games these days is just tacked on. It might add something to the experience, but it doesn't really affect the way the player makes decisions - what we tend to call "gameplay." What do you all see as the prospects for "drama games" or "interactive storytelling"? Or whatever you want to call it. How could that be implemented?
JC: I have some experience with writing for film and television, and I also design games, and I feel they are very different beasts. Story is the spine of an entire film, it's what it's about, and then you add on the visual execution. Videogames don't need to have a story; Tetris proved that. I've been trying to find what the spine is for videogames. I think games have more to do with experience; this could be something very simple, like a child bouncing a ball. Story in games is a tool that helps to serve the desired experience.
PD: Well I'm thinking more of a fusion, where the player is a co-author.
JC: Sure, there have been lots of people who tried to do that, often a designer's goal is to make the player feel like the director or the writer. It's very hard, but many have tried.
SS: Creation and play are concepts that I think belong together, in Spanish, the terms are closely related.
CB: What words in Spanish?
SS: I can't really express in English the language concept I have in mind. But "interactive storytelling" or "drama games," thinking beyond that, I think we want games to be meaningful to people's lives. We want people to recognize that games have something to say and aren't just superficial entertainment. It doesn't have to be precisely an interactive drama. It can be, for instance, Katamari Damacy. I once read on Ron Gilbert's blog how he defined Katamari as a metaphor for Japanese consumerism, where you just keep collecting more things.
CB: I swear Takahashi had no such intention when making Katamari.
JC: Actually, last year I was at his session. Takahashi was describing what he thought were the intangibles of games. He kept joking with us, but by the end he said it was a feeling, like if you watch little kids rolling the ball, you can feel the love, this kind of childish, silly excitement. He was also talking about this at the Game Design Challenge today.
SS: He said we could save the world if there were enough gaming romantics. It's this idea that you can put a romantic feeling in a game without betraying the game. He made a game, he didn't try to make a film or a novel. A lot of games try to be films, like Metal Gear Solid - you get huge cinematics that last for three hours. MGS is the only game I'll play with popcorn. (Laughter from group) I'll think, "OK, time to see a movie." But Katamari is pure to the medium. He wanted to make a great game and he wanted to say something through a ludic metaphor or whatever you want to call it. I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's very poetic.
GC: I can't resist addressing the story vs. game issue. You have to think of games as being akin to music in this fashion. There are musical forms that are tightly connected to storytelling, such as opera, the musical, the rock and roll ballad; then there are forms where story is irrelevant.