Lightness of Being (a Gamer)

Lightness of Being (a Gamer)
I'd Rather Game than Read a Book

vincent kang | 10 Apr 2007 08:04
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Playing Knights of the Old Republic, I usually sit. My eyes are concentrated intently on the television screen. My face deadens as the audio-video presentation washes over me. The graphics are beautiful to look at, and I marvel at the technical and artistic proficiency it takes to create a living, breathing Star Wars metropolis. The controller rests in my hand. The fluidity of the controls has a subliminal effect on me. I forget what my hands are doing, and a relationship forms between my eyes and the character on the screen. Soon I'm exploring this new environment for myself. I push a button, and the lightsaber swings. Just like in the movies, it's a kinetic arc of light. I navigate my way through the city, making mental notes as to what's where and where I am. As I begin to interact more with the characters on-screen, I find myself wondering about their motivations, if they're going to betray me or if I can betray them.

The stories in both Heir to the Empire and Knights of the Old Republic are both well-crafted, with clever twists and turns to keep the user on his toes. Yet I find the game more satisfying. Books are limited by what the reader has to draw upon in imagining scenes. Adjectives are subject to diminishing returns. Timothy Zahn, the author of Heir to the Empire, could write 100 adjectives in 100 sentences, and he still wouldn't be able to describe every last pixel in every last corner of a single moment in Knights of the Old Republic.

The great fallacy in the knee-jerk prestige granted to books is the notion that an imagined story is somehow superior to a realized one. Apply this reasoning to other art forms, and it soon becomes ridiculous. What if, instead of painting the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci had written a description of what the painting might look like? What if Francis Ford Coppola had decided The Godfather was best left as a novel? What if the Beatles, instead of releasing albums, released sheet music? Videogames are an amalgam of painting, sculpture, filmmaking and yes, book writing. Why should they be treated any differently?

If videogames can outshine books in sci-fi storytelling, how might they fare in other fields? Could there ever be a videogame that delivers the same impact as Franzen's The Corrections? With metaphor substituting for thought, yes, I think so. As technology advances and development tools become more accessible, the technical barriers to transforming visions into videogame will fade away. Perhaps, instead of asking if fiction is too hard, Franzen should be pondering a jump to the new storytelling order: the lowly videogame.

Vincent Kang is a freelance writer for The Escapist.

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