A Game Changer

As Thanksgiving Day festivities (read: I ate entirely too much food) drew to a close late last night, I was in a conversation with a family member about video games. Some of the family were leaving a couple of hours from that time to arrive at a Back Friday sale at midnight to pick up a video game that has, apparently, been long anticipated by gamers. We talked about how I’ve always sort of found video games to be time-wasters, and that I’ve always had better things to do with my time. Its not that I think gamers are weird or anything…I have a lot of friends that are gamers. And while I was heavily into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons when I was young, video games just aren’t anything that have ever interested me.

The other family members in the conversation, though, offered a different perspective. They find video games to be interactive storytelling. They describe detailed world-building, beautiful artwork, and an experience that is never the same twice, because the player will make different decisions that alter the outcome of the story in different ways…not dissimilar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of old.

This intrigued me, because this is similar to the theatre experience. Live performances are never the same twice. Different plays are interpreted differently by different directors and actors. The same cast will experience completely different performances on different nights because of different audiences, the reactions of whom are necessary for the complete experience, and alter each play considerably.

So, I thought, if you view video games in this light, then they begin to look like very legitimate forms of art: in the words of my family member, a form of storytelling with “more depth.” In fact, I think of schools with MFA in creative writing programs that offer coursework in writing for games.

So, to complete my education, the family pointed me toward some video samples of some of their favorite games.

Storytelling? Sounds interesting to me. And, just to appreciate the artistry of the worlds that are built for these games, I was impressed by the detail and the beauty of this one:

I was thinking about the wealth of creative talent involved in this last clip: the digital animators, the musicians, the voice actors, the writers, the post-production technicians. This is on par with an animated short, at least. And when I think about writing a story with so many possible twists and turns that can change with interactivity, I suddenly find myself very appreciative of the specific skills required.

So, while I doubt seriously that I’ll ever become a gamer, and while I’m still troubled by the many cases of video game addiction that can plague those who invest too much time these worlds, I’m thinking that this possibility exists with any creative endeavor, and any participation in alternate fictional worlds. That doesn’t, I suppose, make the participation itself a bad thing. So, the result of my 2011 Thanksgiving holiday is to find a new appreciation for the art of video games.

Learning something new is a beautiful thing.

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