This is an article about “The Last of Us” game and show. The premise is that games necessarily have bad stories because they require the player to walk around and perform (often boring and shallow) actions. It was not a very good article.
Ian Bogost is not a troll, per se, but I’m pretty sure he’d rather post something provocative than admit liking anything.
It is so hard to get people to play really good games because they are so programmed to believe that every video game is Grand Theft Auto. I finally got my Aunt to play House of da Vinci and she was really unwilling at first because she was just sure that she’d have to beat up a hooker at some point. Sigh. And most people can’t even compute that there are narrative-driven games.
The major newspapers, which cover music and dance and visual art and theater, etc, don’t even have dedicated sections for covering games. For instance, here’s the New York Time’s “gaming” section. The latest article is from 2021.
What is up with this attitude about gaming from the media?
I would never have guessed that the author was involved in game design based on this article (or others I’ve read in the Atlantic by him). It’s bittersweet to have the popular media discussing narrative in games on one hand and to do it in such a narrow and small way on the other.
Bogost, who can be willfully obtuse at times, already knows that the narrative satisfactions of interactive media are not the same as those offered by television (since that’s the medium he chooses to lift up). The Last of Us is a well-loved video game that features a linear narrative with high production values. People like that; Sony and HBO wouldn’t have made the tv show otherwise. It’s easy to say “this thing is bad at being something it isn’t,” but getting paid to say so in the Atlantic is quite an achievement.
It’s much more difficult than completing The Last of Us’s infamous “grounded” difficulty setting, which can be quite punishing.
I feel like that is less of an achievement in the Atlantic of recent years than it once would have been, sadly. It hasn’t gone full Slate-pitchy but there have been more steps taken on that road than I’d like.
Ha! A fair point
To name a few IF games with celebrated linear stories - Planetfall, A Mind Forever Voyaging. He seems to be arguing that the things that make a fun game mechanic are external actions like fighting and exploring which are tedious in a traditional story and fail to encompass more interesting internal actions, and that game stories are damaged in service to those mechanics (eg making the player feel powerful).
I’ve spent some time with those games. I wouldn’t say that those stories are linear in the sense that The Last of Us is, but I also don’t think that intersects with Bogost’s argument (or with as much of it as I can see).
I guess an interesting and more limited question is whether he is correct that linear action focused games (like many big studio games) cannot have good stories. I would argue that external actions can indicate internal states as well as if not better than whatever the alternative is.
As for what makes a linear vs nonlinear story I would look at the main plot and see if it branches. Things that complicate this could include parallel side quests/subplots/puzzles that can be done in an arbitrary order and an open world to explore. These might be in some sense more free and interesting than a branching but railroaded story, but I would consider the main story to be linear.
Looks interesting. I just purchased a copy for my iPad. If it’s good, there are two sequels.
I would argue that, regardless of linearity, any game that is making good use of interactivity is going to have a story that feels a little lacking in a strictly faithful adaptation into a non-interactive medium, because it’s missing whatever the interactivity added. I think this contributes to the tendency of film and TV adaptations of video games to be terrible (though, not being interested in TLOU, I can’t say if that’s the case here). But that’s not the same thing as the story being bad in its original context.
Ultimately, I think different mediums have different aesthetics, so saying that “playing this game isn’t like watching TV” is not an interesting assertion. Of course games aren’t the same experience, just like painting isn’t like dance. This isn’t a new idea; it’s Aristotelian.
Different people will prefer different mediums more and less, which is all to the good. Life and art are more interesting that way.
I just wish games weren’t such a red-headed stepchild in the art world. I mean, if you don’t prefer it, rock on. Not everybody likes Van Gogh’s art. I just don’t like the constant signaling that they are less than art.
Gosh, this is still a problem these days?!
I don’t get it anyway, as I’ve always enjoyed the stories in GTA games.
From reading the article, I got the distinct impression that he was admitting to liking the third episode of the show.
Even more so when:
The Gaming Industry Is Now Bigger Than Movies And Music.. Combined.
FWIW, New Scientist has had a games page for a while. I seldom read it because I’m generally not interested in modern, big-budget, 3D graphics games, which seems to be all it covers. (Granted NS doesn’t qualify as a major newspaper!)