On another floor, a discussion is being held regarding what Interactive Storytelling really is, and if such tag could be pinned to most IF works. Well, that discussion doesn’t interest me, but it made me think of another discussion that does. I took it here so it doesn’t pollute the other thread.
Chris wrote somewhere that he wanted games to be a viable medium of artistic expression — an art form. Regarding Façade, one of the reviews stated it was the “future of video games”. Are these two things related? Is real/better interactivity necessary to make more “like art” games? My personal view is: no - the only thing for which one needs real interactivity is to produce a more interactive game. Period.
Regarding the related discussion of IF’s obligation of being more like literature, Peter (Olá, gajo!) defended it shouldn’t, but I strongly believe he missed the point, because he based his entire stand on more or less technical aspects of literature, and on “mechanical particularities of each medium”. You see, the gigantilous In Search of Lost Time, by Proust, is not considered one of the best novels ever written because of pace, well constructed sentences or an engaging story. It has “some” of those qualities, “some” of the time, of course, but it is not what it makes it stand out. Hell, regarding such, it’s not even better than your average Nik Spark most of the time! The hard truth is: it is possible to learn how to write better sentences, how to pace a narrative better, how to build better characters, how to engage the reader, etc - but you cannot learn how to write something like that (and what that infamous character was defending was that something like that exists in film and literature, but not in IF - I disagree, BTW). The mechanics of creating and consuming theater are different from those of film, which are different from those of literature, etc, but each of these mediums have many works that are viewed as artistic expression. The medium of computer games is viewed as not producing so many (if any, some will add) of these works. I don’t agree, and I’m going to talk about war to explain why.
In film, war can be used to produce action packed blockbusters, like Chuck Norris’ awesome MIA; or to produce an essay on violence, madness, absurdity and darkness, and here you have Apocalypse Now. The second is more viewed as an artistic approach to the subject than the first. But the gaming universe is seen as more prone to produce MIAs than Apocalypse Now-s, with each year seeing a handful of Modern Warfares rising, action games that make you feel like a hero for shooting cubic light-years of bad guys. Would a Modern Warfare clone be more like Apocalypse Now if one breathes true interactivity into it? Once again, I think not. But is it even possible to make a game that is similar to Modern Warfare in its mechanics, but that is received more like Apocalypse Now in any way? That, I think so.
Spec Ops: The Line, is a realistic tactical shooter as much as any other. It is even less interactive than many of its counterparts. You go around completing missions, following orders, killing moving targets with all sorts of weapons. The plot is linear, the player has little to nill agency over the actions of the PC, and there is only one moment where you can choose a different path to walk upon - and that’s the very end of the game. But The Line is considered as something different. Why? Why is it taken to be the video game equivalent of Apocalypse Now (or at least a step in the right direction)?
The authors set themselves up to produce a gaming experience that would rip the player of any ability to feel like a hero in their game, because there are no heroes in war. They wanted to address the darkness, the violence and the overall madness one experiences in real war. The trick to do this: the story, the characters, the level design, the missions, even the radio communication. It was all orchestrated to emulate a descent into the abyss, not an action-packed heroic joint. Judging from the reviews and online discussions, it worked. As a reviewer noted, the game, which manipulates the player most of the time to produce the effect it wants, has one hidden interaction ready to be used - you can stop playing at any time.
So, would this game be a better experience if it had real interactivity? Would it be more like a “serious” essay on war? Would any game be? Is real interactivity what’s missing in games so that they’re taken as a form of artistic expression?
I don’t think so.
There is also a money issue here. Most big studio films aren’t artistic essays on the human condition either - they’re entertainment pieces. There is a reason: complex films give poor boxoffice results. These usually come from independent studios/authors. With the rise of independent game designers/studios, many games are being published which are being presented and accepted more and more as a form of artistic expression. Curiously, these are coming more from visual artists than from writers.