Games and Books

I love games (roleplaying and boardgames, not so much with video games). And I love books (Science fiction and fantasy especially). So is it any surprise that I loved Iain M. Banks’ novel, Player of Games which is about a man in the far future playing an incredibly complex alien board game? I’ve only recently finished this novel and I loved it so much I wanted (briefly) to design a game like the one he played in the book, though several measures less complex and definitely with far lower stakes. This is not an in depth review of that book, though. Let’s just take for granted that I love it and move on.

My point with this post is the old hobby horse I use to argue my dislike of videogames being seen as a form of storytelling. Games can do a lot of nice things, and can deliver a lot of satisfaction, but I find the stories they deliver are almost always (exceptions abound in fact) fairly shallow. My problem with game stories is the fact they center on the emotions of challenge and victory, and imparting that directly to the player. This makes them all, without a doubt predictably exciting (should the game succeed) or predictably disappointing and frustrating (if the game-story doesn’t deliver the triumph). The promise that the game should be enjoyable and satisfying is similar to the way stories deliver their various promises to readers. My main argument is that games are always either adding triumph and becoming predictable or not adding triumph and frustrating players.

That said, I think perhaps the problem may simply be the lack of real writers behind most games. I’ve heard a lot of videogames feature stories written by computer programmers with no major experience in stories beyond films. Anyway, this is an opinion post, so I’m going to stop here. Funny how starting with something I love has led me to something I dislike except to rant about. Oh well.

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