And while in Borders the other day, I just happened to pick up a copy of Play magazine. I'd flipped through it in the past, but it never really stood out to me as exceptional (I mean, they publish the annual Girls of Gaming--like the Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit Edition of gaming journalism). But the January 2009 issue really stood out to me. And it was because, as I flipped through it, the short quotes pulled from the articles suggested that there was some deep thinking going on it that issue. I didn't have time to read it there, so I bought it, took it home, and only had my new vocational aspiration strengthened. Let me share some of those "sound bytes" with you:
"It only takes two hours to watch a movie, and most of the time each movie gets its own weekend. If it takes twenty hours to finish a game, each game should get its own month."
"Great games happen when the mechanics are the system of narrative transmission."
"If storytelling works--Braid and Portal are great examples--then the experience is only that much richer."
"Having a developer tell me what to do is like all though laugh tracks on TV trying to tell me when to laugh."
And the one that really sunk in:
"However boneheaded the subject matter, no other medium is as intimate, is as cruel, is as affectionate, is potentially--potentially!--as rewarding as the video game."
And while most of these could be considered heresy in the industry, as someone who subscribed to Nintendo Power until they delegated the magazine to another publisher, I was taken aback by the level of sophistication with which these journalists were discussing video games. Indeed, an emerging medium always struggles with its first critics because those critics lack the vocabulary with which to judge the work. They are left, then, to judge it based on its comparison to traditional mediums--art, literature, and music. And while these writers are beginning to create their vocabulary (I'm still not entirely sure what "mechanics are the system of narrative transmission" means), they're moving the conversation forward.
But that doesn't mean that I think we shouldn't, or we can't, still use the old vocabulary. For example, comics are (often, though not always) a combination of the art and the written word. It, therefore, makes sense to judge the medium's work using critiques we would use for both styles. And same is true of all mixed-media (film, music, and of course, video games).
Interestingly, as I was reading this issue of Play, I was also half-way through a sequel in a game series whose original iteration I had not played. And I remembered shortly after starting it thinking, "Man, if I turned this into a short story and handed it out to my Creative Writing workshop, I'd get reamed for terrible in medias res!" And this coming from someone who generally has trouble remembering literary terms--for those curious, the Latin phrase meaning "into the middle of things," is defined by Jack Lynch (an Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University) as "a narrative that begins, not at the beginning of a story, but somewhere in the middle — usually at some crucial point in the action. The term comes from the ancient Roman poet Horace, who advised the aspiring epic poet to go straight to the heart of the story instead of beginning at the beginning." The trick to this is telling the story in such a way so as to ensure that the reader can follow it without knowing the beginning.
After having read the articles attached to the above quotes, I got to thinking, "Why should this game by free of that criticism?" Why should any storytelling be, for that matter? This has inspired a new feature here at The Daily Pugle, in which I plan on critiquing works from the mediums that most suffer from this lack in literary education: video games, of course, but also movies and, even though Timothy Callahan beat me to the punch (or post as it were) by one day, comics. We'll see if it works, but I'm excited about it--so excited that I may rush through that game this weekend just so I can post about it here.
Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?