Does “Good Writing” Mean Something Different for Video Dames than for Novels?

For all of the storytelling opportunities that videogames offer, I have to recognize a serious flaw they face: they are frequently poorly written. Most FPS games don’t even have a plot or characters, and if they do, they aren’t exactly well-crafted. The biggest efforts I’ve seen at developing a great deal of story come in the RPG and RTS games- Blizzard’s Starcraft and World of Warcraft come to mind.

Some might argue that because all stories are fundamentally, even necessarily, formulaic, this can’t be a complaint. What, then, really differentiates the lore of League of Legends (The Journal of Justice) from Dickens or Tolstoy or Austen? If videogames can be art (as I’ve contended) and videogames are “phenomenal” storytelling media, what do we need to have a Great American Videogame?

Subject matter is one key component. I think Deus Ex: Human Revolution poses some fantastic questions and deals with relevant and deep issues. Like other classic examples of literature, it explores the human condition and asks basic questions about life and being.

Great literature uses devices of language, imagery, symbolism, and so forth to present multiple layers of material. Videogames have settings, but do the settings take on their own meaning the way that locations do in The Great Gatsby or Cold Mountain or The Odyssey? I would like to see videogames make more use of the cinematic qualities of the game. Writers may repeat phrases, words, or constannts or vowels to create a layer of depth to their text. Directors use a camera angle, a sound, a color, or a light level to the same effect. Videogames could surely find something similar to add depth and significance to the experience.

Characters might be the most difficult element to tackle in videogames, yet they are often the most salient feature of novels. For me, this seems to be the biggest difficulty in creating a literary videogame: allowing for characters that grow and develop in meaningful ways. Moral choice systems are a good attempt at this kind of development, but these systems tend to fall short because they only recognize extremes and come packaged with immutable judgments about morality that lack the kind of robust discussion that might be packaged into good literature (e.g., a videogame might decide it is wrong TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but it would miss out on a discussion of why this is wrong and would fail to provide an analogy of this act to the larger story arc in the game- or even differentiate it from shooting a rabid dog in a populated area).

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What should I do with all these books?

 I have amassed a small library of books over the years. I relocate and travel often. Also, I have more books than I have the time to read (especially as the list of books grows longer while my time grows shorter). Quite simply: I just can’t read all of them! Especially because I can hardly read more than 5 pages at a time before I get too involved in the ideas and want to put the book down and go think about what I’ve read.  I have to wonder: Would it even be worth it if I could read all of them? What would I gain from reading them? Do I really need to keep them- won’t we have digitized copies of pretty much all works soon enough? (And they might be ctrl+F searchable!) I want the knowledge in those books, certainly, but I ask: 1) Is that knowledge really worth the effort required to get it?  If it is a work in the subject of technology (comprising a large chunk of my library), books over 5 years old feel outdated and quaint- and possibly no longer correct. 2) If reading is no longer worth the effort, how can I improve my mind and expand my knowledge? What should I read instead? How shall I learn and grow?

My mother (a baby boomer) recently told me that she felt an increasing alienation from books as they move onto digital formats that are foreign to her and difficult for her to use. She feels some sense of growing illiterate- of leaving half a century of enjoying many, many books, into a future where reading is difficult, arduous labor once again. Academics sometimes talk about “digital literacy,” but they often mean being able to comfortably use digital technology to achieve goals. Digital literacy might be taking on a new meaning as we become a world in which merely knowing words and having a background in literature is no longer enough to “read.” What a paradox: for the tools supposed to help us grasp information to alienate us from knowledge!