Video Games As Literature

A reader writes:

I'm not opposed to viewing games as art -- they should be treated as such.  If Andy Warhol is art, then computer and video games are art. But making the leap to this is a mistake:

"We need more real writers getting involved in making video games, not fewer. The results could be astounding. It will happen. Elitist suspicion of a new way of storytelling will only last so long, and I doubt the next generation of writers, who grew up on the likes of Beneath A Steel Sky, would have so many prejudices. Heaven only knows what a great writer could do with this new format. I can't wait."

I am a 'real writer'.  I was a member of the WGA for a decade.  After that I worked in interactive for a decade, as a freelance writer and game designer.  I also wrote a number of papers on the critical problem in interactive entertainment, which has nothing to do with art and everything to do with what interactivity is and is not. After a solid ten years of trying to raise the level of discourse about the integration of narrative and interactivity I simply stopped trying.  Why?

Because there are very, very few people who really understand what this medium is about, while at the same time understanding how stories are made.  Not how they're written, not how they're categorized and not how they're analyzed, but how they're constructed. 

In the past ten years or so academics have fallen madly in love with what jaded interactive pioneers call 'the possibilities', but they've moved the medium nary an inch.  Why?  Because they are interested in talking about the medium, not making products.  (If you have any exposure to film criticism, for example, you'll know instantly what I mean.)  For my take on this aspect of the problem, see here.

Five years ago I was invited to work on an R&D project that I still can't talk about because of the NDA I signed.  It involved a very large software developer's attempt to merge a popular fiction writer's short fiction with the interactive medium, and we as a team were given permission to fail and fail grandly.  The only problem was that the entire conception of the project was itself fundamentally flawed -- again, because of a lack of understanding about how stories work as machinery.  It was only by chance that there was another team member (a respected and cutting-edge French developer) who saw the same problem that I saw, allowing us to make that case.  In the end the project blew up (because we exploded it), but six months later I was again asked to work on it because the other members of the team had finally realized that we were right.  I declined because they still didn't understand how impossible their goal was.

I urge you to remind yourself that serious, serious work has been done on this issue inside the industry for close to fifteen years.  It is not for lack of great writers that the medium resists progress, it is the medium itself that resists.

More background here and here.