There’s a fascinating piece in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly about game designer Jonathan Blow, creator of acclaimed game Braid. There’s much in there about the world of gaming and the evolution of the form, but what stands out is the discussion of the need for games to develop their own artistic sensibilities, rather than inherit concepts from other media:
Blow envisions future games that deliver experiences as poignant and sublime as those found through literature and film, but expressed in ways distinctive to games. “If the video game is going to be used for art purposes, then it has to take advantage of its form in some way particular to that medium, right?” he told me. “A film and a novel can both do linear storytelling, but novels are very strong at internal mental machinations—which movies suck at—and movies are great at doing certain visual things. So the question is: Where are games on that same map?”
Precisely. All media – platforms, or whatever – have their own advantages and disadvantages; trying to shoe-horn content from one to another is akin to trying to get oil paintings to mimic photography (or vice versa.) Or hanging on to story forms developed for print in a digital world.
As (Blow’s friend Chris) Hecker explained it: “Look, film didn’t get to be film by trying to be theater. First, they had to figure out the things they could do that theater couldn’t, like moving the camera around and editing out of sequence—and only then did film come into its own.” This was why Citizen Kane did so much to put filmmaking on the map: not simply because it was well made, but because it provided a rich experience that no other medium before it could have provided.
And digital information/news is as different a beast from print (or broadcast) as film is from theater. That’s not news to anyone, but we’ve tended to focus on speed and reach as the key characteristics of the new medium, and while those are important, so too is persistence of information and the ability to find it on demand. Not to mention interactivity, personalization and a host of other capabilities.
News organizations have tried to address those issues by providing archives and goosing search capabilities, allowing users to build stock portfolios, building nifty interactive graphics, and so on; but these have often been bolted on the side of a classic newspaper-like treatment of information – akin to filming a stage drama with a couple of different camera angles, rather than re-envisioning the entire production.
And similarly, we as an industry we haven’t really been willing to give up our newspaper-derived conventions about information or delved into fundamental building blocks of information – stories – and thought about how well they really serve this new age.