Let those movies go!

For a very long time, game developers (and in particular, I guess, game designers and game writers) have worked to get games as close to movies as it’s possible. And, although I understand as well as support the idea behind a cinematic presentation of story elements, the comparison in my opinion breaks completely when you use it on interest curves. Some have used television series as an example, and although this works fairly well, it’s still a bit flawed. The comparison that should be made is to a medium so taken for granted we barely think about them: Books. And, more specific, novels.

“What?” you may ask. “But books are only a mass of text. Interactive fiction might fit, but not audiovisual games”. And this is the same logical trap that makes the comparison to movies appear over and over again. Because, as audiovisual as games are, they tend to be 10 to 40 hours long. A movie is for most considered too long for most if it reaches four, a length considered short for a game. This length demands of a movie to quickly get to the intrigue and get on with the story to reach the end quickly and then be over with. A TV-series demands on their cliff-hangers and plot-twists to make their viewers return after the advertisement break or next episode, and such as a peak every 15 minutes or so. And although the full length of such a series can reach 20 hours, about the length of a game, those 15-minutes frequence of peaks would make the interesting curve terrible for a game (just imagine you ran into a pack of monsters every fifteen minutes just to get a black screen a few minutes before the fight began).

Because of this need to get on with it, movies (and, although not to the fully degree, TV-series) can only scratch the surface of the world they portray, one reason to why they so often takes place in present-day reality (and, well, it’s cheaper, easier to find actors, more relevant to the general reader and a bunch of other reasons). A game, and a book, can go deeper, behind the surface, and make the world so much more believable (compare the Lord of the Rings-films with the books, or the Star Wars trilogy to Knights of the Old Republic).

So, what about books makes them so good? No, it’s not about that it’s only text. Look at how they’re structured instead. They’re divided into chapters, often ending in small hooks of curiosity (or cliff-hangers, of course) to keep your interest to the next chapter. More importantly, they’ve got the same kind of interactivity as a game in that you can quit anytime you want, insert a bookmark (“save”) and come back to the same place you were anytime you want (“load”) and keep on. And where you can return a bit in the book to regain the context, you can often check quest logs or mission objectives to remember where you are. And, perhaps most important of all: When you leave a book or a game in the middle of a storyline, don’t you often imagine ways you would want the plot to develop? I sure do, and I hope I’m not alone. This never, ever, happens in movies (or, it has, but that’s been while it was still running), because it never takes any breaks. Although that goes with TV-series, as well, you don’t get to find out until the series next episode goes, instead of whenever you want with a book or game.

Of course, with episodic games and the like, such games comes closer to TV-series, but for now the “buy and play”-model is still widely used. However if that remains for long, with digital distribution and piracy on the rise, is up for speculation. Something history have taught us all is that things can change more suddenly then anyone can guess until its happened.

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