Books vs. Video Games: Round 1: FIGHT!

 

DISCLAIMER:

So as not to incur the wrath of the Mass Effect 3 people who keep visiting my literary blog for some reason, I need to make a few points clear: I don’t want any comments stating that I am comparing apples to oranges. Yes, the mediums are different, but I can still compare the two (example: apples are crunchy, oranges not so much). That leads to my second point: Don’t bother telling me it’s all my opinion; duh, I already know that. Everything is opinion. Third: Don’t bother telling me I can enjoy both. It adds nothing to the discussion and I know that already, and I do (enjoy both).

Let me also begin by stating I am a gamer. While I don’t play as much as I used to, I frequented the arcade every weekend before home consoles were a thing (Atari doesn’t count). I remember chugging 15 dollars worth of tokens in one sitting just to beat Adon from Street Fighter (1, not 2). I owned the Atari 2600, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and every Nintendo console since (this Christmas I got the Wii U). I owned the Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Playstation 1 and 2, an X-Box and the X-Box 360. I’ve spent close to ten grand upgrading various computers just to play games. My first was a Commodore Amiga with 500 Kilobytes of RAM. Long story short, I know games. But I also know books. I love both, but in the end, books edges out games for me by a slim margin. Here’s why:

Books have better stories: Most games have very little story or none at all, or if they attempt something grand, the plot is often nonsensical (I am looking at you, Japanese RPG’s). Even games with great story telling (Eternal Darkness, Metal Gear Solid, Red Dead Redemption) typically manage to meet only the basic criteria for written fiction. As gamers, we often give video games a free pass in the story department, as if we cannot expect too much from something that requires colored buttons or a keyboard. Sure, put Deus Ex Machina up against 50 Shades of Grey, and I’ll take the action RPG any day, but we’re talking about the majority here. Put it this way, a good story in a game is a plus, but in a book it’s mandatory. That’s all the book has to offer. Story always ranks high on gamers’ list of priorities. It’s always a series like Mass Effect that gets people riled up to the point where they’ll argue endlessly on other people’s blogs and make YouTube videos to prove a point. Story matters to gamers, but the best stories aren’t found in games. Now you may be thinking: Books have better stories now, but just you wait until the future; games are getting better at it everyday, and I agree. But story in gaming will always be limited to the strictures of play. No matter the game, every developer needs to give the player something to do, some way to interact with the images on the screen. But this is a double edged sword, because the freedom of control also limits what can happen in a story. Imagine a game based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. SPOILER ALERT: The story ends badly, really badly. Not only that, but the protagonist, Hester Prynne, doesn’t do a damn thing about it (Mass Effect fanatics who hate nihilistic endings would be very angry about this). Hester Prynne is, in essence, a powerless character that no gamer would put up with (again, see Mass Effect 3). It’s a no-win situation, a lose-lose scenario. Powerlessness is the theme of the novel, but you can’t build a game around powerlessness or quiet, internal suffering.

Books are easy: I love a good challenge, but I often find gaming to be a chore. The first time I booted up Skyrim, I was blown away. The visuals were absolutely stunning. But as first impressions wore off, after the detailed graphics and open ended world failed to wow me, I wanted to know more about my character. What was her motivation? Why should I care about anyone or anything in this Viking inspired world? And why do people keep calling her naked when I can’t even take off her underwear? In time, the story devolved to little more than collecting junk so I could trade it for money, so I could then buy upgrades to go back into the wild to kill more things and collect more junk. Just as with Mass Effect, the cut scenes tell a story, but those scenes do nothing but mask the repetition of game play. I often wished I could just skip the itemizing, buying, selling, trading, and not to mention clicking the right trigger until the monster on the screen keels over, and just get to the damn story. Some games, like Final Fantasy, are even worse. I remember spending close to a hundred hours (that I’ll never get back) in Greece trying to beat FFVII (considered the best in the series). Unfortunately, I wasn’t a high enough level to get to the end, and when I returned home from vacation, the stupid European save card didn’t work. YouTube aside, I’ll never know how it ends. Had it been a book, I could have taken the thing on the plane and read all about Cloud defeating Sephiroth.

Books are educational: Yes, I’ve learned a lot from games, like real world racing techniques from Gran Turismo and Roman war strategy from Centurion (really old game, don’t bother looking it up). But learning things from games is the exception. How much real world knowledge do you get playing Halo, Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter? If anything, you might come away with a very skewed understanding of life. Someone who has only experienced World World II via Call of Duty might think winning a war is aiming well and taking cover. Read a book about World War II, on the other hand, and you will no doubt be better informed about the politics, economy, geography, the supply lines, and all the other factors which determined the war’s outcome. Play almost any Sci-Fi shooter, and you will learn next to nothing about astronomy. There may be a bit of real science in Mass Effect, but it doesn’t compare to what you would learn from Ben Bova, Arthur C. Clarke, or Isaac Asimov. Oh, and don’t try punching and kicking a car to pieces, you’ll only break your fists.

Books are numerous: There are more than a million books in the world. Anything you can conceive of, you’ll find it, and plenty of it. Enjoy gritty, dark fantasy with real world undertones? There are enough authors churning out that kind of work, on a monthly basis, to keep you occupied for life. Games worth playing, on the other hand, are often rare; and if you have very specific tastes, say, a sexy vampire romance set in the 18th century Europe, good luck finding a game version of it (or a decent one at that).

Books are timeless: Remember how cool Doom was? With its amazing 360 degree first person perspective, its array of guns and all those scary demons coming after you—a true video game classic. But wait. How often do you play Doom? Or any video game classic, like Pong, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga? I am sure there are a lot of nostalgic gamers who will be leaving me comments like, “I love Doom! I play it every night!” But let’s be realistic. Doom is old and outdated. What made it popular, cutting edge technology, is cutting edge no more. Gamers today spend way more time on Halo, Gears of War or Bioshock. But someday, Halo will be where Doom is now, looking old and outdated, and only the few nostalgic people who want to relive their youth will be playing it. Look at it another way. Go into a game store. Any game store. Do they sell Doom? Probably not. If they do, it’s like ten cents. Now go into any bookstore. Do they still sell Frankenstein? Tarzan? Lord of the Rings? They sure do. What’s more, though Frankenstein was written in 1818, it frequently sells at new book prices, because a good story told well is unaffected by advances in book making technology. I like to know that when I am an old fart, I can still teach my grandkids about the literary classics, which will hold up just as well as whatever new novel about sexy vampires has hit the shelves. Zelda on Wii, on the other hand, will not look so impressive compared to the holographic-projection contact lenses they’ll be wearing.

Bottom line: I love games and I love books, but if I were stranded on an island, let’s say it’s a Greek island with a beautiful beach, and I could only choose to have a copy of Lord of the Rings or The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, I think I’d go with the book, or better yet, plenty of pens and paper to make my own books. Besides, no electricity.

Post Script: I hate to have to do this again, but this post is closed to comments. I had hoped to engage in some lively discussion regarding the merits of books vs. the merits of games, but unfortunately, I have to deal with immature, uneducated, and obsessive fans of Mass Effect 3, who plague my blog like a cancer. I never find this kind of radical thinking when I discuss books with readers. The flexibility of the blank page and the range of story telling it allows makes readers much more open minded to differences of opinion and perspective. I have yet to deal with enraged Game of Thrones fans who disagree with my criticisms; if anything, I’ll get a simple, “Well, I enjoyed it,” or “I didn’t feel that way” and that’s it. Even in college, no teacher or student ever tried to prove a story good or bad.

As for Mass Effect, I have never met people with such devotion outside of religious debate, abortion, the gun debate, and perhaps the Star Wars movies. For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone should care about a video game to such an extent. I think of the hundreds of wasted hours and the thousands of keystrokes lent to the task of proving something that cannot be proven, and I am saddened by the poor state of humanity. It would seem that in this country there is an overall lack of critical thinking skills, and that in our schools, we need to start teaching logic and stress the scientific method. One of my friends is studying to be a philosophy professor and this issue comes up all the time.

For me, the ending of Mass Effect 3 is about as important as a bag of potato chips. I understand that people have strong feelings because fiction is a powerful thing—it’s one of the themes of my blog, but obsessing over an action RPG like ME3 is like obsessing over the latest episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. It’s juvenile, plain and simple. I agree that the ending could have been better, but it’s hard for me to care when I never took it seriously for a moment. As I mentioned in this post, story in games suffer from the strictures of game play, and that is no more apparent than in Mass Effect 3. Imagine a novel where every single conflict boiled down to a shootout. How would that read?

Shepard ducked for cover. He pulled out his pistol, squeezed off a number of rounds. The alien from behind the crates on the opposite end of the hanger fired back. “More shooting . . .” Shepard grumbled to himself. Is there any end to it? If there was only another way to deal with conflicts. Why couldn’t they get some robots to do the job? Or buy some mechs? Hell, Earth had remote drones in the 20th century, yet here he was on foot, Captain of the Normandy, the last great hope for the planet Earth and his entire species . . . dodging energy blasts and without a helmet! To his left, Shepard could see Miranda, the love of his life, lying dead on the floor. It didn’t phase him much since it happened all the time. But without her help, he knew, he’d lack the fire power to fend off the Reaper onslaught. Quickly, he ran over her body, and just as quickly she jumped back up and started shooting again. Thank God, Shepard thought. 

Meanwhile, back on the Normandy, the rest of Shepard’s crew sat at their desks, staring blankly at their computer screens, unable to help their commander in any way. They were unable to violate “Einstein’s Third Law of Character Dispensation” which states that only three people can leave a spaceship, on foot, at any given time . . . even though, on occasion, they did leave the ship to go on shore leave on the Citadel. So maybe they were all just cowards, except when they weren’t . . .

See what I mean? If I wrote a story like that, I’d be laughed at by every editor, agent and publisher in the country. And yet, this is the great story preceding Mass Effect 3, the end of which somehow ruins the epic. Sorry, I never took it seriously from day one, which is why the finale did not ruin my life. It was a fun adventure. The graphics were nice. The action was intense. The story was existent, which is more than I can say for most games, and that was it.

If anything bothers me, it’s the fact that I have to define what opinion and subjective means, over and over, which may be symptomatic of a larger problem in our society. If people cannot even understand these fundamentals of critical thinking, how can they hope to apply themselves to the larger and more pressing issues plaguing our world?

21 thoughts on “Books vs. Video Games: Round 1: FIGHT!

  1. Excuse me, but i'm afraid you're wrong on several things.

    You claimed consistency wasn't important in stories. Do you maintain this ? Do you retcon stuff in your stories ?

    “It's a no-win situation, a lose-lose scenario. Powerlessness is the theme of the novel, but you can't build a game around powerlessness or quiet, internal suffering.”

    wrong, “spec ops the line” proves it.

    I'm afraid your argument about games being generally inferior in story comes from, well, just a lack of experience in games really, there are quite a few classics you missed.

    That's like me saying books are inferior to video games if i played fallout, and other masterpieces, and only read twilight.

    I'm afraid that if you think mass effect 3 story was good, you're missing out on way better games.

    Note aswell, you can have a subjective opinion and an objective one about games.
    You liked Mass effect 3, fair enough, your tastes, not much to argue with.
    On the other hand, you said you weren't bothered with inconsistencies. So you admit there were some, the game is objectively inconsistent.

    I'm afraid by saying that everything is subjective, you harm writing by trying to defend it. If everything is subjective, how can one improve ? If a writer bothers to make a developped world, and makes sure there are no retcons, you think it's not oobjectively better than someone who writes without thinking back on his lore or the implications ?

    By that logic, saying Asimov is superior to Meyer is subjective and not true ?

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  2. Oh no! It's the return of the crazy Mass Effect 3 people . . . !!!

    Have you been waiting all this time to slip in your argument? Don't you have anything better to do? Look, I am not about to begin that stupid debate again. Do you hear me? Mass Effect 3 is done and over with. Move on. Get a life. The End. FINITO!!!

    Secondly, did you even bother to read my entire post? I've played literally hundreds of games. I do know games. Spec Ops in no way compares to “The Scarlet Letter.” You are confusing “fighting a losing battle” with powerlessness which is a totally different genre. Let me make it real simple for you: Do you do things in Spec Ops? If the answer is yes, you missed my point entirely.

    And yes, everything is subjective. Everything. But this is not the point of this post, is it? You are sneaking in arguments that I have long decided to quit arguing. As for Meyer vs. Asimov, I am willing to bet all the money in my bank account I can find thousands of people who think Meyer is a better writer. They're called teenage girls. Are teenage girls wrong or are they just stupid? No. They just like different things.

    PS: I thought Mass Effect 3 was a great game with a great story.

    NOW MASS EFFECT 3 PEOPLE, STOP posting here!!!

    Thank You.

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  3. Actaully, i care about objectivity, because denying it is like abandonning discernement. I happened to see a link to your blog, if you don't want comments about storytelling, why make a blog ?

    This isn't just ME3, it's about storytelling

    Saying you played 100 of games doesn't prove anything, is this an argument of authority ?
    You said nothing about true classics like fallout and baldur's gate. Arcade games aren't exactly comparable.

    Well no, again, you admit there were inconsistencies, right or wrong ? A story without inconsistencies is better than one with, right or wrong ?

    You not minding about a flaw doesn't mean it isn't a flaw. Everything isn't subjective. Again, how does a writer improve if everything is subjective ?

    Did you read correctly ? liking something =/= saying it's good. I like some fast food from time to time but it's objectively bad food.
    First, not all teenage girls like twilight, this is a bad generalisation.
    Whether they like it or not doesn't say anything about the quality of the story. If you want to use popularity as argument, then ME3 is bad because of the shitstorm.
    They're wrong if they think it's great writing. They have every right to like it, nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure.

    Seriously, dare tell me that Asimov isn't superior to Meyer. I dare you. No self respecting writer would say this. I wonder what your books look like.

    Contrary to you, i look for truth. I don't swallow convenient bs because of fear to be proven wrong or to look open minded and tolerant.

    food for thought
    http://youtu.be/b_W4EV-ikJY?t=3m27s

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  4. oh, and if you dare say asimov isn't superior to meyer, tell me how her work can compare to asimov, or her qualities.

    Funny that you say games are inferior to books for story. I thought everything was subjective to you ?

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  5. My entire post is subjective (opinion) hence the disclaimer at the top, remember? You need to learn to read more carefully.

    And yes, playing a hundred games does not make me an authority, but it discredits your earlier claim about me not having enough gaming experience. How many games do I need play, a thousand, before I should agree with you? I've played a variety of games, mostly PC, but also on home consoles. I've played “Baldur's Gate”. Its story is OK, but in no way compares to a novel like “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones”.

    There are a million elements that can make a reader think a story is good or bad. Typically, inconsistency is frowned upon, but then again, it has been used to good effect in “Catch-22” or “Alice in Wonderland” where inconsistency was the theme. While you focus on inconsistency, others pay attention to emotion, writing quality, character arcs, symbolism, etc. Writers strive to get better, as I have, but no writer can become objectively good; that is impossible. Many books considered masterpieces by some are hated by others. Many popular books like “Twilight” are considered trash by the literary elite while classics like “Moby Dick” is rarely loved by the general public. IT'S ALL JUST OPINION! The only thing a writer can hope to do is find a market for his or her own work—to find people willing to shell out their hard earned cash for whatever it is he or she is working on. Look, this is something I've been studying my entire life . . . I think I know more than you about writing, story telling and subjectivity.

    I personally agree that Asimov is a better writer than Meyer, so what? What does that prove? Absolutely nothing. He's better for me and for you, but not everyone. People have different tastes. I defer to my earlier post about this very subject, “Twilight Fans are OK with Me.”

    I look for truth also. But saying you can prove an opinion isn't truth, that's BS. Now I don't want to argue Mass Effect 3 with you or anyone else anymore.

    This discussion is closed (I will be monitoring comments henceforth).

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  6. I'm not arguing Mass effect 3 specifically.

    Again, liking something =/= saying it's good.

    Yes, if inconsistency is the theme, obviously they're not bad, but otherwise, it's bad.

    Lemme remind you you said the star wars prequel were unfairly hated. What's the point of your opinion if everything is subjective ?
    What do you find good in the star wars prequel ?

    “How many games do I need play, a thousand, before I should agree with you?”

    you should just play enougn classics and compare them to games you praise.

    BG2 is certainly better story wise than any of the star wars prequel.

    Don't you have an editor, that criticize your work when there is something wrong with it ? What's his opinion on it?

    Yes, Asimov is objectively good. Whether you like his books is a different matter.
    Again, stop mixing feeling and qualities. There are reference. People have been telling stories for centuries, it's only logical we have guidelines for what makes an objectively good or coherent story. Again, not the same as liking something.

    ” I think I know more than you about writing, story telling and subjectivity. “

    Oh ? would you care to objectively prove this to me ? is this an argument of authority ?

    “But saying you can prove an opinion isn't truth, that's BS”

    oh ? since when ? You definately seems to go against common sense and to abandon you discernement

    My opinion is that Electronic arts is a bad company, because they lie about their products, make day 1 dlc, turn every franchise into action games. Here, opinion proved.

    My opinion is that EA is strongly disliked. My opinion is proved by the special unpopularity award they won.

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  7. I defend the Star Wars Prequels and all my reviews (I have an entire book review section) with the caveat that those are my opinions only. You are free to argue night and day that Mass Effect 3 is terrible, but you will never be able to prove it. You will never convince anyone who enjoyed ME3 that their feelings about it were in error. The only reason I bother to review books are for those people unsure of whether or not they will enjoy it. For this post, I hoped to have a little fun and possibly help gamers who do not read a lot give reading a chance. If I wanted to prove things, I'd be a scientist.

    See, you say BG2 is better than the Star Wars Prequels. I don't agree. Who is right? How do we prove it? In the history of mankind, nobody has ever proven an opinion. If this were possible, there would be no religious conflicts. Look at the history of art and literature. When Picasso unveiled his cubist work, all of Europe thought he'd made a kid's painting. It had nothing of what art critics considered objective standards. It did not adhere to principles of perspective; it was simple and juvenile. Picasso broke with all traditions. We see the same Van Gogh (who died broke and a failure) and Rodin (who died a failure). “Moby Dick” was considered a failure by both critics AND the public and Melville died broke and a failure. Do you see a recurring theme? If art can be judged objectively, none of these things would have been possible. So what happened? People's perspectives changed. The standards that seemed objective were no longer deemed absolute—and the public found other qualities to appreciate.

    People have been telling stories for centuries, but do you know how those story telling qualities have changed? In Ancient Greece, in Homer and with the Greek tragedians, writing melodrama and on philosophy was a good thing, now writers are told to avoid it. In the 1930's, people preferred poetic styles with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard and Tolkien—then modern writers came along like Hemingway who did away with adjectives and adverbs. Case in point: people's interests change. Have you read “The Iliad”? “Gilgamesh”? all the books of the “The Bible”? Doubtful … but even so, most people find those classics long and boring and too esoteric. And I would not doubt that in another thousand years, people may find “Game of Thrones” boring too, who knows?

    You are entitled to your opinions. You are entitled to hate EA and never buy their products again. That is what subjectivity means. But you will never in a million years convince me to agree and therefore your “opinion” cannot be proved. You seem to lack a fundamental understanding of what “opinion” and “proof” means. I feel like I am arguing with a child here. See, when you prove something, there can be no more debating the issue. I can use a simple scientific experiment to prove that two objects, regardless of weight and air friction, fall at the same speed. After demonstrating this, I will have proven it to you, and you will no longer be able to debate the issue. Popular opinion cannot disprove physics. Everyone on Earth could disagree with my findings, but all that matters in this case is evidence.

    Whether EA is a bad company or a good company cannot be proven either way, because it isn't something that can be tested scientifically. Sure, you can makeup your own test, but the test would be biased based on what values you feel matter most (therefore subjective). I believe EA is a good company based on my own criteria. I enjoy their games and cannot wait to play more of them.

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  8. If you truly think all of it is subjective, why did you argue on your blog about a review who said your book was fairly classical/generic ? Isn't that subjctive ?

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  9. OK, I think this question deserves a response, but from now on please try to watch the typos. It's annoying to read.

    I argue many things from a subjective viewpoint. I am entitled to have an opinion and to defend that opinion. I can tell you why I like or don't like something and list the reasons. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that I can never be proven correct. We must recognize that our opinions are based on our knowledge and experience. You feel that a good story must be consistent. But some of the very best books and movies have major flaws. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the most flawed pieces of fiction I know. For Yoda, “size matters not” except when it's the Death Star. Gandalf can call giant eagles to help him except when it comes to flying to Mordor. Do these flaws ruin the stories? No. Consistency, though important, is just one of many qualities. No story has it all. Some are well written but lack interesting characters. Others are poorly written but have great plotting.

    I defended my book against comments I believed to be untrue. One reader complained about too many breast references, even though, in 144,000 words, I mentioned breasts 6 times. Is that 6 too many? Maybe for him. I'd argue it's not enough because I like breasts. You see? It's all subjective. Notice how I never state anywhere in my blog that my book is great (only that I believe in it). I strive to make it better and hope others will like it. My goal is not to reach some objective measure of “good” because no such thing exists. What I am trying to do is find people who share the same opinion as I do as to what constitutes great fiction. Try as I might, I will never get everyone on Earth to agree that my book is great. Many people will hate it. Others will love it.

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  10. How can you make your book better then ? You can make it appealing to a wider audience/more popular, but otherwise, better is subjective aswell.
    How can you convince anyone that your book will interest them if all its qualities are subjective ?
    You might have worked your ass off to describe an original creature or landscape, but then if it's subjective, anyone can claim it's actually overdone stuff

    Didn't yoda say size matter not regarding the force ?

    It's easy to see why Gandalf can't call the birds to fly to mordor i think. They would be murdered by the orcs bowmen and the flying mounts of the nazguls.

    Even then, that'd be one occurence. That doesn't necessarily shatter suspension of disbelief.

    The problem with your vision is that then every discussion we can have over medias boils down to “I like this, dislike that”.

    Not exactly deep or fulfilling i would say.

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  11. You are correct, “better” is subjective. Good is subjective. You can only strive to meet criteria based on your own views and others of like minds. For instance, I enjoy a certain type of fantasy/adventure story reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs mixed with a bit of Lovecraft, Robert Howard and George Martin. Based on what I know and like of these books, and what others say of these books, I can try to create something similar. However, I'll likely never succeed to win over as fans people who hate fantasy or think Burroughs and Lovecraft boring. Critics may argue that (again subjectively) my efforts to emulate said authors fails. You could say, “Well, 99% of all the people who read your book hated it” and that would be a factual statement, but for the 1% of people who love the book, the book is good, and no amount of evidence can disprove or discredit their assessments.

    Yes, size matters not, but Yoda cannot use the Force to push the Death Star into the red gas giant of Yavin.

    And didn't Gandalf use his staff to ward off the nazgul? Even if the eagles dropped the wizard, it'd still be a lot easier than walking. It's a flaw. Tolkien only put it in there because at the last minute he could not bring himself to kill Sam and Frodo.

    Yes, “I like this, dislike that” is right. But you can still state reasons and make explanations and have discussions. Such discussions can be rewarding and fulfilling. Better than nonsensically trying to “prove” your opinion is correct with a stupid, immature, never ending argument (that I should know better than to keep responding to).

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  12. Just to be clear: I have never played Mass Effect 3, and I do not care about Mass Effect 3.

    “How would that read?” Not a valid argument. It isn't valid because it does not apply. Video games are not books, they are not meant to be read. Different mediums have different languages. Just as books and movies have languages distinct to them, so too do video games. The stories in books are told through descriptive terms and character reactions. The stories in movies are told through imagery and sound. The stories in video games are told through interaction and choice. My point: you can't judge one medium by the standards of another medium. Books can only be judged by book standards, video games can only be judged by video game standards. If you judged a video game by the standards of a book, the video game would fail because it doesn't “read” well. If you judged a book by the standards of a video game, it would fail because there is no interactivity whatsoever.

    Mass Effect 3 would make a terrible book? Well, The Scarlet Letter would make a terrible game. You know what else would make a terrible game? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Cats.

    Let me tell you about a game called The Stanley Parable. In it, a narrator directs the player through a story. At certain points, the player may choose to deviate from the story, against the narrator's wishes. Not long after the start of the game, the player arrives at two doors. The narrator says to enter the door on the left, but the player can enter the door on the right. Either choice impacts the story and the gameplay. Through the left door, the player can then go up the stairs to meet their destiny, or go down the stairs and descend into madness. Through the right door, the player has even more choices. There are even some choices before arriving at the two doors. So many choices, so many endings, and none of it could be accomplished by a book.

    Let me tell you about a game called Minecraft. It has no clear story and no clear objective. Now to you, I'd imagine that this is a detriment, but hear me out. Minecraft is not a narrative-driven experience. It is a tale of exploration, discovery, and above all, survival. But it isn't about Steve or Alex, it is about you, the player. Technically, Minecraft can have a story. What the story is is up to the player. In Minecraft, no two playthroughs are ever the same. It can be about a lone human fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It can be about a badass monster hunter who walks the night without fear. It can be about an inventor trying to build some crazy redstone contraption. It can be about life on a farm, growing crops and caring for livestock. It can be about a journey across the ocean to find sunken treasure. It's all up to the player. This can never be done in a book.

    You get what I'm trying to say? Don't be so quick to dismiss video games because of a few stories that weren't that great. The best video games aren't linear paths like books are. The best video games take advantage of the medium by giving the player control over the experience. There's something I heard once, it went something along the lines of: “In a book or a movie, you can only experience the story the way the storyteller wants you to. But in a video game, you ARE the storyteller.” And if you're wondering how this can teach you or give you insight, there is one thematic element video games have that is not possessed by any other medium: choice. This means a game can confront a player with the consequences of their actions. Another thing a game can do is give players difficult choices, sometimes even decisions with no clear right answer.

    A book gives readers a description of a world, told from a certain perspective. A movie gives players a moment from a world, shown from a certain perspective. A game lets players experience a world for themselves, from their own perspective.

    Different mediums, different standards, different types of experience.

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  13. “It's a no-win situation, a lose-lose scenario. Powerlessness is the theme of the novel, but you can't build a game around powerlessness or quiet, internal suffering.”

    Clearly you have never experienced survival horror.

    Actually, I'll accept your challenge. Let's build a game around powerlessness and quiet, internal suffering, right here, right now.

    You play as a battered spouse in an abusive relationship. When your husband/wife is found dead with a knife through their heart, you are the prime suspect. Nobody knows that you have been abused, and if you came out as abused, that would give you a motive. So, you have locked yourself in your house, afraid to ever go outside. Your goal is to leave the house. The thing is, the player character won't leave the house until s/he is emotionally strong enough. Until then, you have empty halls to explore, objects to examine, people online to chat with, and a secret to piece together. Everything you need to find out who really killed your spouse is right there in the house, you just need to put the pieces together. Or, you could descend into hopelessness, depression, and eventually madness. The longer you wait, the more the world thinks you're guilty. You are alone, with only your house, your belongings, and your recurring nightmares. There are multiple endings. In at least one, you manage to prove your innocence and come out about what happened. In another, you prove your innocence, but you're too afraid to speak of your abuse. In another ending, you reveal the abuse, but are imprisoned. In another ending still, you withdraw into your own mind. In the worst ending, you commit suicide.

    There you go. A game about powerlessness, and internal suffering. It can be done.

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  14. Of course playing games isn't as easy as reading books or watching movies. Games, unlike other mediums, require agency. The story isn't being told to you, you are acting in the story. Reading about Frodo throwing the ring into Mount Doom, watching Luke Skywalker square off against Darth Vader, and seeing Superman punch out Lex Luthor, is not the same as being Link and fighting Ganondorf. In those other mediums, you watch, you look, you read, you observe. In the gaming medium, you DO. You are Phoenix Wright proving your client's innocence. You are Kratos hunting down the Greek gods. You are Chell escaping from Aperture. You are a Pokémon trainer bringing down a crime syndicate. You are the paddle on the left side of the screen knocking the ball to the paddle on the right side of the screen. That's why games are hard, because you have to DO things rather than OBSERVE things. It's about action, choice, and consequences. Acting in an event is fundamentally different from observing an event. And don't tell me that you haven't learned anything by acting in events in real life.

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  15. That game I described, the one about powerlessness and quiet internal suffering. I will find a way to get it made. And don't think it won't have an audience. Horror fans go nuts over this sort of thing. Which gives me an idea of what engine to use…

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  16. Well, yes, I agree with about 90% of what you are saying. You are basically arguing my point for me, so thanks. You assume that I have not played the games you've mentioned, even though Minecraft is one of my daughter's favorites, and we play it together all the time. The Stanley Parable you talk about is similar to the “Find Your Fate” books I grew up with. There is even a name for these kinds of stories; they are essentially 2nd person stories, made more popular by traditional tabletop Role Playing Games. Really, this is nothing new, but free-form story telling does not typically do well. The problem is that the function of any decent story is to narrow the clutter of random experience into a narrative. Given too many options, the story becomes meaningless, just like real life. I agree that different mediums offer different qualities and need not be judged by the merits of the other. This is precisely the reason why I have argued, in most cases, that the very best book will have a better story than the very best games, because the primary value of a book is story, whereas games have the option to focus on other things like game play, graphics, and music.

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  17. I really think you are missing the point here. What you are describing might make for an interesting game or book, but the character in this scenario is anything but powerless. You specifically state, in your imagined game, that you have a chance to prove your innocence. Powerless characters do not have “options.” Hester Prynn in “The Scarlet Letter” did not have a chance at happy ending. You could, of course, write a different story, where she rebels against her society and fights for respect, but that wouldn't be the same story, would it? The power of “The Scarlet Letter” is in that, as angry as it makes you, as sad and frustrating and hopeless as it is, you just have to accept it. There is no starting over. You can read it again and again in a hundred different ways and Hester suffers the same, dying poor and alone. It's these very emotions, uncomfortable as they may be, that makes the book so powerful. I suppose you could try and make a video game out of something like The Scarlet Letter, or Life of Pi, or The Kite Runner, but they'd be terrible games, so why even bother? Horror survival games, mind you, are some of my favorites. But you are by no means powerless in any of them. My favorite horror/survival is “Eternal Darkness”—where you play a character that quite literally cannot win. You encounter a monster in a Satanic church and then STOMP! you are dead. But even in that game, you were kicking butt and taking names before the boss, and you still got to play as another character to continue the story. The only other game in recent memory that comes close to something you describe is “The Last of Us.” It's story driven and very emotional, but again, you are running around killing zombies with finesse. Powerless you are not.

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  18. I suggest you go back and re-read my post in full. Of course, you can learn things from games! I said so repeatedly. I would even go so far as to suggest you can learn things in games that you can't from books. However, books are more often richer in information, so while you may get a better feel for being a World War II veteran by playing Call of Duty, you'll never learn as much about the war than you would from an actual history book.

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  19. Yes, yes, I love horror games. One of my favorite genres. But to make a game true to what I am describing, be sure to make it so that nothing your player does has any effect on anything in the game. Give them no weapons. No options for fighting or even running away. They can push buttons, maybe (A) for scream and (B) for “flail arms wildly,” but it won't make any difference. Actually, that might make for an interesting experimental game, if you give it away for free. Just don't expect to sell a million copies or get a 10 from IGN. A book with the same premise, however, would have greater promise. Hence, my point.

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    1. Hello, Pot? This is Kettle. I’m just calling to let you know that you’re black.

      Learn to think outside the box, and you will find a world of possibilities. But, as long as you continue trying to be some sort of snobbish highbrow, you will never find any respect from anyone beyond your little tight-knit group.

      Don’t pretend you can. I’ve read your work. You can’t even go through one book without stopping everything to exposit about how much better your lifestyle is than everyone else’s. You are in no position to criticize, especially when you insist on comparing apples to oranges. And what is this, “choice makes things meaningless,” bullcrap? Have you never encountered a meaningful choice in your life? Choice is the entire reason why life is meaningful. And if life were truly meaningless, how could anything else have meaning? Living people create art that other living people deem to be meaningful. But, if life is meaningless, is that art not also meaningless as well? And “don’t expect to get a 10 from IGN,” as if simply appealing to authority automatically makes you correct.

      You have no point here, because the question is wrong. No medium is inherently better or worse than any other medium, period. Video games are capable of having stories just as meaningful as books, all it takes is a little imagination to get it to work. Imagination that you, clearly, do not have.

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      1. Everything you have written is an example of what I call being comignorant (TM). Without knowing anything about me, or what I believe, you’ve rushed to manufacture a rebuttal. In classic comignorant form, it appears you’ve given my article a cursory glance, assuming what it is I was saying, and gone into full attack mode. But here’s the thing, I have written nearly identical things on other people’s blogs. I am a firm believer in the equality of mediums, particularly newer art forms like comics and video games. When Roger Ebert stated that games could never achieve art status, I was incensed. To get a better idea of what it is I actually believe, check out my “Last of Us” review, or my article, “Comics are Books Too!” As someone who loves all media, including video games, I am anything but an elitist snob.

        Now when you talk about “going through my book,” I must ask, what are you talking about? You haven’t read any of my books, because I haven’t released any. And even if I had, I don’t write non-fiction, so I don’t talk about myself. If you refer to my naturist articles, I do not begrudge people for wearing clothes. Naturism is about freedom, nothing more. It’s one thing to defend something you’re passionate about, and that most people regard as taboo, and quite another to say if you don’t think like me, you’re an idiot. If you are familiar with anything I have written, you would also know that many of my heroes are opposed to naturism, including Emma, who is from Northendell, who enjoys the company of her naturist allies without feeling the pressure to live as they do. In my article, “What Naturism Means to Me,” I specifically state, “naturism is a non-thing.” In other words, naturism isn’t even a lifestyle. We just want to live the way we want, without being demonized, harassed or thrown in jail. If you find fault in this, then it’s not me being closed minded, it’s you. I am simply in favor of freedom.

        Next, you badly misquote me, then attack something I never said. I never said “choice makes things meaningless.” Of course, it does! Without choice, we would be mindless robots. Here is what I actually said, and try to read carefully, “The problem is that the function of any decent story is to narrow the clutter of random experience into a narrative. Given too many options, the story becomes meaningless, just like real life.” The keyword is “options,” which is not always synonymous with “choice.” I also said, “too many options.” What does this mean? Basically, that while life is largely defined by our choices, it is also defined by our boundaries. With infinite options, no action we take matters, because any thing we do or don’t do can simply be undone. A good story, just like life, must have limits. Limits give things consequence, and it is from consequence that we derive meaning and purpose. I wrote this to illustrate the differences between a game and a book. A game in which the player has no influence over success/failure is not a game, or if it is, would not be a very good one. A book, on the other hand, not being bound by the strictures of control, allows for greater possibilities. Sure, you could make a game out of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” but why the hell would you want to? Who wants to wander around a dead planet, just waiting to die? Oh, scratch that, they did make a game out of it, it was called “The Last of Us,” but to make it a game, they needed to include zombies and action sequences and things for the player to do.

        Lastly, you say, “the question is wrong.” That in itself is inherently wrong. There is no such thing as a wrong question, only wrong answers and wrong conclusions. Through questions, we learn. If we are never free to ask what we are thinking, we remain closed minded, the very thing you purport to oppose. And again, your notion of what I have been saying is very muddled. Did I ever say games cannot have as much meaning as books? No. I have found great meaning in “The Last of Us,” the “Metal Gear” series and “Eternal Darkness.” What I did say, is that with books you have a greater range of story telling possibilities, because again, you cannot make a game where you do nothing, because a game where you do nothing is not a game.

        I cannot agree more with you that all mediums are equal. In this (very informal) post, I was specifically arguing MY OPINION, and we are all entitled to having those. If you are of a different mind, great, write your own column. Honestly, when I sum up my article with what I would rather have with me on a deserted island, how can you possibly extrapolate that to mean I am making an objective statement?

        Before you waste my time and yours, please read carefully and respond thoughtfully. If you do choose to respond, consider that you are a guest in my space, and that you are allowed to comment because I allow it. Show respect and I welcome discourse. Be rude and insulting, and I simply hit the delete button.

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