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February 1, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more You're Doing it Wrong
In Part 1, Patrick Somerville, author of This Bright River (2012), boldly declared that, “worldwide, video games will be the twenty-first century’s most popular form of storytelling.” Not so fast, countered Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City (2012): “You conflate ‘popular’ and ‘dominant.’” Read on as this fascinating, friendly argument continues. Who will be the winner when it’s Game Over?
* * *
You make many excellent points here, and I cannot possibly respond to them all. This is, of course, text, and readers will grow weary and nod off if we don’t wrap it up without somehow using a hologram. Would that we had R2 here to tell this story in a different way . . .
But a few things, and then I will disappear into a blur of pixelation, as your points are all well taken, they are, and in truth I just don’t know what I think anymore:
1. Check out Varytale, which gives anyone a chance to explore the very cool work a number of IF authors like Emily Short and Philip Green have done in recent years. This is text-based and integrates choice into the reading process, but I wouldn’t quite call it a game. Is it the future? Or at least a part of the future? Doesn’t it have to be?
2. You say: “But I believe that the worry that they will displace fiction among people previously inclined to read it is as wrongheaded as the idea that TV will replace novels.” I say: Wrongheaded like the idea that novels would replace wandering bards?
“That said, even the Sims always felt like fake peoplerunning around, and the two narrators of Gone Girl,which I read this week, seem to be real people.”
3. Since we started this exchange, the E3 happened out in your neck of the woods, and Shingero Miyamoto was there. An amazing man! I was reading about him and, in fact, saw a headline calling him “The Shakespeare of Video Games,” and so perhaps I need to revise my earlier statement. He is the man who created Zelda, Donkey Kong, Mario, and a number of other very recognizable Nintendo franchises. It turns out he’s now interested in making an FPS, or first-person shooter, and I have to say, I’m curious what his imagination would come up with in this genre of game. Some little part of my brain always notes the use of “first person” in this context, whenever I see it, as it’s a term creative writing teachers are always bandying about.
But if I were to make a case against my own video-game argument, I think it would have something to do with how little I ever feel like I am the character in FPS games, and how often something strange happens to my ego when I’m reading, how everything seems to bleed together, how I don’t just get caught up in the virtual reality of fiction but rather I begin to get confused about my own identity when I’m reading. Video games can’t do that; they may never be able to do that. I don’t know why, and maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just a matter of the extreme content? That said, even the Sims always felt like fake people running around, and the two narrators of Gone Girl, which I read this week, seem to be real people. They are real people. Aren’t they? There’s a verisimilitude problem still afoot; I can smell it in the air. It might have to do with empathy. I’m not sure if it can be solved.
4. And so I end here. You say: “I’ve never seen a game that can hijack one’s thoughts the way a novel can.” I say: “Neither have I, my friend. But I sure would like to play one.”
I defer to you for the final word in this conversation. It has been a pleasure. Meet me in Khaz Modan sometime for a flagon, will ya?
It’s been a pleasure for me, too. And while I’m happy to discover that you’re sympathetic to my views, I must admit to an equally compelling gut feeling: we’re doomed; culture (what’s left of it) is in decline; today’s youth have no respect for tradition. I don’t actually trust this gut feeling, but I cannot dismiss it. Because I am old. (This is why the Who hoped to die before they got old. (The Who was an English rock band. (Like the Beatles. (The four black-and-white guys from the iTunes ads last year.))))
I’m interested in the verisimilitude problem you mention.
The text-based analogue of the so-called first-person shooter is actually the second person, the annoying (to my mind) “you” of some choose-your-own-adventure books and/or Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. Both FPS games and second-person narrative methods attempt to put you in the character’s shoes, to get you to look through the character’s eyes.
And yet, as you mention, neither fully succeeds. We (you and I) feel much more connected, more ego-blurred, when reading something in the first or third person. What the hell is it that happens to us when we immerse ourselves in that kind of fiction? Is it some kind of empathetic leap?
“Video games are changing the territory, no questionabout it, but I believe that in its current form(s), the novel will remain strong, viable, and (gulp) popularwell into the coming century.”
In any case, I propose that we’re dealing with a phenomenon analogous to the “uncanny valley,” in which our emotional response to humanoid robots—increasingly empathetic as they get more realistic—takes a sharp turn downward when the robots become too lifelike.
When we’re asked not to suspend disbelief but to outright believe, we reject the experience. We enjoy pretending, but we don’t enjoy psychosis.
Perhaps this explains why many gamers’ deepest engagement comes not from the most realistic VR experiences but from games that require, as fiction does, a certain degree of co-creation. I’m thinking of everything from The Sims to EVE to Dwarf Fortress.
So you can have “deep engagement.” But novels will always retain a piece of the territory not accessible to games. You say the novel replaced the wandering bard, but it didn’t—it merely displaced him. Just as photography did to painting. Video games are changing the territory, no question about it, but I believe that in its current form(s), the novel will remain strong, viable, and (gulp) popular well into the coming century.
Finally, let me say that this has been instructive, homie. I’ve enjoyed our conversation more than I thought I would, and I didn’t know I had many of these ideas before having to type them up and stand halfway behind them.
Love, Don Toine
PS Have you read Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter? It’s pretty great. I read it about a year ago, and am probably constantly and unconsciously parroting things I absorbed from it.
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