March 14, 2006

Overly Escapist

by Andrew Stern · , 4:01 pm

The Escapist has a new article by journalist and editor Mark Wallace, “The Play’s the Thing“, informing readers about the existence of the academic ludology/narratology debate — that it appears most game scholars are ready to move on from. Members of the IT-Copenhagen gang (Aarseth, Juul, Frasca) are quoted (Espen in fact referring to himself as a narratologist ;-) plus ex-developer Mark Barrett. Wallace (who has commented here at GTxA, skeptical of interactive stories) concludes that it’s “the wrong debate”; regarding game and narrative in interactive entertainment, “one doesn’t exist without the other”.

I doubt anyone here is interested in re-igniting this debate that we’ve followed and fed over the years (1 2 3 4 5). This post is not a salvo, just a comment: at a minimum, from a design and technology standpoint, it’s a cop-out to suggest that the relationship between gameplay and narrative is a non-issue. It’s a very real issue, as we most recently attempt to point out in our DiGRA paper from last June (be sure to read at least as far as “A Stalled Debate”). In fact, we believe this issue lies at the heart of what’s preventing interactive entertainment from appealing to more of the mass-market non-gamers out there.

Uh oh, am I one of those people “with vested interests [who] have succeeded in putting forward a masturbatory, ego-driven, politically-motivated debate that is never going to help anyone make a better interactive product” ? No doubt about it, Fa├žade is a direct concrete attempt to make progress towards this issue, so you could argue it’s in our interest to keep the debate alive.

But could it be that there are real challenges to be addressed and researched here, highly relevant to both industry and academia, that won’t go away just because it’s a hard problem?

It’d be one thing to say, “game-stories where you have rich gameplay combined with deep, real effects on a non-linear story haven’t been built yet, but we don’t care — we’re having plenty of fun with games in their current form!” But to give up, blow it off or pretend the issue doesn’t exist seems irresponsible and incorrect.