June 14, 2007

Art, Politics, Religion, and Game Developer

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 12:06 pm

The “Skunk Works” product review section of the June/July issue of Game Developer magazine has a full-page discussion of Second Person by Bijan Forutanpour. It begins on an intriguing note:

As a word of advice, when meeting a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s parents for the first time, it’s wise to stay away from the sticky subjects of art, politics, and religion. There are certain subjects that defy definition and unanimous agreement, and if the conversation ends up there, you know you’re in for a long evening.

I don’t know if those words produced a flashback for you. Let’s just say that my flashback includes the line, “Noah says the war is all about oil!”

I’m not sure if Forutanpour intended to induce memories of such episodes, but I am sure that his goal is to help people understand why it’s good to handle certain issues with care. Specifically, he writes:

To argue that story is important or story is not important in video games is a moot discussion, on par with art, politics, and religion — and thankfully, that’s not what Second Person tries to do.

The book is not 100 percent a how-to guide for designing better video games, but rather is a thought-provoker, spanning both the theoretical and the practical.

To me, this is an interesting way of thinking about Second Person and a number of other recent projects. Art, politics, and religion can be some of the most satisfying things to discuss — but you’re probably not going to get anywhere with someone who has strongly-held opposing views, especially if you fall into the pro/con conversation trap. So the goal is to find ways of framing the conversation, and people to talk with, that will lead to a good experience.

Luckily, Forutanpour seems to think we managed the task, at least for some audiences:

For readers interested in a more academic study of video and non-video games and interactive fiction, Second Person is a must-read. For game industry professionals, the book is not for everyone, but it does contain very interesting chapters that may serve as little more than food for thought.

I don’t think there’s a version of the review on the Game Developer website, but Pat found a syndicated version.