In Extra Lives, acclaimed writer and life-long video game enthusiast Tom Bissell takes the reader on an insightful and entertaining tour of the art and. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. Bissell, Tom. New York: Vintage Books, Kimberly L. Kulovitz. University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. These days, I play video games in the morning, play video games in the (I also knew that Vice City's violent subject matter was said to have.
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This essay is taken from a chapter of Tom Bissell's book Extra Lives: Why Video Games. Matter (). In addition to being an author and journalist, Bissell is an. PDF download for Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Article Information Tom Bissell's Extra Lives is part immersion into the world of video games and part . Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, by Tom. Bissell. New York, NY: Pantheon Books,. pp. $ cloth. ISBN: Tom Bissell's Extra.
Although Bissel is not dealing with PTSD I think it is definitely worth checking out the link between video games and mental health. All one can do is hone strategies, which, especially on the highest difficulty level, have a toothpick-house fragility. While nothing is more terrifying to you than zombies, calling a zombie-based game Resident Evil is a solecism probably born of failing to fully understand the zombie. Christophe Lejeune. Why this should be is not a great mystery. Start one.
A daughter. Vault even has a resident cadre of hoodlums, the Tunnel Snakes, whose capo resembles a malevolent Fonz. Even with its backdrop of realized Cold War futurism, a greaser-style youth gang in an underground vault society in the year is the working definition of a dumb idea. Allowing your decisions to establish for your character an in-game identity as a skull-crushing monster, a saint of patience, or some mixture thereof is another attractive feature of Fallout 3.
These pretensions to morality, though, suddenly bored me, because they were occurring in a universe that had been designed by geniuses and written by Ed Wood Jr. Had I really waited a year for this? And was I really missing a cardinal event in American history to keep playing it? I had, and I was, and I could not really explain why.
I then thought back to those two hundred hours I had spent playing Oblivion , a game that had all the afflictions of Fallout 3 and then some. What embarrassed me about Oblivion was not the elves; it was the bullshit. Similarly, I was not expecting from Fallout 3 novelistic storytelling and characterization and I was absolutely not expecting realist plausibility. I happily accept that, in the world of Fallout 3 , heavily armed Super Mutants prowl the streets, two-hundred-year-old rifles remain functional, and your character can recover from stepping in front of a Gatling gun at full bore by drinking water or taking a nap.
All of which is obviously preposterous, but Fallout 3 plays so smoothly that you do not even want to notice. Anyone who plays video games knows that well-designed gameplay is a craft as surely as storytelling is a craft. When gameplay fails, we know it because it does not, somehow, feel right. Failed storytelling is more abject.
You feel lots of things—just not anything the storyteller wants you to feel. What I know is this: If I were reading a book or watching a film that, every ten minutes, had me gulping a gallon of aesthetic Pepto, I would stop reading or watching. Games, for some reason, do not have this problem. Or rather, their problem is not having this problem. I routinely tolerate in games crudities I would never tolerate in any other form of art or entertainment.
For a long time my rationalization was that, provided a game was fun to play, certain failures could be overlooked. I came to accept that games were generally incompetent with almost every aspect of what I would call traditional narrative. In the last few years, however, a dilemma has become obvious. Games have grown immensely sophisticated in any number of ways while at the same time remaining stubbornly attached to aspects of traditional narrative for which they have shown little feeling. Too many games insist on telling stories in a manner in which some facility with plot and character is fundamental to—and often even determinative of—successful storytelling.
It is a fair point, especially given how beautifully devastated and hypnotically lonely the world of Fallout 3 is. But if the world is paramount, why bother with a story at all? Why not simply cut the ribbon on the invented world and let gamers explore it?
The answer is that such a game would probably not be very involving. Traps, after all, need bait. In a narrative game, story and world combine to create an experience. The game enables the experience, but it is not the experience. Unless some narrative game comes along that radically changes gamer expectation, stories, with or without Super Mutants, will continue to be what many games will use to harness their uniquely extravagant brand of fictional absorption.
I say this in full disclosure: The games that interest me the most are the games that choose to tell stories. Yes, video games have always told some form of story.
Games are often compared to films, which would seem to make sense, given their many apparent similarities both are scored, both have actors, both are cinematographical, and so on.
Upon close inspection the comparison falls leprously apart. In terms of storytelling, they could not be more different. Films favor a compressed type of storytelling and are able to do this because they have someone deciding where to point the camera. Games often provide an approximation of this feeling, with the difference that you can find out what is out there.
The conventions of this form of storytelling are only a few decades old and were created in a formal vacuum by men and women who still walk among us.
There are not many mediums whose Dantes and Homers one can ring up and talk to. With games, one can. I am uninterested in whether games are better or worse than movies or novels or any other form of entertainment. More interesting to me is what games can do and how they make me feel while they are doing it. Comparing games to other forms of entertainment only serves as a reminder of what games are not. Storytelling, however, does not belong to film any more than it belongs to the novel.
Film, novels, and video games are separate economies in which storytelling is the currency. The problem is that video-game storytelling, across a wide spectrum of games, too often feels counterfeit, and it is easy to tire of laundering the bills.
It should be said that Fallout 3 gets much better as you play through it. But it cannot be a coincidence that every scene involving human emotion confronting a mind-wiped android who believes he is human, watching as a character close to you suffocates and dies is at best unaffecting and at worst risible.
Can it really be a surprise that deeper human motivations remain beyond the reach of something that regards character as the assignation of numerical values to hypothetical abilities and characteristics? Viewed as a whole, Fallout 3 is a game of profound stylishness, sophistication, and intelligence—so much so that every example of Etch A Sketch characterization, every stone-shoed narrative pivot, pains me.
When we say a game is sophisticated, are we grading on a distressingly steep curve? Or do we need a new curve altogether? Or is this kind of intelligence, at least when it comes to playing games, beside the point?
How is it, finally, that I keep returning to a form of entertainment that I find so uniquely frustrating? To what part of me do games speak, and on which frequency? This is a Japanese game. That probably explains the year—date swappage. You harbor affection for the products of Japan, from its cuisine to its girls to its video games—the medium Japanese game designers have made their own.
To your mind, then, a certain amount of ineffable Nipponese weirditity is par for the course, even if the course in question has fifteen holes and every one is a par nine. The cinematography, meanwhile, is a shaky-cam, Evil Dead—ish fugue minus any insinuation of talent, style, or coherence.
Once the hellhound enfilade has taken the life of one Alpha Team member, the survivors retreat into a nearby mansion. You know that one of these survivors, following the load screen, will be yours to control. For most of your life you have played video games. You have owned, in turn, the Atari , the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Genesis, the Super Nintendo, and the Nintendo 64, and familiarized yourself with most of their marquee titles.
The console you are playing now, the console you have only today purchased, is categorically different from its ancestors. It is called the Sony PlayStation. Its controllers are more ergonomic than those you have previously held and far more loaded with buttons, and its games are not plastic cartridges but compact discs.
Previous consoles were silent but your new PlayStation zizzes and whirs in an unfamiliar way as its digital stylus scans and loads. It is The PlayStation was released to the American market one year ago. You missed this, having been away, in the Peace Corps, teaching English, which service you terminated in a panic sixteen months short of your expected stay.
Now you are back in your hometown, in the house you grew up in, feeling less directionless than mapless, compassless, in lack of any navigational tool at all. You are also bored. Hence the PlayStation. The live-action sequence has given way to an animated indoor tableau of surprising detail and stark loveliness—like no console game you have hitherto encountered.
Three characters stand in the mansion foyer. There is Barry, a husky, ursine, ginger-bearded man; Wesker, enjoying the sunglasses and slicked-back hair of a coke fiend; and Jill, your character, a trim brunette looker in a beret. Soon enough, a gunshot sounds from the next room. You and Barry are dispatched by Wesker to investigate. What a mansion! It is as though the actors have been encouraged to place emphasis on the least apposite word in every spoken line.
Instead Jill stands in what appears to be a dining room, the in-game camera angled upon her in a way that annuls any wider field of vision. Plenty of games have given you spaces around which to wander, but they always took care to provide you with a maximal vantage point.
This is not a maximal angle; this is not at all how your eye has been trained by video games to work. It as though you, the gamer, are an invisible, purposefully compromised presence within the gameworld.
Holding down one button allows Jill to run, for instance, and this is nicely animated. A pair of trigger buttons lie beneath each of your index fingers. Squeeze the left trigger and Jill lifts her pistol into firing position.
Squeeze the right trigger and Jill fires, loudly, her pistol kicking up in response. All of this—from the preparatory prefiring mechanic to the unfamiliar sensation of consequence your single shot has been given—feels new to you. Every video-game gun you have previously fired did so at the push of a single button, the resultant physics no more palpable or significant than jumping or moving or any other in-game movement.
Video-game armaments have always seemed to you a kind of voodoo. If you wanted some digital effigy to die, you simply lined it up and pushed in the requisite photonic pin. Here, however, there is no crosshair or reticule. You fire several more shots to verify this. How on earth do you aim?
As you explore the dining room something even more bizarre begins to occur. The in-game camera is changing angles. Depending on where you go, the camera sometimes frames your character in relative close-up and, other times, leaps back, reducing Jill to an apparent foreground afterthought.
And yet no matter the angle from which you view Jill, the directional control schema, the precision of which you moments ago admired, remains the same. What this means is that, with every camera shift, your brain is forced to make a slight but bothersome spatial adjustment.
The awkwardness of this baffles you. When you wanted Link or Mario to go left, you pushed left. That the character you controlled moved in accordance to his on-screen positioning, which in turn corresponded to your joystick or directional pad, was an accepted convention of the form.
So far, the game provides no compelling explanation as to why it has sundered every convention it comes across. The dining room itself is stunning, though, reminding you of the flat lush realism of Myst , a personal computer game your girlfriend adores but that has always struck you as a warm-milk soporific.
You have not played a tremendous number of PC games; it is simply not a style of gaming you respond to. You are a console gamer, for better or worse, even though you are aware of the generally higher quality of PC games. Anyone who claims allegiance to the recognizably inferior is in dire need of a compelling argument.
Here is yours: The keyboard has one supreme purpose, and that is to create words. You glance at the box in which this game came packaged. Resident Evil. What the hell does that even mean?
You know this game is intended to be scary. You also know that zombies are somehow involved; the box art promises that much. While nothing is more terrifying to you than zombies, calling a zombie-based game Resident Evil is a solecism probably born of failing to fully understand the zombie.
Part of what makes zombies so frightening is that they are not evil. The zombie, a Caribbean borrowing, is in its North American guise a modern parable for…well, there you go. Like all parables, zombies are both widely evocative and impossible to pin down. Part of the reason you purchased this game was because you were curious to see what the Japanese imagination had made of the zombie. This was a culture, after all, that had transformed its twentieth-century resident evil into a giant bipedal dinosaur.
On screen, Barry calls Jill over, where he kneels next to a pool of blood. You are no criminologist, but gleaning the available information from a small, freestanding blood puddle would seem to you an undertaking of no more than three or four seconds.
Barry, though, continues to ponder the hell out of that blood. You have two options. Leave the dining room to go back and explore the foyer, where Wesker presumably awaits your report, or go through a nearby side door.
You take the side door. Anytime you go through a door in this game you are presented with a load screen of daunting literalness: Considerable investment has been placed in a dramatic reproduction of this process: The knobs sound as though they were last oiled in the Cleveland administration, and the doors themselves slam shut as though they weigh five hundred pounds. The load screen complete, Jill now stands in a long narrow hallway.
The camera looks down upon her from an angle of perhaps seventy degrees, which leaves you unable to see either ahead of or behind her. You turn her left, instinctively, only to hear something farther down the hall. You hear… chewing? It is worse than that. It is a wet, slushy sound, more like feasting than chewing. The camera has shifted yet again, allowing you to look down the hall but not around the corner, whence this gluttonous feasting sound originates.
There is no music, no cues at all. The gameworld is silent but for your footsteps and the sound you now realize you have been set upon this path to encounter. You panic and run down to the other end of the hall, the feasting sound growing fainter, only to find two locked doors.
No choice, then. You walk not run back toward the hallway corner, then stop and go to a subscreen to check your inventory. You also have a knife. You toggle back and forth between pistol and knife, equipping and unequipping.
You eventually go with the pistol and leave the inventory screen. Jill stands inches before the hallway corner, but it suddenly feels as though it is you standing before hellmouth itself. Your body has become a hatchery from which spiderlings of dread erupt and skitter. Part of this is merely expectation, for you know that a zombie is around that corner and you are fairly certain it is eating Chris.
Another part is…you are not sure you can name it.
It is not quite the control-and-release tension of the horror film and it is not quite actual terror. It is something else, a fear you can control, to a point, but to which you are also helplessly subject—a fear whose electricity becomes pleasure. You raise your pistol—and this is interesting: You cannot move while your pistol is raised. You had not noticed this before. You should be able to move with your pistol raised, and certainly you should be able to shoot while moving.
That is another convention of the form. In video games, you can shoot your sluggish bullets while running, jumping, falling off a cliff, swimming underwater. On top of this you have exactly five rounds. Zombies are dispatched with headshots. You know that much. But how do you shoot for the head when the game provides you with no crosshair? You turn the corner to yet another camera change. You have only a second or two to make out the particulars—a tiny room, a downed figure, another figure bent over him—before what is called a cut scene kicks in.
The camera closes on a bald humanoid, now turning, noticing you, white head lividly veiny, mouth bloody, eyes flat and empty and purgatorial.
There the brief cut scene ends. The zombie, now approaching, groans in thoughtless zombie misery, a half-eaten corpse behind it. You fire but nothing happens. In your panic you have forgotten the left trigger, which raises your weapon. This blunder has cost you.
The zombie falls upon you with a groan and bites you avidly, your torso transforming into a blood fountain. The zombie staggers back a few steps, and you manage to fire. Still no crosshair or reticule. Your shot misses, though by how much you have no idea. The zombie is upon you again. You fire blindly down the hall, toward the moaning, with no guarantee that your shots are hitting the zombie or coming anywhere close to it.
Soon pulling the trigger produces only spent clicks. You go to the inventory screen and equip your knife. When you return to gameplay, the zombie appears within frame and lurches forward. You slash at it, successfully, blood geysering everywhere, but not before it manages to grab on to you yet again.
After another chewy struggle, you back up farther, the camera finally providing you with a vantage point that is not actively frustrating, and you lure the zombie toward you, lunging when it staggers into stabbing range. At last the creature drops. You approach its doubly lifeless husk, not quite believing what is happening when it grabs your leg and begins, quite naturally by this point, to bite you. You stab at this specimen of undead indestructibility until, with a final anguished moan, a copious amount of blood pools beneath it.
What new devilry is this? None of it has made sense. You know a few things about video-game enemies. When they are attacked they either die instantly or lose health, and for foes as tough as this one you are typically able to track the process by way of an onscreen health bar.
This zombie, however, had no health bar. Neither do you, properly speaking. What you do have is an electrocardiographic waveform that is green when you are at full health, orange when you are hurt, and red when you are severely hurt. Not only is this EKG stashed away in the inventory subscreen, it provides only an approximate state of health. Right now your health is red. But how red? You have no idea. This game is rationing not only resources but information. When video-game characters die, furthermore, they disappear, like Raptured Christians or Jedi.
Your assailant has not disappeared and instead remains facedown in a red pool of useless zombie plasma. This is a game in which every bullet, evidently, will count.
This is also a game in which everything you kill will remain where it falls, at least until you leave the room. You stab it again. You flee the hallway and return to Barry.
Before you can tell him what has happened, the door behind you opens. The zombie whose deadness was a heliocentric certainty has followed you. You not Jill: Your worried stepfather, a few rooms away, calls your name, his voice emanating from a world that, for the last half hour, has been as enclosing but indistinct as an amnion. After calling back that you are okay, you are newly conscious of the darkness around you, the lateness of the hour. For the first time in your life, a video game has done something more than entertain or distract you.
It has bypassed your limbic system and gone straight for the spinal canal. You lean back, cautiously. You are twenty-three years old. You have played a lot of games.
Right now, all those games, all the irrecoverable eons you have invested in them, seem to you, suddenly, like nothing more than a collective prologue. It is the powerful, powerless feeling of knowing your aesthetic world has been widened but not yet having any name for the new ground upon which you stand.
Hughes was talking about visual art, but there is no reason to confine the shock of the new to any particular medium. At first glance Resident Evil seemed to be imitating horror films: But it also took core inspiration from primitive video-game progenitors. Much of Resident Evil involves finding objects a lighter, herbs of various colors, sheet music, jewelry and figuring out how to use them and where, a this-quest-opens-that-quest structure similar to some of the earliest text-based computer adventures, one of which was actually called Adventure.
When it was not borrowing horror-film decor, Resident Evil frequently resembled, as mentioned, Myst. None of these constituent parts was new, but the unlikely whole they formed was. No game had ever before combined so many disparate strands of popular entertainment; few had pointed more evocatively to what was possible within the video-game form. Oddly, not many games chose to follow where Resident Evil pointed. Its innovations were selectively scavenged rather than swallowed whole, even within subsequent Resident Evil titles.
The intentional clumsiness of the controls cardiac-event-inducing when surrounded by shambling, moaning zombies was abandoned by Resident Evil 4 , as was the cinematically relocating camera. The former was dropped because it was no longer an interesting hindrance; gamers had learned to adapt to it. In Resident Evil 4 , they simply throw more enemies at you than you can ever hope to kill.
The innovations that did survive are a mixed bag. In early games you were often given a password to allow you to start where you last left off; later games did the saving for you, automatically. Saving your game at every opportunity became an imperative as biologically intense as food or sleep.
I have had friends and relatives die, lovers stray, and money run out, but I think I would still place being torn apart by zombies with an hour and a half of unsaved Resident Evil gameplay behind me in the upper quartile of Personally Miserable Experiences. This succeeded grandly in making games harder but did nothing to make them more enjoyable. Ten years later, another Capcom zombie game, Dead Rising , would have an even more infuriating and niggardly save system.
As much as I love Dead Rising , I still wish ill upon everyone involved with its save-system implementation. Those people can go to hell. Games were violent before Resident Evil , certainly, but they were violent in two ways: The violence of Resident Evil was surprisingly occasional but unbelievably brutal. It was also clinical, which encouraged a certain wicked tendency to experiment. As you found and used new weapons, it turned out that zombies reacted to them in varied ways. A shotgun could blow the legs out from under a zombie, and the well-placed round of a.
I do not claim to be a historian of video-game dismemberment, but I am fairly sure that no game before Resident Evil allowed such violence to be done to specific limbs. They were zombies. You were doing them a favor. But Resident Evil was influential in a final, lamentable way, and this has to do with its phenomenal stupidity.
How stupid was Resident Evil? So stupid that stupidity has since become one of the signatures of the Resident Evil series. So stupid, in other words, that stupidity became something not to address or fix but a mast of tonal distinction to which the series lashed itself. As for the plot, I have played through the game at least half a dozen times and could not under pain of death explain its most rudimentary aspects. I know that the plot provides a stage for the considerable malversation of your erstwhile teammate Wesker.
I also know that it involves an evil corporation known as Umbrella and a terrible biotoxin known as the T-virus. This is where the cinematic sweep and texture of Resident Evil least resemble cinema. Great horror movies are almost always subterranean in effect. They are the ultimate compulsion —you must watch —and they transubstantiate social anxieties more sensed than felt.
The sensed, rather than the felt, is the essence of the horror film. Another way of saying this is that good horror films are about something not immediately discernible on their surface. On its surface, Resident Evil is about an evil corporation known as Umbrella and a terrible biotoxin known as the T-virus. Beneath that surface is a tour de force of thematic nullity. All the game really wants to do is frighten you silly, and it goes about doing so with considerable skill.
Playing it for the first time was easily as scary as any horror movie and frequently much scarier. But was it horrifying? For me, horror is the departure of conscious thought, and Resident Evil collapses wherever thought arrives. This brilliantly conceived game of uncompromising stupidity was, in retrospect, a disastrous formal template.
Terrible dialogue? It was still a great game. A constant situational ridiculousness that makes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre seem like a restrained portrait of rural dysfunction? And it is a great game, and will be ever thus. It was eventually remade, more than once, most notably for release on the Nintendo GameCube, with better graphics and voice actors and a script translated by someone who had occasionally heard spoken English.
It, too, was a great game. But the success of the first Resident Evil established the permissibility of a great game that happened to be stupid. This set the tone for half a decade of savagely unintelligent games and helped to create an unnecessary hostility between the greatness of a game and the sophistication of things such as narrative, dialogue, dramatic motivation, and characterization. In accounting for this state of affairs, many game designers have, over the years, claimed that gamers do not much think about such highfaluting matters.
This may or may not be largely true. But most gamers do not care because they have been trained by game designers not to care. Without a doubt, Resident Evil showed how good games could be. Unfortunately, it also showed how bad games could be.
Too amazed by the former, gamers neglected to question the latter. It rang a bell to which too many of us still, and stupidly, salivate. I have been publishing long enough now to look back on much of what I have written and feel the sudden, pressing need to throw myself off the nearest bridge. Every person lucky enough to turn a creative pursuit into a career has these moments, and at least, I sometimes tell myself, I do not often look back on my writing with shame.
I wrote about video games and whether they were a distraction from the calling of literature. Even as I was writing it, I was aware that the essay did not accurately reflect my feelings.
Recently I wondered if the essay was maybe somewhat better than I remembered. I then reread it and spent much of the following afternoon driving around, idly looking for bridges.
The video game is the youngest and, increasingly, most dominant popular art form of our time. To study the origins of any popular new medium is to become an archaeologist of skeptical opprobrium. It seems to me that anyone passionate about video games has better things to do than walk chin-first into sucker-punch arguments about whether they qualify as art.
Those who do not believe video games are or ever will be art deserve nothing more goading or indulgent than a smile. I think that was what I was trying to say. But I was then and am now routinely torn about whether video games are a worthy way to spend my time and often ask myself why I like them as much as I do, especially when, very often, I hate them. Sometimes I think I hate them because of how purely they bring me back to childhood, when I could only imagine what I would do if I were single-handedly fighting off an alien army or driving down the street in a very fast car while the police try to shoot out my tires or told that I was the ancestral inheritor of some primeval sword and my destiny was to rid the realm of evil.
These are very intriguing scenarios if you are twelve years old.
They are far less intriguing if you are thirty-five and have a career, friends, a relationship, or children. The problem, however, at least for me, is that they are no less fun. I like fighting aliens and I like driving fast cars. Tell me the secret sword is just over the mountain and I will light off into goblin-haunted territory to claim it.
For me, video games often restore an unearned, vaguely loathsome form of innocence—an innocence derived of not knowing anything.
For this and all sorts of other complicated historical reasons—starting with the fact that they began as toys directly marketed to children—video games crash any cocktail-party rationale you attempt to formulate as to why, exactly, you love them.
More than any other form of entertainment, video games tend to divide rooms into Us and Them. We are, in effect, admitting that we like to spend our time shooting monsters, and They are, not unreasonably, failing to find the value in that.
In my humble estimation, no video game has yet crossed the Rubicon from entertainment to true art. Artistic or creative intelligence can express itself formally, stylistically, emotionally, thematically, morally, or any number of ways. Works of art we call masterpieces typically run the table on the many forms artistic intelligence can take: They are comprehensively intelligent. This kind of intelligence is most frequently apparent in great works of art created by individuals.
Unity of artistic effect is something human beings have learned to respond to, and for obvious reasons this is best achieved by individual artists. Many games—which are, to be sure, corporate entertainments created by dozens of people with a strong expectation of making a lot of money—have more formal and stylistic intelligence than they know what to do with and not even trace amounts of thematic, emotional, or moral intelligence. One could argue that these games succeed as works of art in some ways and either fail or do not attempt to succeed in others.
At least, I think so. My ambivalence goes much deeper, though. Was I apologizing to some imaginary cultural arbiter for finding value in a form of creative expression whose considerable deficits I recognize but which I nevertheless believe is important?
Or is this evidence of an authentic scruple? On the other hand, what passes for intellectual subject matter in a video game is still far from intellectually compelling, at least to me, and I know I was not imagining the feeling of slipping, hourglass loss I experienced when I played BioShock ten hours a day for three days straight. If I really wanted to explore the implications and consequences of Objectivism, there were better, more sophisticated places to look, even if few of them would be as much fun though getting shot in the knee would be more fun than rereading Atlas Shrugged.
When I think about games, here is where I bottom out. Is it okay that they are mostly fun? Am I a philistine or simply a coward? Are games the problem, or am I? I came to this once-embarrassed, formerly furtive love of games honestly.
Because the majority of the games I have enjoyed most as an adult tell stories, I was always comparing those stories with the novels and films I admire. Naturally, I found and find most video-game stories wanting. But this may be a flagrant category mistake.
Games with any kind of narrative structure usually employ two kinds of storytelling. The differences between the framed narrative and the ludonarrative are what make story in games so unmanageable: One is fixed, the other is fluid, and yet they are intended, however notionally, to work together.
Their historical inability to do so may be best described as congressional. In one memorable sequence, moving forward the framed narrative requires you and a computer-controlled partner to crawl and sneak your way through the irradiated farmlands of Chernobyl in order to assassinate an arms dealer.
The ludonarrative, meanwhile, is the actual and, as it happens, pretty thrilling process of getting there. If you choose to be a dick and frag your partner, it has only ludonarrative consequences. At worst, you have to start the mission over. No matter what you do, the framed narrative does not change: You and he need to get there together. Call of Duty 4 is a game with little to no ambition to change the emotional outlook of anyone who plays it.
It is a war-porn story of good and evil. All the same, the chasm between its framed narrative and ludonarrative calls attention to the artificiality of both. While the former attempts to be narratively meaningful, the latter is concerned only with being exciting. The former grants the player no agency and thus has no emotional resonance because the latter, with its illusion of agency, does nothing to reinforce what that resonance might be, other than that shooting your friend in the head is bad news.
For games of greater ambition, however, the problem becomes exponentially larger. Call of Duty 4 does offer a couple of formally compelling experiences. One is that it kills off the character you assume you will control for the duration in a mid-game helicopter crash, but not before allowing you to take a few disoriented steps from the wreckage—altogether an eerie sequence.
This sequence ends with the gamer being shot, jarringly, in the face. Once a game comes along that figures out a way around the technical challenges of allowing a large number of ludonarrative decisions to have framed-narrative-altering consequences—none of which challenges I understand but whose existence several game designers sighingly confirmed for me—an altogether new form of storytelling might be born: There is, of course, another word for stories that, with your help, create themselves.
That word is life. So would this even be a good thing? I am not so sure. So Much Said Read Online or Download Extra Lives: Before I read this book, I had read some reviews which had me wondering if this one would be something I'd like, reviews from people whose opinions I trust. I and my friends very like to read this ebook here: Short overview about this book: Tom Bissell is a prizewinning writer who published three widely acclaimed books before the age of thirty-four.
He is also an obsessive gamer who has spent untold hours in front of his various video game consoles, playing titles such as Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead, BioShock, and Oblivion for, literally, days. If you are reading this flap copy, the same thing can probably be said of you, or of someone you know. Until recently, Bissell was somewhat reluctant to admit to his passion for games. In this, he is not alone. Millions of adults spend hours every week playing video games, and the industry itself now reliably outearns Hollywood.
But the wider culture seems to regard video games as, at best, well designed if mindless entertainment. Extra Lives is an impassioned defense of this assailed and misunderstood art form. Bissell argues that we are in a golden age of gaming—but he also believes games could be even better.