Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Some videos for your consideration

     Today my post is not going to focus on my own arguments, but on some well developed arguments in video form that I have recently watched. The first video is a TEDx presentation in which the speaker uses Bioshock, The Last of Us, and other recent games as examples to introduce the concept of video games as methods through which to convey relevant major ideas and philosophical topics to a broad audience. You may watch the video below:



     The second video is from a regular book vlogger who merely poses the question, "Are video games literature?" In asking this question, however, she makes some very nice points. Also, though I would normally advise against reading YouTube comments at all costs, there is some nice discussion in the comments on this video. If nothing else, the video sparks a lively debate on the controversy surrounding the concept of video games as literature.


     On this second video, I did post a response, which I will share below:
What I don't understand is why people are so intent on separating art and literature as though they are two distinct things. I have a MA in English Literature. That's a Master's of Art. Literature is considered a form of art, often even "fine art." So I think we can probably all agree that literature, video games, paintings, music, etc. all fall under the extremely broad category of "art." And the definition of art itself has been debated for literal millennia, so I don't think we'll find an adequate agreement to its definition here. The question is, are video games literature. And to know that you have to have a strong understanding of what literature actually is (and, unfortunately, one definition provided by google isn't going to give that understanding). Sometimes pamphlets you find in a doctor's office are called literature (Doctor: "I'm going to provide you with some literature on that deadly infectious disease you have. Good day."). Thus the word has several meanings. I personally believe that literature is any type of story being conveyed to an audience. That would include film, video games, comics, etc. Now, whether it's good, or "high" literature is dependent on general popular consensus.
 What are your thoughts regarding the concepts and questions posed by the speakers in these videos?


Also, remember that there is now a Steam Group! We've had some lively discussion on there so far, so feel free to jump into the mix! Expect some original new posts from me soon -- I have about three in the works at this moment, so I will finish at least one of them at any time now (I hope).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick


     Evan Skolnick, writer for a number of games with interesting variety such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, Over the Hedge, and Spider-Man 3 (the surprisingly better of the three Tobey Maguire-based Spider-Man games), has finally written a book that should have been brought to the public long ago: an honest guide to writing good stories in video games. Skolnick teaches the basics of storytelling, something that a veteran creative writing student would already know, but that a member of a video game development team may have yet to learn. He stresses that all members of the development team are responsible for creating an engaging story, and thus should have a basic understanding of how a story is created. Though I personally have learned many of the important techniques and terms that Skolnick presents to his audience through creative writing classes and my own personal study of the subject, someone who is not an English major and writer like myself would likely be unfamiliar with the concepts. And that is exactly the audience that Skolnick is looking for: those game developers, programmers, or even artists who have important roles in the creation of a game and thus should be familiar with the narrative writing process. In other words, Skolnick sets out to cure the creative writing illiteracy of the average game creator-to-be in the hopes of providing the world with more advanced and engaging narrative video games.
     Skolnick uses a number of examples throughout his book through which to demonstrate various storytelling techniques. He does fall back on Star Wars as an example many times because a) a large majority of the population has seen at least the original trilogy and b) the series is well known as being a prime example of "The Hero's Journey," one of the most basic and well known plot structures in existence. Skolnick doesn't only use film examples, however: he also gives many wonderfully detailed examples from popular video games and books.
     Another nice thing about Skolnick's work is that the writing is not too technical, nor is it condescendingly simple. The text is legitimately enjoyable to read. I even found myself re-learning old knowledge through a new lens, which I found helpful and fascinating. This book seems like something that anyone interested in writing or in video games would benefit from. I feel that Skolnick's book is a leap forward towards public understanding that video games can be literature, and often are. The next time I hear an argument against video games and their impact on society, I intend to direct the cynic to Skolnick's book.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of this book from BloggingForBooks.org. This in no way means that I have falsified my review -- had the book been garbage, I would certainly have let everyone know.