By Eric Kohn | Eric Kohn December 16, 2010 at 4:23AM
One of the more significant gaps between the various generations of media consumers alive today has come from the influence of videogames. Initially relegated to the arcade, videogames only became available as complex interactive experiences for non-professionals with the advent of the console and computer games some twenty-five years ago. So if you were born around that time, there's a much stronger chance that you have at least an appreciation for videogames than people unconvinced of their aesthetic merits. As a casual gamer, I try to follow all the latest developments, not only for the sake of keeping in touch with the cultural zeitgeist but also because it seems to correlate with one of my main interests -- namely, cinema. Great games are often both cinematic and a form of interactive cinema that can suggest new directions for the medium. That's why I've been devouring the academic text "Well-Played 2.0: Videogames, Value and Meaning," which was released online earlier this week. Two pieces in particular jump out at me.
The book collects articles by various gaming scholars that offer detailed analysis of numerous games from theoretical, philosophical and personal standpoints. Naturally, I'm partial to the ones about games I enjoy. Stephen Jacobs's "I <3 Fandango" praises Tim Schaeffer's classic 3-D Lucasarts adventure game "Grim Fandango" with a detailed summary of its lavish attention to detail, making the case for viewing Schaeffer's accomplishment as a work of fantasy art on par with the best of Tim Burton. He also shows how the 1998 release transcends its qualifications as a well-crafted game with historically-significant technical advances through loads of details that flesh out this creative vision of the Mexican afterlife. The resulting product has virtually endless replay value, despite the scripted narrative driving it. Essentially an interactive movie, "Grim Fandango" may in fact qualify as the first videogame noir. Here's the opening cutscene:
Additionally, Kirk Battle's essay on "Fallout 3," a game I recently completed on my PS3, points out the way it constructs a highly advanced emergent narrative (rather than a linear one) based in an apocalyptic world that draws heavily on the imagery of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." As others have pointed out, it's virtually impossible to play "Fallout 3" and get the entire experience, given the vastness of the open world where the story takes place. The literary quality of "Fallout 3" has a lot to do with how much an individual player wants to get into the game, explore the stakes of this broken world, and try to fix it. Gamers have been theorizing about this type of immersion for so long that they may not realize it has already become available. Battle writes that the game "comes the closest to achieving what Espen Aarseth originally conceived of in his book 'Cybertexts,'" which I haven't read. But I have played "Fallout 3," and can vouch for the submersion factor.
This is not the future of movies. But in light of the recent Roger Ebert-fueled videogames-as-art debate from earlier this year, the study of videogames at least helps support the idea that they deserve to share the same room as their older media brethren.
Often heartbreaking, occasionally funny, but never forgettable, the Capital Wasteland is a place that Fallout 3 successfully takes the player to and allows them to explore however they like. Its mystery only deepens each time you enter it anew. --Kirk Battle