Video Games Envy Everything

comics-movies-tabletop-games-vs-video-gamesIt is often said that video games are envious of film. That video games strive to be cinematic and they should stay away from long cut scenes and instead focus on play is an argument made by scholars and game bloggers alike. Steve Smith’s short piece ‘Don’t Tell, Don’t Show — Play: Gaming’s Movie Envy’ (and the embedded video) explain how video games borrow from movies and they should shun away from cinematographic conventions. And while, sure, one would have to agree that Kojima’s hour long cut scenes seem to be a bit on the lengthy side, it seems to me that video games don’t only have a movie envy, they also have a book envy, a music envy, a comic book envy, and just general media envy.

maxresdefaultI recently finished Atelier Ayesha (I got the bad ending) and it seemed to me that when I was not engaged in play (exploring, managing resources, fighting monsters) I was reading long conversations. There were no long action scenes or dramatic intricate film conventions – at least there weren’t a lot of them. Most of the interaction between Ayesha and the NPCs happened through text, and most of the longer conversations had would not be out of place in a science fiction / fantasy book. Take for example the scene towards the second half of the game where Ayesha meets Cowgirl Nanaca for the Nth time and they speak about a lost cow. In games writing, at least in the more popular contemporary schools of thought regarding game writing, Ayesha would meet Nanaca, Nanaca would say “I lost my cow”, and it would be up to the player to find the cow. This would be writing following games conventions. It would be short and to the point and only provide a context for play, what Juul calls a “fiction”. Instead, Ayesha meets Nanaca, they converse about what they have been doing since they last saw each other, Nanaca remarks on how she lost a cow, Ayesha offers her sincere condolences, and after some more conversation Ayesha decides to help Nanaca get her cow back, after which Nanaca explains how she lost the cow and it might have gone west. On finding the cow, Ayesha returns to Nanaca. If game writing conventions (according to modern design schools) were to be followed, Nanaca would say “You found my cow” and hand over a reward. Instead, another long conversation regarding the state of the cow, how it disappeared and appeared, how it looked scared, and how happy everyone is that the cow was found takes place. These are long drawn out conversations that would not take place in film. The camera angles are more reminiscent of comic book panels than of film. And the conversations, all delivered through text, do not follow film conventions. They would, however, find a comfortable home in pages 178 – 179 of a novel. It can be said, then, that games envy other media depending on genre. JRPGs envy novels, while whatever Kojima makes envies movies. Music games envy music, and visual novels envy comic books.maxresdefadult

Of course, the fact is that video games don’t “envy” any of these media – rather, video games are a convergence of all previous forms of media. As Bolter notes, video games remediate other media. Video games are, as is suggested in the title of Jenkins’ book, “where old and new media collide”. But hey, its “cooler” to be snobby and say that games “envy” other media. That gets more views and clicks.

But for those of you who want proper vocabulary to talk about games, remember: it’s not “envy”. It’s “remediation” and “convergence”. Video games don’t “envy” film or books or other media. Video games took from other media what they needed and used those elements (sometimes judiciously sometimes haphazardly) to create a new form of expression with untold potential for storytelling, persuasion, simulation, and – yes – even play.

Works Mentioned

Steve Smith’s Article:

Henry Jenkins – Convergence Culture

Jay David Bolter’s Remediation: Understanding New Media

Jesper Juul’s Half Real

Atelier Ayesha


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on November 24, 2014, in Media Commentary, Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I do think some DESIGNERS and developers are envious of other mediums, the more mature and sensible business strategies along with the more grounded respect and audience.

    • Your comment is spot on. When film has stuff like the Oscars and Sundance Film Festival and the Golden Globes, and games have the Spike VGX, it might be a bit of a hit on morale.Still, I honestly think that no one is more passionate about their craft than game devs are about theirs.

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