Saturday, 10 July 2010

Explorers and Storytellers

Seeing the discussion over at Brainy Gamer and the discussion of Deux Ex's 10th anniversary on RPS and Kieron Gillens Review of Replay, it seems there is a genuine desire within the gaming community to more fully explore the history of the medium.

In a Art form as young as games there is still a bias towards chronicling the advances that are made in the techniques. Part of this I'm sure comes from the way that genre in games is defined more by mechanics than content, when people talk about Halo they don't describe it as Science Fiction they describe it as a First Person Shooter.

One of the clearest descriptions of the way any art advances I've come across was in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.
McCloud postulates that all art can be divided into 6 steps:

  1. Idea/Purpose:
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

and that most creatives focus on one of the first two steps Idea/Purpose or Form. He calls these two types Explorers, and Storytellers. Explorer focus on exploring what the form is capable of, and Storytellers focus on using the medium to effectively express their message.

Commercially it is often the Storytellers who have the most success, you only have to look at how someone like Hideo Kojima has built up a following for the Metal Gear series to realize that the lure of the cult of the auteur is as strong within games as any other media.

The Explorers are mostly less well know outside the games community, but within it they are often held in a even higher regard than the storytellers. Deus Ex is often quoted as the greatest pc game of all time but commercially it was only a modest success with around 500k copies sold. Yet as the 10th anniversary of its release arrived figures from all over the game industry are singing it's praises and extolling the way it shaped their minds.

Naturally there seems to be some antagonism of the devotee's of both approaches, perhaps because the games community wants to 'prove' themselves in a wider cultural context. Perhaps now with even Ebert giving a grudging admission that games can be art people will become more comfortable with both approaches being important.

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