Jon Blow

Fri 01 August 2008 by Jim Purbrick

Jon Blow

At the recommendation of John and Alice I took a break from Develop Online to listen to Jon Blow‘s talk at Games:Edu this week and was totally blown away.

Jon talked about whether games are poised to enter a golden age similar to films in the ‘30s, when they transitioned from visual spectacle to an art form capable of touching people emotionally. Currently many games are broken by the conflicts between the game play rewards and the needs of the story. The canonical example is Metal Gear Solid, which pauses all interactivity to deliver exposition, but even more nuanced games suffer from the lack of control over the framing of the story. A narrative is likely to be much less powerful if the protagonist is jumping around while another character opens their heart. Equally the illusion of interactivity is completely broken by a character that refuses to acknowledge the player’s actions by simply reeling off scripted dialog.

I wonder whether games too often sacrifice interactivity in the pursuit of realism. When you can simulate a city full of cars, the desire to populate it with people is almost overwhelming, but without solving the hard AI problem the only way to add people that say anything nuanced is to script them. The world seems more real, but adding scripted people to the center of the world compromises the interactivity that should be fundamental to a game. When we read a book we accept a lack of agency as we are empathizing with a character and following their journey through the narrative. When we’re in a game the story should be ours and the world should respond to our actions. There will be limits to our freedom, but placing scripted characters in the world rubs those limits in our face. Many forms of art touch us without having to realistically represent people. No one would mistake the people in Guernica for real people, but the work touches us and the image could be interpreted as a game environment without solving the hard AI problem. Maybe games should spend more time trying to be Guernica and less time trying to be The Godfather.

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