Play Me a Story
When video games aren't video "games"on February 6, 2014 at 8:00 am
Finally, let’s talk about “Gone Home”.
This 2013 critical darling was showered with all sorts of kind words and unconditional love. It’s an interesting experience and can feel extremely personal at times. It has just one glaring issue… it’s not a game.
“Gone Home” is an experience about uncovering a story. You walk around a house, look at stuff, and… that’s about it. You can’t lose, there are no enemies, and there is nothing to challenge you. How much you get out of it depends on how curious you are; how much you like poking around.
Take away the setting, take away the story, and all you’re left with is a piece of programming where you can interact with objects. No one would ever call that a game, so why is it suddenly billed as one? I mean, that’s on the same level of simplicity as the “games” on the Magnavox Odyssey, and that was a console where you had to put plastic overlays on your TV to act as the graphics.
I’m not trying to discredit what “Gone Home” accomplishes or what it represents. I think it’s a fascinating work of art, but it’s not a game. We shouldn’t be giving it praise as one.
With a recent video parody of “Gone Home” mocking people who want it to be more gamey, it seems like I’m jumping on the bandwagon here. But I’ve always felt this way about it. The difference is that I think it’s good that “Gone Home” isn’t a game.
See, the use of the phrase “Video Games” is already outdated. It represents an era of our hobby that was a lot more juvenile and primitive. Yes, these are games played on a video screen, but people still associate that term with things that kids play or things that are time-wasters. The don’t associate it with art. I don’t want to get into the whole discussion about games being art, they are, but there are certainly different levels of art that an interactive medium can achieve.
Any sort of interactive art that you’re trying to create is ruined by the player. Artists have a vision in mind of what emotions they want people to experience, but playing a game and having fun tends to mask that. Letting the player do whatever they want and do it at their own leisure can destroy the pace of a story being told or can sour a mood by the player engaging in silly spurts of malarkey.
The art is still there, it just might not be what the creators wanted you to experience.
“Gone Home”, and software like it, doesn’t run into that issue. It comes in under the length of a movie, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and uses interactivity to immerse you into the world and story. Yes, you can screw around a bit, but every piece of that house tells a part of the story. This is your family home, so picking up objects is like reminiscing about them and reliving memories.
Because there is no game; because there is no ghoulish figure chasing you or abilities to learn or a game over screen, you can relax and enjoy the narrative that you’re being presented.
“Gone Home” would be worse as a video game, and I’m glad that it isn’t. But, I’m not happy that people still refer to it as one. Yes, it was born out of the video game medium, but it’s beyond what games are.
Well, maybe “beyond” is too strong a word. It’s… evolved into something different. It looks like a video game and you interact with it like a video game, but there is no game to play. It’s interactive entertainment and it wants to tell you a story, but there is nothing to win or lose.
Interactive Fiction like “Gone Home” or games like “The Walking Dead”, sans the poor gaming elements, can show people that interactive entertainment is a worthy artform to pursue and partake in.
Yes, I know I’m being incredibly pedantic here. It sounds like I’m being overly picky and snobby, with just a touch of elitism, but I promise that isn’t my intention.
It’s not like calling these things video games is causing any problems, right? At least, none that are obvious.
See, as time marches on and this medium continues to expand, different experiences are naturally going to emerge. Video games are just one form of digital interactivity. At first, they were the ONLY thing, but people changing what it means to interact with something and not everything they’re making is a video game. Their roots are in games, but the actual content they’re creating is something else.
I’m sure in the Way Back When, people just thought of movies like they were theater performances without the live performance. They both involve actors and actresses putting on a show, but they’re two entirely different things. Evidenced by the fact that we have separate awards for both. We have the Tony Awards for musicals and stage shows and we have the Academy Awards for film.
So, why do we include things like “Gone Home” with video games? When are we going to let these things be different and not confined by the, frankly, limiting label of “Video Games”. There may not be enough of Interactive Fiction to create an entire awards show, but we should start putting them in their own category. Why can’t we have our Game of the Year and our Interactive Fiction of the Year?
I think these things are different enough that the separation is starting to become necessary.
I want people to love video games, yes, but there’s still a stigma. I don’t find video games childish, but there are lots of people who still view it as a waste of time. Interactive Fiction like “Gone Home” or games like “The Walking Dead”, sans the poor gaming elements, can show people that interactive entertainment is a worthy artform to pursue and partake in. It may even be a gateway to more game-like experiences. A way to introduce people to the world of gaming, through something that consumes far less time and is far less demanding.
I don’t think that calling “Gone Home”, and other non-games, “games” is doing them any favors. Because this is our hobby, we’re all in the know. We anticipate these titles and hear about them through our favorite sites. But, in order for this medium to continue to grow, it needs to reach more people. It needs to show that it can be more than what people already perceive it to be. Labeling this software something closer to what it actually is may just spur up interest from people not normally inclined use it.
Let these things break free from the shackles of the “Video Game” label, and let them forge their own path as something different. Inspired by games, but striving to make a divergent product that has a totally different appeal.
We need to start treating these things like they deserve to be treated. Not as games, but as something different. Not better or worse, just different.