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Narrative? Really?

Narrative? Really?
« on: November 20, 2012, 12:20:57 pm »

The Independent Games Festival has added an Excellence in Narrative category to its awards. I find myself not very excited about this.

It was obvious that they needed another garbage bin to put stuff in that didn't belong elsewhere, as Nuovo was getting crowded. But "narrative" is such an uninspiring, conservative category. If only they had called it "writing". Or if they, instead, added categories for "poetry" and "atmosphere". You know, things that actually matter in this medium, things that the medium potentially excels at.

I guess it's typical for a branch of the industry that is so closely related to its core business. They even admit it themselves, that they are just like their "sister festival, the Game Developers Choice Awards". In-dependent? Right.

Many of the commercial successes in indie games are created by AAA industry dropouts. And their creations have been very much defined by that AAA industry, only deviating or contrasting with it in minor points or logistics. I can't think of any other medium -if we can call videogames that- where the "independent" wing is so closely related to the main industry.

I guess this is the result of the closed myopic geek culture that surrounds videogames. Almost everyone who makes videogames today comes from games, either from a position in the production factories of the industry or from the hardcore gaming hobby community.

I wish for a place where videogames can be approached as a truly new medium, ideologically independent of the AAA industry and logistically independent of its distribution platforms. What does it say about indies that they need Valve, Apple, Sony or Microsoft to survive? Such a close relationship can only lead to conservatism and stagnation. And this while there is so much work to be done!
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2012, 03:59:17 pm »

Yes, the best medium for narration and writing is still the book.

Also many get confused to use heavy narration/writing in a game,
because they look at the movies at the wrong angle. I can't count
how many movie critics spread the false assumptions that movies are
a storytelling medium. Even most of hollywood directors believe that
that is true.

So my deepest wish is that game developers and filmmakers would give up storytelling.
You can't beat Anna Karenina that way ...

If I can have one more wish: game developers/designers should give up moviemaking, too!

I make an example: Music does not need to tell a story, architecture, ballet, sculptures, paintings do not
need to tell a story. I thought we were all clear about that...

 Kiss
cheers
George

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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2012, 08:16:56 am »

It also remains to be seen whether the IGF will nominate actually interesting content, just stuff that is "good for a game" or simply a good use of narrative, despite its quality.
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2012, 12:28:45 pm »

I actually think this is a good step - not to say that your other concerns are not valid; I much agree on the reliance on distribution platforms and the 'inbred' culture that games have become.

But I think games are a wonderful medium for storytelling - as is film. Films need not tell a story; nor need games. But I rather like games that make a story interactive and this years IGF has an amount of them. I personally like games that tell stories and having a category to honour that is excellent for me.

The exact choice of 'narrative' is a little puzzling but I can only hope it is a fluid category that can include story in the more abstract senses as well. I am still not certain where this leaves a game where you 'just explore', which has little 'story story', or even a game such as Dear Esther. But at least it is a step towards having a more full array of categories. I share the reservations as to whether this will be 'actual' good writing or 'good for games' - but then, this is an award that comes from inside games. I fear we need to be patient for games to mature and have other relevant festivals.

And on me; ballet without a story never quite grasps me.
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2012, 08:35:17 pm »

I would love to see a bad game awarded for fascinating content, meaningful theme, original way to look at subject matter, poetic style, depth, truthfulness, etc (the hallmarks of "excellence in narrative" in my book). But I doubt that will happen as long as the jury remains mostly game-crazy. The first requirement in any category seems to always be that the game is fun —in the very base sense that video games are fun.

But you're right. It's a step forward.

Are you a judge this year, Jeroen?
(or was last year too much for you as well)
« Last Edit: November 21, 2012, 08:37:55 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2012, 10:13:11 am »

Quote
But I think games are a wonderful medium for storytelling - as is film

I agree to disagree Wink

I read a short story of Lovcraft this very week, which gave me the idea for a narrative experiment.
(Hint: Steve Reich, Piano Phase.) I will start working, and let us see what we can do with
narration (I hope it will be wonderful Wink )
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2012, 12:19:05 pm »

I would love to see a bad game awarded for fascinating content, meaningful theme, original way to look at subject matter, poetic style, depth, truthfulness, etc (the hallmarks of "excellence in narrative" in my book). But I doubt that will happen as long as the jury remains mostly game-crazy. The first requirement in any category seems to always be that the game is fun —in the very base sense that video games are fun.

But you're right. It's a step forward.

Are you a judge this year, Jeroen?
(or was last year too much for you as well)

That is a real jury problem. The interesting thing is that games like Coming Home or Thirty Flights of Loving are not really seen as 'bad games', the genre has been opened by games like Dear Esther. There is a real lack of importance on the word 'fun' in how some games are discussed these days, I notice. There is the more stubborn group of gamers who still mutter 'experiment, bad game', but there is also a group of people who knows how to pick these things up. Not to the extent that you or I want of course.

I am a judge this year, yes. There is a gradual shift from last year where there still is a 'is this a game' reaction to some things but it does not always have a large voice. Which is good.

I do feel our type of games needs to be represented as part of the whole so I will take some personal discomfort in exchange for representation Smiley

Quote
But I think games are a wonderful medium for storytelling - as is film

I agree to disagree Wink

I am not a film fanatic, though - I prefer tv-series exactly because they become more similar to book lengths. I think films are bad at storytelling in the way books are good at it and vice versa. Just to say I am not one of the 'gamers are superior to films are superior to books' crowd.
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2012, 07:33:43 pm »

The IGF has long been making the priorities of its organization very clear and unmistakable. Some years ago we were led to believe there existed value and potential to the initiative. With the unabashed introduction of award trends and the canonization of handpicked indie game developers, that nobility and genuineness which the festival could have aspired to was irrevocably lost in the haze. Personally, the only reason why I visit their website yearly derives from a complication far more serious than what preposterous new award they agreed upon introducing this time around. To an extent, independent creators have little alternatives but to enlist their games in that contest if they wish to gain some degree of visibility, whether they're pleased with the known rules or not; and they do so for the lack of a better and non-partisan mechanism that could ensure the needed exposure. This needs to be identified by what it truly is: hegemony, at plain sight.

And it all culminates in a gaudy award ceremony, of course. Everyone gets a fair shake and some even return home with an award, a fat cheque and a tale of personal glory. Non-winners get to be featured in the finalists' list. This is only the beginning, however: the entire festival has become a filtering process which offers to the upper crusts of video game entertainment a reasonable selection of projects which are entitled to popularity, which then enables them to claim their space in the prevalent distribution platforms and, above all, to deserve respect and admiration from an audience unwilling to perform conscientious choices. The majority of awards in this festival has always striked me as exceedingly vague. Worst of all, they offer no shielding from the persuasiveness of hype, not to mention an uneducated sense of quality or taste which continues to characterize a highly dubious selection process. There is no adjustment, no compromise, no unexpected or controversial alignments with other mindsets. A routine has now settled, as it has settled within the very bosom of independent games.

As I see it, "Narrative" is yet another shot aimed at the dead horse.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2012, 07:40:23 pm by Bruno de Figueiredo »
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2012, 07:49:23 pm »

To an extent, independent creators have little alternatives but to enlist their games in that contest if they wish to gain some degree of visibility

True. This is why I entered Bientôt l'été. For the people who browse the long list.
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2012, 07:53:24 pm »

they offer no shielding from the persuasiveness of hype

On the contrary: hype + entry = finalist, maybe winner.
I know, we have entered games that were finalists and games that were not.
I just have no energy for hyping any more.
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Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2012, 10:05:27 pm »

I don't know guys, I disagree on several points.

I do agree that a lot of devs enter their games just to show up on the list, and I'll add many of them do it just to have a solid deadline to work toward, and both those reasons are valid I think. But the IGF administration works tirelessly on their judging system. I think in the end, the judging just comes down to the tastes of the judges; the system feels pretty transparent to me.

That suggests a much simpler problem and solution: taste, i.e. cultivate better tastes, either through new judges or existing ones. And it seems to me that's happening anyway, as the same judges have tastes that are getting more sophisticated over time. Jereon's comment about how there's less discussion about "is it even a game" is good evidence.

I guess my final point is that it seems to me the challenge in the end is the one that always seems to be there: finding and connecting with an audience. Overall, having a narrative category seems to me like it would help with that.
Re: Narrative? Really?
« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2012, 11:55:57 am »

On the contrary: hype + entry = finalist, maybe winner.
I know, we have entered games that were finalists and games that were not.
I just have no energy for hyping any more.

When I said "offer no shielding", it means that the awards are vague enough for personal preferences, in themselves shaped by all sorts of popularity phenomena, to take precedence over a more objective and conscientious judgment. I don't doubt that some members of the organization work very hard to put it all together, but should logistics be our main concern here?

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