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Storytelling, games, and Escapist

Mister Nizz

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Oh, Horrors! Say it's not so!

I am a great fan of ESCAPIST MAGAZINE, a free online magazine contributed to by (mostly) electronic gaming developers and journalists, but occassionally an old-school type, some of which are acquaintences of mine. In the latest issue, Vincent Kang writes a perceptive article with the somewhat heretical title: I'D RATHER GAME THAN READ A BOOK I found the article to be of interest to video game addicts and parents of same. Like some of you, computers and internet and games take up far too much of my free time, and I begin to despair of finding time to pursue some of my lifelong passions, notably reading books. Mr. Kang addresses the tradeoff between massive multiplayer online games (such as Second Life, and Warcraft, and what have you) in a trenchant and readable fashion. His semi-heretical point is that online gaming fosters narrative thinking in a fashion not unlike reading epic ficiton:

Literature is equipment for living. The cultural critic Kenneth Burke wrote those words in his 1974 book, The Philosophy of Literary Form. In a utilitarian sense, the stories we tell each other in books, movies and videogames help shape our consciousnesses in a way a straight recitation of facts cannot. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us to not trust strangers in a way that simply saying "don't trust strangers" cannot.

Narratives are the key. The format, be it film or books or videogames, acts as a wrapper by which the substance, the story, is delivered. They help shape the story by setting the boundaries of the playing field in which the story plays itself out
In a sense, isn't a MMORPG an ongoing narrative that we interact with every second that we are logged in? I find it rather easy to take a humorous incident of from an online incident and spin an anecdote out of it. I note, from the journaling efforts of other online gamers, that most of them that bother to do so can spin a tale out of relatively few narrative threads. In that sense, isn't gaming (and online gaming in particular) beneficial towards a story telling creativity? I can't hazard a guess as to whether it would replace fiction for me personally (it certainly hasn't, I'm reading four books at once, currently), but it has an epic look and feel that appeals to the same sense of creativity within my soul.

If you have an interest in the narrative process and creativity, I suggest you look into this article (linked above) as well as the non-fiction essay collection
SECOND PERSON, by MIT Press. Second Person is a book all about telling narrative storys through the medium of gamesmanship. It features some interesting contributors. A very costly read (alas, MIT Press books ain't cheap), but well worth it if you are a devotee of the genre.