READ.ME: Missing the Point

If you’ve made it here, congrats! You’ve come a long way. As you may or may not know, this is a visual novel column. While today’s perspective will still be solidly camped in the visual-novel area, we’re going to talk about something a little more relevant to the gaming industry as a whole.

It all all starts with this article here. This is only a single example – I don’t owe Variety anything – but it has the specific words of the two directors whose films I have enjoyed that I need in context. Check these important bits out:

“…Spielberg said so far, games have not been able to create the same empathy with onscreen characters that narrative forms have. Though gamers might empathize with characters in the cut scenes between game play, he said, ‘The second you get the controller something turns off in the heart, and it becomes a sport.’ Lucas was more sanguine, saying the game industry can and will create empathetic characters, but it hasn’t so far because it’s been driven by hard-core gamers who enjoy onscreen violence.” – Variety, “George Lucas & Steven Spielberg: Studios Will Implode; VOD Is the Future”, Copyright 2013 Variety Media, LLC, 15 June 2013.

Many people have already given their two cents. Naturally, a large part of the gaming community is considerably disgruntled by these statements from two very prominent figures in the entertainment industry – one of which whose ventures have been responsible for character-driven adventure titles such as the Monkey Island franchise, Knights of the Old Republic, and a slew of other adventure games. The part of the gaming industry that is responsible for the continued production of Call of Duty shouldn’t be feeling anything other than guilt, but there are admittedly a number of problems with what’s been said so far. Let’s break it down.

Do you see any characters here to be attached to? Like? Dislike? This from a man who created a space odyssey.

Do you see any characters here to be attached to? Like? Dislike? This from a man who created a space odyssey.

One of the major things that has been brought up as a counter to Spielberg’s comment has been the idea of choice, interactivity. Many a video game demands that the player take responsibility for their character’s actions in a way that a film or a book simply cannot. Rather than being limited to cutscenes, gamers probably feel even more attachment to their characters when the controller/mouse is in their hands, thumb/finger hovering over a button that will change the course of the game.

Then there’s my favorite line from Lucas, where he claims girls are the targets of empathetic games because they like them:
“[Girls] like empathetic games. That will be a huge hit and as a result that will be the ‘Titanic’ of the game industry, where suddenly you’ve done an actual love story or something and everybody will be like ‘where did that come from?’ Because you’ve got actual relationships instead of shooting people.”

Drop mic. Walk off. I mean, this is just too easy.

If there's a game more dependent on the player's emotional involvement than To the Moon:  awesome.

If there’s a game more dependent on the player’s emotional involvement than To the Moon: awesome.

Alright, alright, alright, fine. Lucas probably doesn’t even know what a visual novel is. I’ll just reach under here and – what’s this, To the Moon? You’re a game with a love story? Oh shut it Final Fantasy VII, you have no room to talk. Wait, it’s not just Japan? Sure, Baldur’s Gate II, just repeat everything the Secret of Monkey Island tells you.

While it may seem easy to take potshots at a guy who makes blanket statements about an entire industry, I think this is an extremely important moment in the history of gaming. Because while we can sit here and smugly say how awesome Aselia the Eternal was, there are people out there who probably thought what Lucas and Spielberg were on to was a good idea. And who can blame them? The cash cows of the gaming industry simply aren’t the JRPG’s (despite how pricey their limited-edition boxed-sets are) or the fruits of Operation: Rainfall, even though at times they seem to garner a great amount of attention for themselves.

And no, the point of this rant is not to call Lucas out for being a male-chauvenist-pig-dog (Harry Harrison, author of Stainless Steel Rat gave me that one), even though I just did. It’s about the chance that we all now have. A chance to tell gamers, “Hey, you really liked all that choice stuff and character-relationship stuff from Mass Effect? Maybe check this game out!” Maybe say to a book reader, “Hey! I see you’ve got a lot of ‘who dunnit’ novels on your shelf. Want to borrow my DS and play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors? Just give it a chance!”

Because they might say, “Sure, y’know what? I’ve got a little time to spare; maybe you’re on to something.”

Because while some games really do seem to be all about graphic violence, maybe some of them aren’t. Maybe the release of the week (by all reports) might be about the relationship between the two main characters. Maybe the hit TV-series the Walking Dead spawned a series of adventure games that literally had gamers gnashing their fingernails off in the few moments they had to contemplate a game-changing decision that reverberated throughout the entire series.

Visual novels have their place in all of this as well. A great many of them and their explicit sexual content will (pun fully intended) be a major turn-off for most gamers, but the medium itself is not to blame; the aforementioned 999 is a prominent, critically-acclaimed example. Aselia as well, for those gamers that like a little more action with their reading.

Talk about nail-biting. And suspense. Try doing some of these puzzles without your adrenaline ticking up a notch.

Talk about nail-biting. And suspense. Try doing some of these puzzles without your adrenaline ticking up a notch.

I’ve been a gamer for mostly my entire life. I’ve also been a reader, and a movie-goer, and a cartoon-watcher (anime these days, but who’s counting). I enjoy all of these activities. I love them for what they do uniquely and in common, and for games I love their stories. I love their interactivity, I love them for every reason that Lucas and Spielberg think they haven’t achieved what films somehow have. And they’re great artists in their own right, but that doesn’t make them infallible.

Maybe Spielberg just needs to sit down and play through My Girlfriend is the President. And I’ll bet Lucas would get a kick out of To the Moon.

At least the writing would be better (*ZING*).

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