March 13, 2005

Prayers For Kane

by Andrew Stern · , 9:25 pm

I’d like to write up my impressions of GDC this year in a series of smaller posts instead of a single huge one.

One of the comments that came out during the panel discussion Why Isn’t the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories is that the game industry has yet to reach its “Citizen Kane moment”. This is the idea or hope that at some point someone will finally create a game that uses the medium in such radically new ways that it uncovers a new grammar of expression, and in the process reaches new artistic heights.

Tempting as that theory is, I somehow doubt it’s going to work that way. We already have such a diversity of form and of platforms for digital games, from PC to console to handheld to browser to pervasive games, from text-based to graphics-based, from single player to massively multiplayer. While it’s impossible to tell how far down the timeline we are without a lot more history behind us, digital games already seem to me more diverse in form than where things were with cinema in the late 1930’s. Future innovations in interactive entertainment, even radical ones, each will probably only push on a subset of many simultaneously active fronts. It seems unlikely that any one new work could end up as historically significant as Citizen Kane is considered to be.

Perhaps we should think of innovation as coming in waves, analogous to the emergence of rock and roll music, or Modern art, or New Wave cinema. At this moment in the history of interactive entertainment, I’m hoping we’re on the cusp of a procedural wave.

11 Responses to “Prayers For Kane”


  1. Isaac Says:

    I hope so too.

    In that session I was struck by a comment from Warren. He was making an anology between silent films and talkies: audio technology was pitched as a means for emotional expression but that was already possible in the silent medium. His point seemed to be that sound didn’t really afford any more expression than silent films. But he let the analogy trail off with a “…maybe that’s not the best analogy…”

    What struck me about his analogy was the potential for comparing game designers with the silent film era actors, some of whom were unable to survive the transition to a more expressive medium.

  2. mark Says:

    I do think a really successful example would trigger a lot more interest in interactive stories, although it might not be on the level of Citizen Kane. My impression is that every time people have promoted a game as having interactive story, the results have been at best mediocre, so the conventional wisdom is that successfully putting truly interactive story into a successful game that people like is not likely to happen in the immediate future. Even some of the more successful games like Black & White weren’t really knockouts in the sense that they really wowed people; the reactions I’ve seen are more along the lines of “well, that’s kind of cool, but it doesn’t seem to work right a lot of the time.” The reactions to Fable were even less gushing…

  3. ctate Says:

    Dan Sandler has linked to some other GDC material that is relevant here, including Greg Zeschuk from Bioware talking about storytelling in games, and Peter Molyneux talking about B&W 2 vs. B&W 1’s lack of structure.

  4. Pete C Says:

    I don’t think we’re likely to see a gaming Citizen Kane simply because, as you said, it’s far to broad an artform now. Different platforms and genres mean that there will frequently be classics that change peoples perception of what a game can be (GTA 3, Deus Ex and Half Life for example) but these just tend to signficantly raise the ante rather than completely resetting expectations.

    But then again, who saw Citizen Kane coming? Maybe you can never discount the possible future emergence of a truly genius games design.

  5. mattiasL Says:

    An interesting point might be that Citizen Kane was produced in 1941, but was seen as a flop and did not become famous until much later.

  6. miscellany is the largest category Says:
    Canon Formation
    Andrew Stern, over at GTA, puts forward a comment made during his panel discussion at GDC this year: One of the comments that came out during the panel discussion Why Isnít the Game Industry Making Interactive Stories is that the…

  7. Mark Bernstein Says:

    I think it’s significant, though puzzling, that the example cited here is Citizen Kane.

    As Pete and Matias observe, Citizen Kane isn’t very early, and it wasn’t exactly unexpected. By the time Citizen Kane appeared, we had pretty much all of Chaplin, Keaton, D. W.Griffith. The Academy Awards were old enough to vote. We had almost all the Marx Brothers, all of Garbo.

  8. Kenneth Stein Says:

    The Citizen Kane moment will happen when a game is made that expresses what it is like to be a person. A game that explores questions that endure. Imagine a first person WWII shooter. You shoot the enemy and as you run past he grabs your pant leg, pulls you down to face him, reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a letter addressed to his wife and children at home. He asks you to send it off and then dies. And all over the battlefield there are people struggling, suffering and dying. And they feel the pain, they experience these last moments. You can see it in their eyes, and in their movements.

  9. Chris Crawford Says:

    “digital games already seem to me more diverse in form than where things were with cinema in the late 1930‚Äôs”

    Boy, do I take take exception to that! I suspect that the crucial factor here is our different interpretations of the term “form”. I use it in the sense of the set of emotions evoked or addressed by the game. That interpretation suggests that games have steadily narrowed since the mid-80s. What sense are you using for the term “form” in this statement?

  10. Grand Text Auto » Game Lit Links Says:

    [...] Not your grandmother’s game, indeed. At last week’s Tokyo Game Show, echoing his remarks from last March’s GDC, Neil Young of EA again suggests the game in [...]

  11. Grand Text Auto » Blog/Forum Posts of Note Says:

    [...] ture Clash suggests Shadow of the Colossus is videogaming’s Citizen Kane… hmm, I’m not so sure about that.

    [...]

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