June 14, 2007

Art, Politics, Religion, and Game Developer

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 12:06 pm

The “Skunk Works” product review section of the June/July issue of Game Developer magazine has a full-page discussion of Second Person by Bijan Forutanpour. It begins on an intriguing note:

As a word of advice, when meeting a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s parents for the first time, it’s wise to stay away from the sticky subjects of art, politics, and religion. There are certain subjects that defy definition and unanimous agreement, and if the conversation ends up there, you know you’re in for a long evening.

I don’t know if those words produced a flashback for you. Let’s just say that my flashback includes the line, “Noah says the war is all about oil!”

I’m not sure if Forutanpour intended to induce memories of such episodes, but I am sure that his goal is to help people understand why it’s good to handle certain issues with care. Specifically, he writes:

To argue that story is important or story is not important in video games is a moot discussion, on par with art, politics, and religion — and thankfully, that’s not what Second Person tries to do.

The book is not 100 percent a how-to guide for designing better video games, but rather is a thought-provoker, spanning both the theoretical and the practical.

To me, this is an interesting way of thinking about Second Person and a number of other recent projects. Art, politics, and religion can be some of the most satisfying things to discuss — but you’re probably not going to get anywhere with someone who has strongly-held opposing views, especially if you fall into the pro/con conversation trap. So the goal is to find ways of framing the conversation, and people to talk with, that will lead to a good experience.

Luckily, Forutanpour seems to think we managed the task, at least for some audiences:

For readers interested in a more academic study of video and non-video games and interactive fiction, Second Person is a must-read. For game industry professionals, the book is not for everyone, but it does contain very interesting chapters that may serve as little more than food for thought.

I don’t think there’s a version of the review on the Game Developer website, but Pat found a syndicated version.

3 Responses to “Art, Politics, Religion, and Game Developer


  1. Chris Lewis Says:

    I look forward to reading this book!

    I was interested in the review when Mechner says to “keep the story simple”. Does he mean in convoluted plot twists, or in emotional depth? I would hope that he means the former, there are plenty of great narratives that are simple, but provide emotional attachment (I just read the Selfish Giant by Wilde, which is a good example).

    I think gamers are ready to be treated as adults rather than pubescent teenagers, which interestingly is what Sands of Time did excellently, and what Warrior Within did very poorly.

  2. noah Says:

    Yes, I don’t think Mechner had anything to do with Warrior Within — and I’ve heard such bad things about it that I’ve never played it.

    Here’s a part of the essay that comments on simplicity:

    Rule #3: Maximize Efficiency.

    Programming and screenwriting have at least one thing in common: Efficiency is a cardinal virtue. Whenever you can achieve the desired effect with the fewest moving parts, it yields all manner of benefits down the line. So, the Sands of Time became not only the valuable substance that the Prince spends his time collecting, but also the cause of the cataclysm that destroys the palace and creates the monsters. The Prince commits the terrible mistake of opening Pandora’s Box, unleashing the plague of the Sands of Time on an unsuspecting world. His mission: Collect the Sands, put them back into Pandora’s Box, and set the world right again.

    The Dagger of Time is at once a weapon, a receptacle, and a MacGuffin: The Prince can fight the sand monsters with his sword, but like the undead zombies they are, they keep getting back up again and again — until he uses his magic dagger to suck the sand that runs in their veins in place of blood. In so doing, he both dispatches the monsters for good, and conveniently fills his dagger with sand. Which he can then use to rewind time.

    I can’t overstate the importance of simplifying the story as much as possible, especially in the beginning. Video game writers and designers are often tempted to start embroidering and elaborating on their ideas too early in the process. The reason this is a trap is that production resources are finite. Every character, object, and environment that can be eliminated at an early stage will increase the resources and opportunities available to enrich the characters, objects, and environments that remain.

  3. Grand Text Auto » Second Person, Twice Says:

    [...] At GTxA we’ve already mentioned two reviews of Second Person (by Emily Short and Bijan Forutanpour) and recently two more have caught my eye, by two [...]

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