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H&G: Clive Barker Talks Games As Art,  Jericho

H&G: Clive Barker Talks Games As Art, Jericho

June 27, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff

June 27, 2007 | By Brandon Sheffield, Staff
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More: Console/PC

In the first keynote from the Hollywood & Games Summit in Los Angeles today, horror writer and director Clive Barker discussed games as art, Roger Ebert, and his proposed Jericho game trilogy.

Best known as the writer and director of the Hellraiser series of movies, Barker is also an author, playwright, actor and director, and is currently developing the supernatural horror video game Jericho with Codemasters, scheduled for release this fall - previous titles have included Clive Barker's Undying with EA.

Barker, kicking off the second year of CMP and Hollywood Reporter co-created conference at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles, was interviewed onstage by Gina McIntyre, Managing Editor of Hollywood Reporter.

Barker On Games As Art

One of the first topics was that old chestnut - whether games can be art, specifically referencing Roger Ebert's insistence that are inferior to mediums such as film or literature. Barker vehemently replied: Thats bullshit. This is a medium thats barely 2 decades old, and he (Ebert) is saying oh, theres no 'War And Peace' yet of course there isnt!

Barker continued: You have to come at it with an open heart... Roger Ebert obviously had a narrow vision of what the medium is, or can be. It seems so high-handed. A lot of very very smart people, here in this room, are working to make these experiences extraordinary."

He capped this passage off by explaining: "We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. But if the experience moves you, some way or another, even if it just moves your bowels, I think its worthy of some serious study... Games mean something to a lot of people. He added: "Games arent about reviewers, theyre about players."

McIntyre then moved on to a question particularly pertinent to Barker - is horror, either in films on video games, considered less serious than other genres? Barker nodded in reply: Every other genre. That used to bother me, but now I feel that makes you free to do what you want.

On The Making Of Jericho

Barker then went on to explain the origins of Jericho, the next-gen title which Mercury Steam and Codemasters are currently working on for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

He explained: It was going to be a novel. I have all these ideas buzzing around in my head. And I have to decide at some point with the ideas in my head, where it belongs. Is this a book, a comic book, a novel? And Jericho seemed to scream out game. And that excited me, because I came into Undying when material was well-developed, and I didnt have a real chance to make much of a mark on it."

He continued of the EA-produced title: "It was a superior game, and I thought the people who worked on it were first-rate. But with Jericho I think theres really some Barker there. I liked being able to sit there and create the thing collaboratively. My first art experience was with theatre and thats collaboration. I love being able to be there and throw drawings and ideas back and forth across the table, and push the limits of our imagination... It thrills me that the gaming world is at the beginning.

But what about the story of Jericho made it suitable for games? Barker noted: The concept of Jericho? is that theres this evil f*ck that lives in the Sahara... [the plot involves] an assassination attempt upon a creature that gives the devil the shivers.

He grinned: It would make a f*cking terrible novel. It really would, it doesnt work! It screams out to be something other. Maybe if games hadnt existed, I wouldve made it a movie. But I much prefer the idea of having twenty hours to play this world, to enter this labyrinth than the two hours or the way movies are going now. I dont know what it is with people, my bum gets sore! I like pirates and all, but jeez!

The Gaming Paradigm & Narrative

Next, Barker addressed the intriguing question - does making a game mean you give up some control over it's narrative since there is interaction involved?

He noted: I think that Roger Eberts problem is that he thinks you cant have art if there is that amount of malleability in the narrative. Shakespeare couldnt have written Romeo and Juliet as a game, because it couldve had a happy ending. If only she hadnt taken the damn poison! And I think Eberts problem is, if something is so malleable, so full of possibilities that arent under the artists control, then it cant be art."

Not so much: "And thats where hes wrong. Because the artists have put all those options in. Shakespeare might very well have written Romeo and Juliet, and maybe Romeo is gay, runs off to Venice, has a nice civil weddinganythings possible! Im saying we should be looking at stretching the imaginations of our players, but also ourselves, and saying lets try to make everything possible'."

He continued of games as a medium: "Lets invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional churning feeling available. That is art! Offering that to people is art, I think. And Im excited about the fact that in the next few years, were going to see a lot of people playing together. And its going to become huge."

In fact, it appears that Barker sees games as a genuine way to exert control again from an individualistic point of view: "Weve lost our imaginations, and given them over to people who put plastic toys in with the hamburgers. Fuck them! Lets take our imaginations away from the people who want the lowest common denominator, and give it to all the people that were shot down in flames at the age of 5 or 6 who were shot down by their art teacher, who said they couldnt draw a straight line."


Wrapping up, Barker explained why larger game worlds are attractive to him: I like big novels, I really do. Theres a payoff with a big novel, when you get to page 900, you feel like youve really had an experience. I think theres the same thing with games, you feel like youve journeyed. At its best, games can be worlds of dreams that come back, and we have some measure of control over them. I think thats magical.

He did, however note: Games take 2 years to make (just like big novels), but its not all me. I would hate to not be able to share the creative experience. I love writing, I love painting, but I also love people. Creative people. And yeah, sure you get argumentative and sometimes you go away growling, but the truth is that I feel richer, not in my pocketbook, but in my dare I say heart.

So what's next for Barker in the game world? More titles after Jericho? He explained: Were looking at a three game deal right now. I believe in games, and I believe in what they can be. And if I sometimes seem to stumble in attempting to articulate it, its because I havent yet found the right vocabulary... We have something in front of us, a huge imaginative adventure in front of us. And Im just glad to be alive to be a part of it."

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