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: “That’s bullshit. This is a medium that’s barely 2 decades old, and he (Ebert) is saying oh, there’s no 'War And Peace' yet – of course there isn’t!”
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 it’s worthy of some serious study... Games mean something to a lot of people.” He added: "Games aren’t about reviewers, they’re 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 didn’t 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 there’s really some Barker there. I liked being able to sit there and create the thing collaboratively. My first art experience was with theatre – and that’s 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 there’s 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 doesn’t work! It screams out to be something other. Maybe if games hadn’t existed, I would’ve 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 don’t 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 Ebert’s problem is that he thinks you can’t have art if there is that amount of malleability in the narrative. Shakespeare couldn’t have written Romeo and Juliet as a game, because it could’ve had a happy ending. If only she hadn’t taken the damn poison! And I think Ebert’s problem is, if something is so malleable, so full of possibilities that aren’t under the artist’s control, then it can’t be art."
Not so much: "And that’s where he’s 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 wedding…anything’s possible! I’m saying we should be looking at stretching the imaginations of our players, but also ourselves, and saying ‘let’s try to make everything possible'."
He continued of games as a medium: "Let’s 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 I’m excited about the fact that in the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of people playing together. And it’s 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: "We’ve lost our imaginations, and given them over to people who put plastic toys in with the hamburgers. Fuck them! Let’s 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 couldn’t draw a straight line."
Wrapping up, Barker explained why larger game worlds are attractive to him: “I like big novels, I really do. There’s a payoff with a big novel, when you get to page 900, you feel like you’ve really had an experience. I think there’s the same thing with games, you feel like you’ve journeyed. At its best, games can be worlds of dreams that come back, and we have some measure of control over them. I think that’s magical.”
He did, however note: “Games take 2 years to make (just like big novels), but it’s 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: “We’re 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, it’s because I haven’t yet found the right vocabulary... We have something in front of us, a huge imaginative adventure in front of us. And I’m just glad to be alive to be a part of it."