In a new feature article, writer and designer Tadhg Kelly examines how the maxim "show, don't tell" needs to evolve for the interactive age into "play, don't show" -- empowering gamers in its wake.
"One of the great lessons in film, which took a generation to learn, is 'show, don't tell,'" writes Kelly.
"The earliest silent movies often used prompt cards and staged sets to tell stories. When talkies came along, the cards went, yet the sense of staging did not," he observes.
"Starting with Citizen Kane and some others, and then evolving into the New Wave, filmmakers started to realize that they weren't making recorded theater."
By the 1970s, he writes, the landscape had changed forever. "Directors like Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppolla, and Lucas showed what cinema could really do, and everything was different after that.
"I see a similar situation in games, except where cinema used many of the conventions of theater, games use many of the conventions of cinema. We're passing through an era of 'filmed games,' just as film passed through its era of 'staged films.' And just as the lesson to learn in film was 'show, don't tell,' the lesson in games is 'play, don't show,'" writes Kelly.
He argues that Left 4 Dead is the best-designed game of the last five years particularly because it follows this new maxim. "It ties its gameplay into its storysense through limiting simple things like your ability to stand up when knocked over. And after playing a session or two you soon realize that you can't leave a man behind. You will be overwhelmed."
The full feature, in which he tackles the thorny issue of why many designs envision player characters in a way that is contradictory to the nature of the medium, is live now on Gamasutra.