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Games are not Movies, they are Games

by Christopher Gile on 11/19/12 01:07:00 pm

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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This is a cross post from here.

Movies have a lot to teach games. Movies, like games, are a medium that is a composite of other mediums. Music, writing, photography, theater all are part of movies and yet it is its own thing. In the same way games are a composite of so many different arts forms and yet we need to remember that they are not them. It is important to learn from them, but it is also equally important to remember what we are actually making. So often games try to be movies, and it just makes for a boring game.

In movies, the central conceit is "Show, don't tell", which basically means don't tell the audience something but show that thing happening. Don't have the characters say "We sure are best friends who would never betray each other", show that bond. Show them joking with each other, trusting each other with secrets or sharing knowing glances. Games have a different central conceit, "Do, don't show".

Don't show the player they should be afraid, make them vulnerable. Don't show the player they should fell powerful, let them level mountains. Don't show the player they are powerless, let them try everything they can and let them see how little it does. All to often during the emotional climax of a game it will take control of the game away from the player and show a movie. Think how powerful the moment when you beat Andrew Ryan with a golf club in Bioshock is, now think about how much more powerful it would of been if you did it and it didn't do it for you. They did it to an extent, but they did what they needed to for that sequence a second later and perfectly. When you are told to do something you don't want to do but end up doing it anyway's because there is nothing else for you to do but obey. You get to feel the shackles because you try to strain against them. 

Put the player in a room with him, have him give the player the golf club and then have him command you to do it and not let you out until you beat him to death. Give him a large speech for him to run though while they player tries to figure a way out, realize they don't have a choice, and then come to terms with that. The point of the sequence was to show that you were powerless to disobey, but by taking control away from the player you show that the character is powerless to disobey and so you just put an emotional barrier between the character and the player.

Give the player control. Yes, if they can look around then a lot of your shots won't be framed as nicely as you want them to be. Yes, that means their attention will wander. But if they are wandering with the character in game taking control away from them would then mean that they are now wandering around in the real world. You didn't force them to pay attention you just forced them to sit though something. Why are the moments we most want the player to identify as the character the only moments where the player isn't the character?

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