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Are Video Games Literature? A Discussion

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by A'elie, Aug 1, 2015.

Are Video Games Literature or Just Popular Entertainment?

Poll closed Aug 22, 2015.
  1. Video Games are works of literature

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Video Games are entertainment

    4 vote(s)
    40.0%
  3. Middle Ground: They can be both

    6 vote(s)
    60.0%
  1. A'elie

    A'elie Acolyte

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    Now, I haven't been on this forum for long but I would like to get your opinion on this. I know that fantasy writers tend to be big consumers of video games, as they love to take glimpses at alternate worlds that are different from our own and indulge in those places.

    I personally feel that Video Games are a great medium but they do not qualify as literature. They are driven by their mechanics instead of their plot. The story of many "Great" rpgs like Dragon Age, Knights of the Old Republic seem can be made "optional" unlike that of a book. One can feel attached to the characters but that is more akin the cherry on the top when it pertains to the "ice cream cone" of gameplay.

    I don't have many resources to spare but I made a video that "casually" discusses this issue.
    https://youtu.be/19VzpQ2ntfk

    Stardusklp, an American who lives in Germany, discusses one of the recent story-driven rpgs with another user. The reason I am showing this video is because of how they discuss the story. I just wanted to show another view on this issue.

    [video=youtube_share;zTkYiuQwmgo]https://youtu.be/zTkYiuQwmgo[/video]

    What is more interesting is the comment by one of the users.


    I played and beat this game recently; i explored every area, did countless requisitions, did every side quest that wasn't bugged, found every landmark, found every shard, did every astarium, killed 9/10 dragons, crafted overkill gear for every party member i cared to use, leveled up to 25 as a warrior, etc.

    in the end very few story beats stuck with me, the high points were probably: romancing cassandra, the empress ball, and the very first 2 hours... the villian wasn't memorable and the main story wasn't memorable either, the final boss fight and ending felt more like they ran out of money

    also the combat was lifeless and had very little strategy and there were too many desolate empty (but pretty) environments, i thought Val Royeaux was too small and there were too many side quests you thought would lead to interesting missions but were resolved at the war table with a text bubble


    Even in a heavily-story driven rpg, gameplay is still king. One can strip out the whole story and what we have is a highly-advanced pacman game. It may be enjoyable, but that isn't literature.

    Honestly, this medium should away from theory. It should be about entertainment along with storytelling but I think we shouldn't try to have the public read video games like they read Shakespeare, Byron, or Alcott.

    I am open to agruements to for the other side but I think video games should try to not be "serious" and just do what they need to do: entertain the player.
     
  2. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

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    Video games are in no way, shape or form literature. Just because they may have a great plot or story, this alone doesn't qualify it as literature.

    Ofxord's English Dictionary definition of literature:
    Written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit.

    An emphasis should be placed on the very first word of that definition. Literature, whether a novel, book, leaflet or pamphlet is written. Perhaps the confusion comes from the advent of the internet with blogs and forums such as Mythic Scribes. Some people may mistake the medium in which the literature is presented (electronic) as being similar to video games because they share a common form of transmission.

    To be clear, video games are most certainly an art form and it takes a lot of very talented people to make them. However, just because they can be considered as art, it doesn't mean they can be qualified as literature.

    In my opinion, people who believe that video games are literature are, for lack of a better word, stupid.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
    Pythagoras likes this.
  3. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I wouldn't ever think to call them literature. I wouldn't call movies or TV shows literature, either. I would, however, call all of them art. They are simply different forms of it, and individual opinions on individual works may vary greatly.

    For example, I completely disagree with the user comment you posted. It wasn't a perfect game, but Dragon Age Inquisition is probably in the top five games I've ever played. Some people just don't like Lord of the Rings, or Inception, or whatever. Art, in all of its forms, is very subjective.I would contend that games like Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, or Red Dead Redemption are the equal to any of the classics from movies, books, theater, or television.

    As for taking out a game's story and being left with an advanced pacman game, if you take the story out of any other medium you're left with...pretty imagery, I guess. You say games should strive to entertain their audience, I say all artistic mediums should strive to do that. If a book doesn't entertain me, I'll put it down and never read it again. Same with movies and TV and on and on and on.

    Edit: In conclusion, I don't think video games are literature, but that does nothing to lessen them. They can be just as good a storytelling medium as any other.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
  4. I'm not entirely sure I understand what you mean by literature in this sense? As a writer I love playing story-based games, because its interactive engagement with the plot. Obviously not all games prioritise the story, but when they do and you get drawn in, then it stays with you. Red Dead Redemption is one of the most engaging games I've played, and its the story that stays with me, because it draws me in emotionally, and because its a game you feel interactive with how it plays out. For me its the same with games like Beyond Good and Evil, and to a lesser extent the Arkham series, the Elder Scrolls, and the Fallout series (with the latter 2 more because of the meticulous detail of the world which really creates the setting). Anyway, I think video games aren't literature in the sense that they work in a very different way, but I think in many ways they are as much a viable medium for storytelling as films.
     
  5. Lunaairis

    Lunaairis Sage

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    I don't believe video games are literature,nor are they film and never should they ever be compared to Shakespearean plays or Casa Blanca, but they are most definitely a sub genre of the Arts as drama, literature, music and visual art are. Everyone should be excited that we live in a period where experiences can be shared as they can be through video games.
     
  6. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    [​IMG]
    "Thank you, Mario, but our literature is in another medium."

    That's what I said just before he ripped the skull out of my face.

    My vote = entertainment. I agree a lot of work goes into the art form, but the best thing I ever heard a game writer say (at the GDC) was, "Let's face it. We all write crap."
     
  7. I voted that games are entertainment. However, I believe they have the potential to become great works akin to literature. But, the problem is that writing in the gaming community plays third fiddle to gameplay and graphics. So, until the writing takes greater precedence I'll stick with my answer.
     
  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    They seem more cinematic. I'm not saying the writing isn't important. Hell, writing is important enough in TV and movies, but neither of those is considered literature.

    Just because writers create a story line, characters, and dialogue doesn't mean a production is literature. Art maybe. Literature, no. Literature is typically defined as "written works".
     
  9. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    I think you may be confusing 'literature' with 'art'. Literature is a form of art in which a story is told through the written word. Obviously, in which case, video games aren't literature, in the same way that films or songs are not literature. Games are their own form of art, just as valuable as literature or film or music.

    And you know what I don't get sometimes? When people try to draw a distinction between art and entertainment. Yes, I know art is a very difficult thing to define, but the definition I like to work with is anything produced with the primary purpose of invoking an emotion in the consumer. I think that's an adequate definition. And in that sense, entertainment is art. Games are produced in order for the consumer to enjoy themselves while playing, so I consider them pieces of art.

    As to games and being serious, any artform can delve into serous subjects. Papers Please, This War of Mine, Spec Ops: the Line, there are whole swathes of games which deal with serious issues. And that's not even talking about games being able to be critically analysed and studied just like any piece of literature. You can write whole essays on Journey and how it acts as a complex and interactive representation of Joseph Campbell's concept of 'The Hero's Journey'. Multiple youtube channels are practically dedicated to unravelling and discussing the rich lore of Dark Souls. And there are probably whole studies dedicated to analysing how mechanics can reinforce themes, or be discordant with themes (I believe the term for that is 'ludonarrative dissonance').

    So no, games aren't 'just entertainment'. Game are ENTERTAINMENT!!! And they can also do so much more than entertain, just like any artform.
     
    X Equestris likes this.
  10. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    One thought I have is that any story can be told through any medium, but you would tell it differently to make the most of that medium. I've been converting my own short story to a comic, and made changes based on what worked better for frame-by-frame pacing.

    How about converting your own story to a video game? What parts would players view as intro/cut scenes, and what parts would the player experience through gameplay? Do you create characters for the players to play as, or does the player create their own characters by choosing a face/class and adjusting his or her body shape/size, skin tone, hair color/style, clothing, weapons and skills?

    I think it would definitely come down to which choice (for that particular game) the designer/team believes will better entertain the players. I suppose that for literature you'd also aim of the most entertaining direction. I guess the difference is that, for a game, you might find that "less story" is what makes the better game.
     
  11. A'elie

    A'elie Acolyte

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    Mechanics can reinforce themes but that is the heart of the game. Mechanics are part of each medium that tells stories. However, in video games and probably music, mechanics are the most important element. Story is a tag-along element. Even in music though, one couldn't really understand a Beatles song by stripping out the lyrics. In a video game, I could have a Dragon Age Inqusition game with not much character interaction but the "game"would still be there. For a game to really be literature, it would have be like an interactive movie.It would be something like Order 1886, which mind you, is better as a movie than as game
     
  12. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    I think it's an unhealthy practise to draw a distinction between gameplay and story. And it's certainly unwise to ever try to imply that one is 'more important' than the other. In fact, any game in which you find yourself having to compare the gameplay and story separately is probably suffering from a degree of ludonarrative dissonance. A truly great game is one in which the gameplay and story merge seamlessly together. Games like Journey come to mind.

    Also, what the hell kind of definition of 'literature' are you using?
     
  13. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. I haven't seen anyone claim games are literature, or saying they should be.

    Taking the lyrics out of a song isn't comparable to taking out a little character interaction, it's comparable to taking out everything but the combat. In both cases, you're left with a shadow of what once was. It's like taking everything except place descriptions out of a novel. You don't have a lot of reasons to care about what's left.
     
  14. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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  15. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    That's an awesome, and amusing, little piece. And it's at least partly right. Something like, say, the ending of The Last Of Us was much more emotional and thought provoking than quite a few books and movies I've seen or read.
     
  16. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Having given it some thought recently, I think that perhaps while the word 'literature' in its technical sense defines a story communicated by the written word, a lot of the analysis and critique that goes into literature can also be applied to games. By that I mean you can have very similar discussions with regards to themes, archetypes, and other literary concepts. In the same way that you can analyse the heroic archetype of a book or film protagonist, you can analyse the heroic archetype of a game protagonist. So when you look at it from that angle, it's probably better to draw a distinction between the noun 'literature' and the adjective 'literary', as in 'literary analysis'. In which case, while games are not literature in the technical sense (in the same way films aren't either), they can still be subject to literary analysis.
     
    Philster401 likes this.
  17. Cambra

    Cambra Minstrel

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    They are when written by David Gaider and the Dragon Age team... ;)
     
  18. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I am mostly playing Devil's Advocate here, but...

    If we consider scripts literature, and between Oedipus Rex and the works of Shakespeare, I would say we do, then... movies, television, and video games - stripped of their visuals and mechanical feats - could still be literature. All but universally, it still wouldn't be, because most video game writing is complete garbage. But a few games can stand up to some of the pretentious litfic coming out these days (Gone Home) and Mass Effect is better than a lot of science fiction novels I've read.

    Art works better, I think, since there are many beautiful games with little to no writing that are artistic as a result of gorgeous visuals and immersive mechanics (Journey), but the argument could be made that the best written games scratch the surface of literature even without their graphics and gameplay to support them.
     
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