There’s an old saying: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (you know, when you toss the water out of the metal/wood tub you used to clean your baby). Basically, it’s going for just because you had one bad experience don’t let it sour the whole thing for you. Examples include: just because one date went bad don’t stop dating; just because you had a bad time playing Monopoly don’t stop playing board games all together; just because you had a bad day at your job doesn’t mean stop working. Stuff like that. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the saying applies here, but it comes to mind when I think about this.
So, a couple months ago, in April (which is now three months now that I think about it), I watched an episode of The Know (video game news show on YouTube). The episode was all about Andrzej Sapkowski and The Witcher videogames. Quick update for those maybe not aware: The Witcher videogames are based on Andrzej Sapkowski books which feature the world of the witcher as well as the main character of the games (Geralt of Rivia).
I’m bringing this up because it’s been stuck in my brain for a while now, and I thought about it again when I sat down to write this. I’m not going to get too specific on what went down (if you’d like the story, including Sapkowski’s quotes, you can find the episode here), but the gist of the whole thing is: BOOKS are the end-all and be-all of storytelling, and videogames are crap for babies!
Let’s put aside the fact that the first game takes place five years after the events in the books, making them stand alone stories on their own. Let’s put aside the fact that these games are considered some of the best storytelling in videogames. Let’s even put aside the face that the people making the games are fans of Sapkowski and thought they were honoring him, and he just shit all over them.
Let’s put all that aside. What he said is still one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.
Now, am I saying every videogame is a masterpiece? NO. GOD, NO.
That being said, I’ve read some pretty shitty books.
Here’s what I’m saying, society and culture evolve. As an example, when I was a kid in the nineties, and videogames were picking up steam, a common parental disparagement was: do something else, you can’t get a job playing videogames. Now there are literally thousands of people doing just that. To give the argument a more literary context; history, of a person, of a tribe, of the world, used to be oral, handed down from one person to another, then we had books filled with history on every subject you could imagine, and now we have access to a world of information in our pockets.
Videogames too have gone through a similar evolution. From Atari’s Pong, literally a digital version of ping-pong (and not a very good one), to arcade machines meant to take your quarters, to consoles for in home gaming. It’s not just the hardware that’s changed either. I’d like to mention a couple games now, Firewatch and That Dragon Cancer, both of these games are commonly called “walking simulators.” They’re called that because they are first person (the whole screen is your POV) point and click adventures (you use the mouse to click on things on the screen to pick them up and learn something about them). With walking simulators, the whole point of the game is the experience of going through the story with the main character, seeing how it unfolds and resolves. In the case of That Dragon Cancer, the game tells the story of the developer’s child dying of cancer. Not only did making the game help him(?) deal with the loss, he hopes that it can help other people deal with similar losses. Again, these videogames focus more on the story than the “gameplay.”
Now I’m going to mention, Until Dawn or any of the Telltale game series (Wolf Among Us, The Walking Dead, Batman). While these games have some stunning visuals, and larger than life characters, the focus of these games is also the story, specifically the choices you make during play that affect the story one way or the other. There might be some quick time events (pressing certain buttons when prompted before time runs out), but basically you’re watching a movie where you get to pick what the main character does in each scene.
Writing a videogame, or having one of my stories turned into a videogame, would be pretty cool, and I would jump at the chance. Live the dream!
Here’s what I’m trying to say: don’t close your mind. There are many ways to tell a story. There are many ways that culture can evolve, and different ways it can be influenced. Sapkowski has decided that videogames have no poetry, instead of a) seeing the poetry that’s there, and b) contributing to videogames so they have more poetry. Remember, at one point television was a fad, and I dare say there’s some awesome storytelling going on there right now. Just stay open to the possibilities of storytelling.
Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.
P.S.: Things are going slower than I’d like. A Dinner for Crows should be coming in the next month or two.