Electric storytelling; some lines.
September 22, 2021
It is a vibrant night, half turquoise, half violet, a night of a resplendent full moon. I am in it.
And I run and run, restless, fugitive, across the dark, shapeless ruins, sword in hand, through the incongruous corridors of the abandoned castle, huffing and puffing, just to find a coffer in the middle of the hall and open it with my sword. I gain 300 golden shiny points.
I, without a moment for thought, keep running, running furiously, but my stamina is dwindling, and I start to inevitably slow down while the countdown clock, indifferent, mechanical, suddenly shows the time is at 0: 00. Sorry. My time is due. Game over. The screen just pops up a one-word-question of existential consequences: continue?. Yes? Press A. No? Press B.
Start again. Time is running. I must run.
The video games, including architectural and landscape invention, character design and storytelling, are complex pieces of art. Before, in the world of visual creation, this aspect , the world creation, the total work of art, was difficult to translate to a similar complexity before electricity was discovered. In painting, because of lack of an active temporal dimension; in film, because of a lack of interactivity. But as the modern industry of entertainment has discovered, the video game changed that.
Games, full of rules, are the summum of a computational, combinatory way of creation, an ancient impulse for systematic world-making. We are not short at all of the examples of this type of construction in literature, from Sterne to Cortazar and Milorad Pavic, among many others, written works have played around with a more ludic approach to storytelling: episodes that can be chosen, that can be rearranged and give place to new versions of the same story, like the more commercial "Choose your adventure" novels. There is even a term: ergodic literature, non-linear narrative.
Speaking of which, pushing creation as product of a set of rules, there is a more rule-based approach is found in the board games. Decentralizing the narrative, democratizing it, the role-playing games (RPG) get you the pieces, the rules, very detailed, and you improvise on them. There are things you can and cannot do, the spine there gives you room for interaction, they look like a starter kit for collective storytelling. Of course, designing such an endeavour requires a hard time designing a chess-like plan, guessing possible variations and dead ends, work as made as much of engineering as of poetry.
And yet, structurally, an interactive arcade game could also be as linear as a traditional tale, assembled as a succession of episodes in a logical sequence, one stage after another configuring the only path travelled by every player that ever plays such game. Another case, of course, could be the one in which each opportunity the game takes a different sequence, but even then, to avoid conceiving the chaos of such experience, the sequence would be formed by sections, modules, pieces that have to remain recognizable at a certain level, although the overall view is nor the same not the organization as a whole. A structured path forms a game, with its own rules and development. While video games were born on the screen, they inherit structures developed long before they were conceived but made possible for them to be so.
As creative decisions go, what is the boundary of the created world, and within it, of the fragmented narrations? And beyond that is the vast horizon of world creation, with a natural, realistic disorder, which before was just a prerequisite structural of the author but has become a feature of the experience of the game to the point of exhaustion: a world that can be explored to non-end, infinitely, a flowing and mutating dictionary that activates trough every interaction, like playful legislation of an imaginary world.
So for a creator, to design the "game" experience, there are two levels: the overall structural organization and the parts. These parts somehow can be defined as characters, scenarios and relationships. To make successful a non-linear tale, I think is needed to maintain a level of stability in at least one of these levels. Both are articulated by set rules, which sort out characters, relationships and situations, according to the very personal process of the creator. But we could ask from the creator's viewpoint, how much wanted is this interactivity to still claim ownership for the work of art?.
At the level of the pieces, a structure created should be consistent and with a degree of autonomy that allows it to join each different piece across the whole structure but at the same time maintain identity, not only of the work itself but of the creator that makes an imprint of personal identity on it. How can we subtract ourselves from the dissolution of our idea in the multiple readings of the readers, so our idea can still be what we thought first? How can I remain the creator of my work, the captain of my ship? Should I?
Gornstein, Peter. Virtual Environments: Building the Picture. National Gallery Youtube channe. April 3, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm2CZXbtQO0&list=PL0PfsyeQ5K9UgUWRxbYT3GORj3326Dt9q&index=22
One of the best books I couldn't understand-but still remember- about this aspect of the artistic creation was "Opera Aperta" or The Open Work, of Umberto Eco.
The work touches a pain-point in the creative process; how to prepare your artwork to adapt itself to the questions of unknown viewers/readers/listeners, that will interrogate the creations and exhaust its answers?
What are the limits of interpretation, as Eco asked? How to prepare it almost to the point of being a creative machine, a piece that replicates the act of creation at the moment of being interacted with?.
McGregor, Glennis. Shades of Unreal: Colour modes in Italian Renaissance Art & 3D Games. November 2, 2011. https://www.glennis.net/post/modes-of-renaissance-colour .
Exhibitions and collection of videogames at the Victoria and Albert museum. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/about-videogames-exhibition. https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/museum-life/videogames-and-digital-design-at-the-va
Martinench, Antonio. Diseño de videojuegos, más que representación y dirección de arte. Arte + Diseño. N°3, 2014. p 52-59. https://revistas.pucp.edu.pe/index.php/ayd/article/view/19677
Murray, Jane H. Hamlet in the Holodeck MIT press, 1998. https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/hamlet-holodeck
Bush, Vannevar. As We May Think. The Atlantic magazine. July 1945. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/
Sanglard, Fabien. Street Fighter II, paper trails. Retrieved from https://fabiensanglard.net/sf2_sheets/index.html