Monday, July 12, 2010

Extra Lives

If you haven't noticed by now, I have a thing for videogames. So when I heard that a man named Tom Bissell had written a sort of philosophical treatise regarding videogames, namely Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, I knew I had to check it out.

Bissell spends most of the book talking about different games he's played and the emotional and intellectual impact they had on him. As it turns out, Bissell is a console gamer whereas I'm primarily a PC gamer, so really, our list of games can't really intersect. But at the same time, there were a few points of contact and even though I haven't played many of the games Bissell discusses, I still found his description of those games fascinating.

To be completely honest, there were a few times when I felt as if Bissell was talking over the top of my head. It's been a long time since I read pure philosophy. And while this book doesn't qualify, it's pretty clear that Bissell intends his discussion of videogames to at least keep one foot within that realm.

What really kept my attention was Bissell's discussion of how videogames intersect with storytelling. I've mentioned this before, but I think there's some common ground between what videogames and authors do, lessons that can be passed from one camp to another. In some ways, Bissell's thesis seems to be that videogames should try to shrink that common ground as much as possible, that when videogame designers script their games too much, it lessens the potential impact a game can have on the player.

If I understood his ultimate point (and I may have missed it), it would seem that Bissell's belief is that videogames will finally reach that point of being "true art" when they can be made completely unscripted, when a player is dumped into a world with no script and no guidance and allowed to find his or her own story within the game's world. As near as I can tell, we're a long way off from that point, but it would be interesting to see what that kind of game would look like.

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