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Professor: Game Literature Will Excel In The 21st Century

We're still a long ways from getting book-quality stories in video games, but times are changing.

Games like Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire continue to push the envelope in regards to literature in interactive entertainment. Chris Swain, Associate Research Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Director of the USC Games Institute, believes that gaming will eventually become the place to go for fantastic stories.

As noted by IndustryGamers, Swain contributed to Jeannie Novak's "Game Development Essentials: An Introduction" (3rd Edition) and after acknowledging he'd get "laughed out of the room" by saying games will "become the literature of the 21st century, Swain wrote:

"When thinking about story, I like to draw an analogy between games today and films from the early 20th century. Back in the 1910s, films were silent and black-and-white—and the stories were told almost exclusively using techniques borrowed from theater. Those films really didn’t make much of an emotional connection with people. If you could have told someone back then that film would become the literature of the 20th century, they would have laughed you out of the room. However, film evolved and became transformed through technical (sound, color) and creative breakthroughs (close-ups, flashbacks, camera movement) to become the most influential storytelling medium that we’ve ever known."

He also adds that it's an exciting time to be a game designer, because "there are many technical and creative avenues for breakthroughs, innovation, and original thought." This is a common subject of discussion at PSXE, primarily because we have a readership that appreciates good literature - in both gaming and other venues - but the question remains: do you agree with Swain?

Tags: video games, gaming industry, game stories, game culture

8/24/2011 8:24:55 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (20 posts)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 9:27:53 PM

I agree with him. I'd much rather play a game that only has 8-12hrs of gameplay but an amazing story with believable characters and a great script than some hack-n-slash with 30+hrs.

Unless it's a turn based RPG, then I'm hoping it has all of this and the 100+hrs I like to invest.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 9:54:38 PM

I haven't done LA Noire, and I don't plan to, but HR definitely approached story telling entirely unique to any other game I've played. It gave me pause to believe that there's a real value in video game story telling if done right.

I know many here love their RPG's because they have story lines etc., But to me, few video games have impressed me with their stories, including RPGs. I mean, they're nice, and usually worth listening and viewing, and they help me build a bond with characters and care about the particulars of plot events, but never could they approach any of the better novels I've read. Worlds apart. IMO, it's so hard for a medium to have control of the players attention while the player isn't thinking critically about things like plot, characters and details, instead, thinking critically about interacting within a game world. Sometimes I think people confuse what is actual story in games, and what is the game itself.
But as I said, HR deserves praise for weaving actual plot components and emotional evocation through a tightly controlling narrative.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 10:00:46 PM

If you are thinking of RPGs this generation then I agree, but that is only because there has been a heavy focus on choice. They want you to have an experience wherein you can experience the world and build up a personality through decisions, freedom, and responses. To do that in a game leaves a gaping hole in the plot because you aren't following a cohesive narrative but rather constructing one piece-meal around a core story that is actually very simple as with Fallout, the Dragon Ages, and Mass Effect.

Look at Mass Effect 2, almost the entire game was just putting together a team and refining those relationships. I'm not saying that is bad, i enjoyed the experience, but in the end it all comes down to the person you constructed heading for the original, simple goal of going through a gate to confront the Reapers.

Last edited by WorldEndsWithMe on 8/24/2011 10:01:47 PM

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 10:26:46 PM

Yeah, World, the ME games are incredible. Love them. Few games have been so "virtual" to me.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 6:00:39 AM

Incredibly interesting inputs here: To me confronting the reapers were almost secondary in the ME2, in my mind it was all about the teammates and their past. To enter the gate and confront the reapers were a plot just to get to a finale, sort of. Every major event after you enter the gate was entirely based on what you had done up until then.

It was the relationship with the characters, and each their stories, who was what I perceived that ME2 was all about.
Oh man what a game that was...!

Last edited by Beamboom on 8/25/2011 6:01:39 AM

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 9:55:09 PM

I have to agree too, and not just because I love gaming. As gaming takes over where movies previously sufficed and gamers themselves continue to grow up both literally and figuratively it will be the place where the talent goes because as the leading form of entertainment it will be the best place for writers and other artists to express themselves and do what we do, create worlds together.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 10:43:13 PM

yes! yes i do. some of the best most intriguing stories i've enjoyed over the past several years have been videogames. from heavy rain to GTA IV to Mafia 2 & even the "Yakuza" series gaming has become one of (if not the best) sources for quality storytelling. i look forward to seeing what the future of storytelling in games has in store. thank you for your time! :)

Last edited by TheCanadianGuy on 8/24/2011 10:45:04 PM

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 11:06:57 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with what has been said. Gaming, especially in the last 5 years, has pushed the boundaries of cinematography. It is only natural that stories accompany the experience.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 11:18:40 PM

I agree completely. 90% of movies have crappy stories even if they are good movies. Also, most people want to be able to cause explosions and see themselves interact with games instead of visualizing it in books. I used to love reading but I just can't get myself to sit and enjoy reading like I used to even if I want to.

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Warrior Poet
Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 12:07:44 AM

Books are still way more influential than films...and I do love both. I guess you could say films are more influential on American pop culture, but really...

It's also the easiest and cheapest way to tell a story; anyone with paper or a computer can write one, and you can improve just by reading and practicing! I love writing. I understand why some don't, though.

I think there's something inherent in games that really takes away from the deep thinking required to fully enjoy a good, complex books. Movies still haven't reached book-like levels, honestly (unless we go with art movies, but that's a whole nother story...)

If anything, I think quality storytelling has been declining lately except in niche and independent markets - those who love their stories now have the technology to share them cheaply and easily.

That said, some games have had incredible stories! RPGs like Final Fantasy will always be remembered, but the most moving game I played was Sly 2. Granted, I finished it when I was 11 - but the story was fairly personal and done extremely well even though it was simple. I think we're starting to see more movie-like story and moving far away from book-like story in games...

but what about game story? Games are a new and entirely different medium, still in their infancy in the grand scheme of things - they need to be separated from movies and books in order to thrive as a storytelling medium; however inspiration and good design skills will always carry over. FFVII, as a well-known example, would have made a horrible movie and a hilarious book, but in its proper context it's pointed to as one of the greatest game stories out there.'s rant is over.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 6:03:05 AM

/me rubs eyes
Are you *sure* you are just 16??

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Warrior Poet
Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 9:55:35 AM

Last time I checked

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 12:15:40 AM

Completely agree.

Now that video games have become so technologically advanced, developers can create believable characters with human expressions, emotional reactions and branching pathways that allow the player to shape their own story.

Heavy Rain was a fantastic start, and I am so glad that it did very well in sales because it shows that many gamers are mature anough to handle a well-crafted story, even something from literature.

Like many of you here, I am a big fan and a big supporter of single player campaign storylines in video games. Multiplayer is fun with friends, and climbing leaderboards can be addictive to some (not me), but there's a certain emotional satisfaction with completing a good game with a good conclusive storyline.

The fact that your actions in playing through that story brings you to its conclusion is one of the finest reasons why gaming is quickly becoming the new go-to medium for story-telling. YOU got through the tough fights, YOU solved the puzzle or problem, YOU got the main character through to the end, and that feeling of reaching the finish line of the story after enduring so much challenge makes it all the more worth it.

Books will always be the best source of a good story, and that will hopefully never change.

Even if the next Xbox goes all online multiplayer and physical media is removed over digital distribution, I know Playstation will always have my back for collecting physical media games and providing excellent single player stories like Heavy Rain, God of War and Uncharted that I love so very much.

Don't change Playstation. We all love your current vision of tailoring to everyone!!

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Lawless SXE
Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 2:18:40 AM

I'd like to think so. Games can be so much more immersive than films, as they actively make you want to continue playing. That being said, I'd be curious to know what percentage of people play games with the story being a large part of their purchase decision, as opposed to just gameplay.

It also makes me think about how there is a disconnect between the two elements of gameplay and narrative, but that's not to be duscussed by me here today. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention Ben!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 2:58:29 AM

Yeah, games are creating storys so complex they could only ever be told in a game. Looks at games like UC2; your playing that game for 12 hours, you need to get the pacing just right so that the player can pick it up at anytime and not feel confused about the story. I also feel that your connected differently when playing games. Its like in films your just an observer, you don't really connect with any of the chracters, but in games you can control them, make them fail if YOU make a mistake, so it has a under-lying 'moral' feeling to it. Heavy Rain is obviously the best example of that, the experiance would be dampened so much if it transitioned into a film or book. It's that interactive element that makes the story come to life in my opinion.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 5:09:53 AM

i truly hope so!
as i was saying the other day developers dont appreciate how important a games story is!
only reason why ME, heavy rain, LA Noire, assassins creed, only reason why those games are so popular is because they have such in depth amazing stories!
even if the plots dont make sense and are extremely hard to believe...... cough heavy rain!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 6:46:37 AM

What excites me about storytelling in gaming is the how more recently titles have been experimenting with an interactive narrative. The game lets the player choose what decisions a character should make and following the consqeunces good or bad. It makes up for a far more immerssive and personal experience.

Games like Heavy Rain, Farenheit, Shadow of Memories and Catherine all show how you can have the player make descisions but all still have a main character which is not just robotic, but has his own goals and needs. This is the problem I had with Fallout 3 and Oblivion, I never cared for the character I was controlling, The idea as to make the lead transparent, so the gamer could fill in the shoes but I could not look past the stale main character how every customisable it was.

That is not to say single-root narratives are bad. I am currently re-playing Final Fantasy IX and the script is delightfully written. But I feel games have the avantage over film due to it's interactivity and if more developers realise this games will only become broader in appeal to an audience.

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Warrior Poet
Friday, August 26, 2011 @ 12:06:58 AM

I'm playing FFXI too! I'm near the end of disc 3. Man, that game is hilarious, especially the beginning.

There are room for both types of stories :) Whoever thought a linear story was bad? Player choice is very cool in games and nonlinear branching paths are super interesting when they're done right. As far as movies and books go, obviously there's not too much interaction, but that frees the author to do exactly what he wants, doesn't it? If I've got a tale to tell, I usually don't ask my readers what happens at the story's climax :P And linear games aren't great too! Like FFIX. Lol.

People keep comparing movies to games...but they're completely different. They should be kept seperate

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 9:52:22 AM

Yes I agree with him.
I've said this b/f and I'll say it again. I think games have the potential to be the hybrid of the film and literature world. You're not going to see a film that last 12+ hours and your not going to read a book that the over the top action of say the bullet time seen in The Matrix. Games however can and some certainly already do have both of these elements in them.

There are so many ways to get the person involved in the story of a game. Especially in an RPG. I wish more developers would realize this. I would rather see a battle for gameplay VS story than a gameplay VS graphics like we seem to have today.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011 @ 3:29:07 PM

it already is
videogame hawe the best and most imersive storilines in medium
not all of them
some dewelopers just make story-less 3h campaing that just hawe you shooting random rebels, mercenaries, or civilians

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