January 10, 1990

On the basal characteristic of the computer game, part 1

Everyone seems to agree that electronic games are interactive, and that that's very fundamental, but beyond this there isn't much, is there, beyond the myriad of articles going more or less, "we really have to figure out a way to make our characters cry so we can sell games to girls." Even to my country-boy eyes, the field of game design theory looks positively anorectic, so much so that I'm going to borrow broth from elsewhere. Elsewhere, though, is that fellow anorectic, film theory.

In Eisenstein's Film Form, he posits that the art of the movie lies in the compositional tension between a frame and the one that succeeds it — i.e., that editing is a large degree of the art of film because edit points can be points of high artistic tension. He also argued that film doesn't need a development towards abstract painting for this very reason.

One interesting thing about games is that they began their life as very abstract – for the longest time I imagined Pong as a game of zero-gravity table tennis using spaceships: after all, those "paddles" could be anything. Even today, ever since the fall of 2D graphics and full motion video, we're looking almost exclusively at worlds made out of polygons. In the late nineties everyone expected the imminent arrival of the Interactive Movie — instead we got the cartoony antics of The Sims and GTA3.

And yet, the status of computer games is no better than before, despite the extremely wide spread of that very abstract game written by an academic, Tetris. Perhaps that was why games were so eager to catch some of that Hollywood celebrity glow — not for the sales boost, but for the recognition. In this modern world of ours, games show impressive sales figures, but only blip on the general cultural radar when a title becomes monstrously large.


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