Vi segnalo: The state of the art (and the future?) of video game storytelling

L’ho fatto poco più di una settimana fa, ma torno a segnalare alcuni post che forniscono interessanti riflessioni sul rapporto tra gaming e storytelling, e più specificamente sullo stato dell’arte e sulle prospettive future di questo rapporto, dopo un 2013 che per molti esperti del settore è stato un anno di rilevanti innovazioni nell’utilizzo del medium videoludico come storytelling medium.

1 – In realtà il primo degli articoli che segnalo – Lucas and Spielberg on storytelling in games: ‘it’s not going to be Shakespeare’, apparso su Verge il giugno scorso – riporta due  posizioni piuttosto scettiche, di due  mostri sacri di Hollywood, sulla capacità attuale e futura dei videogiochi di raccontare storie che catturino emotivamente il pubblico. Secondo George Lucas perchè una storia funzioni davvero, non si può non lasciare il comando delle operazioni all’autore:

Telling a story, it’s a very complicated process. You’re leading the audience along. You are showing them things. Giving them insights. It’s a very complicated construct and very carefully put together. If you just let everybody go in and do whatever they want then it’s not a story anymore. It’s simply a game.

Anche Steven Spielberg sottolinea alcune inconciliabili differenze tra media interattivi e media narrativi:

“I think the key divide between interactive media and the narrative media that we do is the difficulty in opening up an empathic pathway between the gamer and the character — as differentiated from the audience and the characters in a movie or a television show”. He described an early game in which players rescued babies being thrown from a burning building — likely a reference to Bouncing Babies or some variant thereof. “That idea came from an urge of a gamer to say, ‘Let’s create an empathic experience for a player to save babies.’ Who’s more helpless than a baby thrown into the air, heading for the ground? You gotta catch the baby,” he said.
“But as players started to play the game they stopped looking at the baby as a human being and they started looking at the baby as a score… So they were looking at the numbers they were racking up, and the baby became parenthetical to the calculation in scoring more points than your friends and being able to brag about it at school the next day.
Even games with elaborate cutscenes and interstitials face the problem, he said. “You watch, and you get kind of involved with what the story is, and you hate the bad guy because he murders people in an airport and stuff like that, and then all of a sudden it’s time to take the controller,” Spielberg said. “And the second you get the controller something turns off in the heart. And it becomes a sport.”

2 – Il secondo articolo che segnalo è apparso su Ign lo scorso gennaio: The Future of Video Game Storytelling. Four game writers give us their thoughts on the ‘next generation’ of video game storytelling. Quattro game writers riflettono sulle prospettive future del videogame come medium narrativo. Neil Druckmann, autore di Last of Us per la Naughty Dog, sottolinea la grande libertà concessa dal medium videoludico che, a differenza dei lungometraggi cinematografici (90′ circa) o degli episodi di una serie televisiva (23′ o 45′ circa), non ha una struttura, almeno in termini di durata, rigida:

The great thing with our medium is that it’s not beholden to any specific length. ‘Consumer demand’ is just kind of an arbitrary thing:  when people buy a game for $60 they expect a certain amount of hours. But we’re moving away from that now. We can charge what we want for a game and release it through all sorts of digital distribution models, so if you want to tell a short story you can, and if you want to tell an epic story you can.

Neil sottolinea inoltre un aspetto molto interessante, apparentemente paradossale. A suo avviso, pur non essendo il videogioco un medium intrinsecamente narrativo, a volte quello che vi viene raccontato è in eccesso, mentre sarebbe preferibile lavorare in sottrazione:

In games we tend to say too much. We over explain things and use too much dialogue. We don’t leave enough to the imagination of the player as far as storytelling, about who this character is and what happened in this world, and I think that’s such a wonderful storytelling tool, especially in interactivity where you can kind of pick and choose what you’re looking at or interacting with, where the player can fill in the gaps. No matter what your game is, less is more is always a good approach.

3 – Sempre dalle pagine di Ign segnalo  2013: The Year of The Video Game Story,  che merita di essere letto perchè elenca alcuni dei videogiochi che, nel 2013, si sono distinti per la capacità di trovare soluzioni innovative nell’integrazione tra narrazione e meccaniche videoludiche: Bioshock Infinite, il già citato  The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, Gone Home, Paper, Please, The Stanley Parable.

 4 – In Video game storytelling: The real problems and the real solutions  – apparso sulle pagine di GamesRadar – Adrian Chmielarz cofondatore e chief game designer di  The Astronauts,  game factory indipendente polacca, che con il videogioco The Vanishing of Ethan Carter dimostra di puntare molto sul rilievo della storia all’interno dei videogiochi, sottolinea quanto sia fondamentale cercare una naturale integrazione tra gli elementi interattivi e quelli più propriamente narrativi di un videogame:

We’ve nailed the engagement part of games – Who hasn’t played Tetris for too long? – but once people felt it was better to put some context to all these mechanics, the Pandora’s box was opened. The more story-telling we inserted into games, the more it clashed with the gameplay part. The more believable the worlds and their characters, the less we could tolerate the gaminess of it. Suddenly it felt weird that the hero we believe in operates in a world that features health packs around every corner. And this is where we are right now, trying to figure out how to preserve what makes games games – interaction, engagement, agency – and through these mechanisms tell stories we believe in and create worlds we can escape to.
We have player/character empathy, ludonarrative consistency, player agency, sense of presence, immersion, engagement – and they all interact with each other and influence each other. And the Holy Grail is for all of them to sing in harmony. For example, if I fully empathize with the protagonist and this is, indeed, my alter ago in a game, but there’s just nothing interesting do, all that empathy means nothing. And vice versa, if there’s tons of interesting activities, but they are all about slaughtering innocents, this may create a dissonance that makes me uncomfortable and thus unable to enjoy the game.
It’s all important, there should be no compromises here. Don’t serve a great food on a dirty plate.
[…] If we’re talking about games that want to offer a broad spectrum of emotions, then my answer is that the gameplay and the story should be indistinguishable one from another. Tell me a story through gameplay, or let the gameplay tell a story. However you want to look at it

Analoga la posizione  espressa in merito da Tali GoldStein, tra gli autori di Papo and Yo per la Minority Media, che sottolinea come i videogame dovrebbero trovare una propria via, propri strumenti per raccontare storie, come il cinema ha fatto a suo tempo, ad esempio, con il montaggio:

I don’t have anything against cutscenes, because there are times you need context. It’s not a problem. We actually use a little bit of that. But we cannot bring you in and out of the story just to explain something, and make you role-play. Sometimes it’s not about deriving meaning and how you should feel in a 10-second cinematic. It’s actually about empowering you through mechanics to feel like that.
Rather, both elements must be created as part of one unified process. Goldstein explains further, “They hug each other. I tend to say that aesthetics, story and mechanics need to come together. If they don’t, we are not doing our job correctly. For us, it’s very important to have a subject that we relate to… After that we need to find how we want to tell the story, and then there’s the mechanics and the aesthetics. Because one thing doesn’t go without the other.

5 – In un’intervista lascia al NewYorker – On Video Games and Storytelling: An Interview with Tom Bissell – writer con Rob Auten di Gears of war: Judgement dice la sua sull’utilizzo dei videogame come storytelling media, portando ad esempio l’acclamatissimo The Walking Dead, che pur in un contesto horror, non è uno shooter, concentrandosi soprattutto sulla costruzione di un dialogo, di una relazione, tra i due protagonisti:

People are doing genuinely cool stuff with games as a storytelling medium right now. There’s this eerily affecting game out from Telltale Games called The Walking Dead—the game version of the TV series. Obviously it’s got zombies, and so it’s both incredibly violent and upsetting, but, unlike most zombie games, you’re not just constantly pulling the trigger. It’s not a shooter. In fact, it’s using the devices of one of the purer, more literary game genres out there: the old-school, point-and-click adventure game. You walk around static environments, looking at stuff, picking stuff up, and talking to people. That’s really what the game is about: talking to people, forming relationships. The relationship between the two main characters (a disgraced black academic and a little girl) is genuinely affecting.

Bissell sottolinea anche quanto chi si occupa dello storytelling in un videogioco abbia pochissimo controllo sul tempo con cui questa storia verra fruità dal pubblico, condizione che tra i medium tradizionali trova qualche similitudine nei libri:

This is the really tricky thing with game writing: you have very limited control over the pace of the player’s experience. A movie or a TV show is designed to be finished in one sitting, so the stories structure themselves around the reasonable expectation that the person watching isn’t going to stop in the middle of it. Games tend to be, what? Seven hours, sometimes even thirty-five hours long? That makes the stories much harder to structure because you can’t control the way the player is going to experience them.
Think about this, though: What other kind of other storytelling experiences does what I describe above remind you of? It reminds me, at least, of how we read books. You read for a while, but then your subway stop comes, and you stop. Or you read before you sleep. Or read in the waiting room at the orthopedist’s. There’s a grab-it-while-you-can story imperative with both books and games. Also, both have to be interesting on a moment-to-moment basis. However, game stories, unlike the kinds of stories you find in books, need to be a lot simpler. Video games generally don’t reward narrative complexity, because most of them are about going somewhere and doing something, and then going to another, similar place and doing a similar thing. In that sense, the story is sort of there to make you forget that what you’re doing is actually incredibly repetitive.

6 – Da ultimo l’articolo di Wired su The Novelist, interessante perchè dedicato ad un videogioco in cui il tentativo di integrazione tra narrazione e meccaniche videoludiche si è rivelato poco riuscito…in altri termini qui potrete leggere gli errori da evitare se volete raccontare una storia attraverso un videogioco…

A presto.

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