2013 was the year that Thomas Was Alone found success outside of a small circle, though released in 2012 it took until some youtubing and the PSN release for it to really explode outwards. It was also the year that Gone Home dropped to much praise.
It was the year writing for actual real humans hit the mainstream of videogames and that’s brill. It doesn’t matter if they’re firsts, it doesn’t even really matter if they’re bests (I think they’re both absolutely fine thanking you), it matters that they’re there and they’re putting a videogame foot forward into a territory traditionally only successfully occupied by other media.
I’m not one for games should be like films or let’s find where this lands on the tears as barometer scale, I don’t see the natural evolution of videogames as a push to perfect human narrative and stories. I don’t necessarily want a videogame to make me cry. I definitely give no fucks on the Citizen Kane scale. I am, however, one for wanting videogames to push out in all the directions that they can, to get their feelers into as many things as they can to see what we can do, where we can go and explore with all the things we think of. The story game is obviously part of that.
We used to be very good at cramming all manner of themes into videogames and all manner of writing, at least in the UK anyway where The Quill and GAC (adventure game authoring packages) existed and a baby of an industry allowed these things to exist as part of the mainstream, and whilst the IF community continued with such things, the mainstream and all-the-writing long ago drifted from each other. There was stuff outside IF too, of course but that was mainly an ordinary wrapping for extraordinary games without a story to tell (see Trashman, Automania etc…).
These days, we only really tell a few stories in mainstream videogames and somewhere down the line you’ll probably find it involves an orc or a spaysh marine or both. Maybe if we’re really pushing the boat out we’ll make a montage of our favorite movies and make it into a videogame and you can insert the words “dark” and “gritty” into a review somewhere as we show just how grown up we are by not remaking Aliens or Lord Of The Rings again. Over recent years we’ve gone over this again and again and again and again and oh god, just kill me now.
We’ve been really shit at ordinary stories with human things that haven’t fallen out of SF, fantasy or our DVD collection of gritty angry man movies (looking at you especially, R*). So it’s nice to see things branch out from there. It’s also nice to see us do it in a way that the not we can relate to.
(Sort of sidenote here, I love what Twine enables and I’m cheered constantly by the sheer variety of stories that come out from it but it’s hard not to notice that there can be a certain, erm, “drift” towards those playing with the form, esoterica and the likes that garners attention over the smaller more intimate and human things.
Which is OK! But it’s a good reminder of how much these things are circulating amongst videogame people still and not really pushing as far out from there as we could be doing.
There’s always work to be done and we’re on that though, right? We’ve got time)
So yeah, it’s nice to see TWA and Gone Home bringing a more mainstream style of writing to videogames and it’s nice to see it paying off. They may well be soap operas or teenage coming-of-age TV series but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Pop is nothing to be ashamed of.
We’re still dealing with real actual human emotions and real actual human don’t just respond to the highbrow, the good art, literature or Loach, real actual humans shed thousands of tears a year to the pop song, real actual humans tune in excitedly to soap operas, to radio shows and embroil themselves in pop lives, real actual humans read all manner of books and they laugh, they smile and they frown and they cry over the broadest of strokes and that’s all OK. We still have the space for the artcore, the orcware, the marinewithabiggunware and all the other things just that now, we have space for even more people to experience videogames and to find videogames they like.
2013 is the year we really started pushing outwards with success. We’re not going to stop here either. It’s going to be great. We’re not selling ourselves short here, we’re growing up proper and showing that the mainstream videogame doesn’t have to be for the mans or the teen or the skilled. We’re showing that we can do things which touch people and we can do it gently. We’re making games for more humans and we’re doing it through pop writing games entering the mainstream and the bubbling under of people claiming videogames for the many and more.
(Of course we’ve been doing this for years in some ways, the mans attempts at sidelining the casual game failed to the point where in order to retain our videogame mans-liness we put orcs and dragons in them so that you won’t notice you’re playing the same game the notwe played before you but shush, don’t tell anyone)
Seems alright to me, that. Let’s keep on going, eh?