This is something I have be considering for some time. As games have become more complex and have offered more choice, we are realising the differences between video games, and interactive cinematic experiences. The problem is, we are still calling the latter: video games.
For the purpose of you understanding what the hell I am getting at throughout this post, I will explain what I mean. The market of video games, is basically defined by the principle that these interactive experiences all have rules. However, that's only half of the battle. A game requires two things, a set of rules, and play. A game's set of rules is designed to enhance play, so that one might explore those rules, and create a personal experience based upon them.
The first games we experience in our lives are the ones we create as children. We make the rules, and they become more complex as we grow older. These games allow us to learn how to articulate ourselves in the world, due to the nature of exploration within the game environment. The same must exist within an interactive digital experience in order to be a video game.
Now, this moves me onto linear interactive cinematic experiences. These are titles in which you have little choice in what you do within the virtual space (for want of a more accurate term). You are limited to one path (with some variation from time to time) but have no choice to deviate from the set plan. Now that doesn't necessarily mean only being able to travel in one direction, as some do allow multiple paths, but I simply mean that they don't offer any choice in how you pursue success in that space.
At this stage I feel it's necessary to give a clear example of what on earth I mean so that I don't lose anyone. I will point out that this post is not a hate speech, before I reveal my example, because I've always been a fan.
So, the example is Call of Duty Modern Warfare, the first Infinity Ward warfare title in the modern day era. It was built up of levels carrying us through the experiences of John 'Soap' MacTavish as he, his commanding officer, Cpt. Price and the rest of a small squad work to uncover an uprising of conflicts in the middle east which culminates in a mastermind evil Russian dude (Zakhaev), a lot of American Hoo Rah-ing and lots of nice explosions and gun fights.
As I've already said, I am a fan. Yes it was quite cliché, yes it was West vs. East, and the ideologies behind it were awfully suspicious at best, but it was a good experience to be in from a cinematic stand point. The pacing was impeccable, to the point where I've played through the campaign multiple times and still get a good buzz from it. The set pieces were overly dramatic, but made you near on poop yourself with anticipation and virtual fear, you wanted to know where you'd be carried next and even though it was predictable, you still wanted to be told what was actually going on.
This does not, however, make it a good 'game'. This makes it a good interactive cinematic experience. I did not learn any more about 'Soap', or any of the gang unless the narrative dictated that I should know them. I was fed the information bit by bit, the way you would through any other storytelling medium. It was not at my leisure to uncover their histories, or know what else was happening at the same time we were jetting off to Madeupistan. I was told strictly what I needed to know in order to like, dislike or even kill those around me.
Due to this reason, I wasn't playing, I was performing the required actions I needed to in order to move the story along. Arguably I could stop, do nothing and the pace would have to wait for me, but there would have been nothing for me to do if I had stopped. Therefore I pushed on, working towards the next climax.
This feeling of almost being completely at the will of the narrative made me nervous when rounding corners, not knowing whether to expect twenty odd enemies wielding Klashnekoffs or just a quiet road. This uncertainty worked for this title because I felt much like I imagine a soldier would (without the epic gunfights around every third corner). I got anxious when things went quiet, adrenaline fuelled when things got heavy, and even sad when my whole squad got wiped out (or seemingly so).
The depth of this experience is increased by the fact that I am also performing it for my own viewing. Others might watch, but as an active member in the performance, I am feeling the emotions and the drama the most. I understand it more as I take each step towards the final act.
So this leads to the question of what I'm trying to get at. Quite frankly, I am trying to explain what an interactive cinematic experience can do better than a video game can. I am tired of people rating linear experiences as crap just because they don't have an open world to explore every nook and cranny.
I appreciate video games for their ability to give me certain levels of control. Yes every video game has restrictions, and that's great, because it challenges us as game players to get the best out of the tools we are given. It also challenges us to exploit those restrictions, to innovatively develop new perspectives within that game world. I love playing RPGs simply because I can explore, find loot, level up, and create a character that I want to, and to make moral choices that define me as a person. We have not reached a level where morality is deep enough to fully allow me to take my own moral path, but we are making progress towards it.
I enjoy real-time strategy, where I have to adapt and counter moves made by my opponent(s) in order to achieve victory, forcing me to learn all there is to know about what roles each asset in my arsenal can perform when under pressure.
But I also enjoy the narrative complexities of an interactive cinematic experience, even though it sacrifices the level of choice available to the person behind the control pad/keyboard. Story telling was one of the driving forces that brought us together as communities. It is how we pass on lessons and morals to our children, and how we develop understanding for complex realities, simplifying them in symbolism.
For us to negate any worth in these experiences, we are simply saying that we don't want to interact with a story that we didn't influence. But I leave this post with this point. For us to create our own stories, we were once influenced by those stories of others. For our imaginations to develop, we must continue to be avid participants in the stories of others. For video games to succeed in providing the freedom to develop your own tales, they need linear narrative experiences to provide the inspiration for the players.