Video Game Narratives

Pac Man stock photo from lumix2004 at sxc.hu

We have moved beyond this. Way beyond.

I’ve been a fan of video games since my parents got us an Atari in the 1980′s.  Then we got a Super Nintendo, and my cousin got a Sega Genesis after that.  I’ve played dozens of games on the Wii, and the PS3.  Personally my tastes run toward playing the cute games (like De Blob) or the puzzle games (like Tetris or Legend of Zelda), or god help me a cute puzzle game (like Little Big Planet or Katamari Damacy).  I’ve never personally been a fan of playing the RPGs or the first person shooter games.

But god help me I love watching other people play them.

Our roommates last year had a PS3 and I must have clocked 100 hours watching my husband and my roommates play through the endless variations of Dragon Age: Origins.  I didn’t care that they were replaying it for the sixth time as a different race or a different gender or a different player class.   The story was absolutely fascinating every time, and I lost my mind when I saw these choose-your-own-adventure choices led to deadly and sometimes utterly evil consequences.

So this article about BioWare’s Mass Effect being the most important science fictional universe of our generation just reiterated what I already knew: that video games have some of the most complex and amazing narratives of any form of literature that exists today.

At last year’s TEDxLibrariansTO conference I had the pleasure to hear games researcher Sara Grimes talk about her personal experience with video games, and about how video games function as a new and exciting form of narrative storytelling.  Here’s her presentation.

To me the BioWare games represent a new level of achievement for video games as narrative. The story lines are sprawling and epic in scope, there are thousands of choices, and there are dozens of alternate endings.  There are just so many variables, and so many amazing moments that it was easy for an armchair video game spectator to just sit back with the popcorn and watch the roommates play through the story.  Dragon Age was so inspirational that uber-geek girl Felicia Day made a fan-vid series, Dragon Age: Redemption, and BioWare created some downloadable content with that character.

So, when Kyle Munkittrick says that Mass Effect, another BioWare game series, is the most important science fiction universe today, I completely believe it.  I have personally never seen anyone play Mass Effect, but from the descriptions he gives in his narrative I can totally understand where he’s coming from.

And that’s why I love these games.  The writing is unbelievably good.  They hire some incredible voice actors.  The visuals are absolutely stunning.  It’s as if you’ve been given the keys to an animation studio and a loose script to work with and you just make your own film.  The swordplay and the magic is almost secondary to the narrative stream.  Sure it’s important that you don’t button mash yourself into oblivion, but these games aren’t about how many things you kill or racking up points for the sake of gaining points.  It’s about where you’re going, and how you get there.

Recently one of the BioWare writers was harassed to no end on Reddit because she said that she wants a fast-forward button through combat.  This brought out tons of vitriol and hatred, because for many gamers the combat is the point.  But clearly it’s not the point for everyone.  And thankfully one of the head honchos at BioWare gave a major public statement of support for their writer.  Good for them.  Because honestly, that’s what makes these games special.  The writing is unbelievably good, and it hooks the player as well as everyone else who happens to be in the room into the story line.  If they were to abandon that for disconnected gameplay they would lose the soul of their brand.

Sara Grimes in her wrap up suggests that if Libraries are serious about sharing the body of the world’s great literary works that we should not overlook the fact that video games are just as valid a form of literature as a novel.  I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, I would wager to say that sometimes they’re even better.

What You Post Online

Captured from my Facebook Stream

Some people say that there are six degrees of separation.  But that was before there was an internet, where everyone actually got to see the connections they had between people.  Scientists at the University of Milan studied Facebook connections and discovered that in reality we are only 4.74 degrees of separation from any given person.  I present as evidence of this fact the Facebook transaction that occurred above. I have scrubbed the names of all of the parties involved because I don’t want anyone to get freaked out that I’m re-re-re-blogging this picture.

1. The photograph in this status update is of a young woman holding a sign at a protest.  It’s clear from the sign that the protest was about rape victimization, because it reads “This is what I was wearing. Tell me I asked for it. I DARE YOU.”  A little bit of researching revealed that this photo was taken by photographer Francesca June at an anti-rape protest called Slutwalk NYC.  This photo has made its way around and around the internet since October of Last Year and has appeared on several meme sites.  So, protestor is person 0, and photographer in NYC is Person 1.  Person 1 gets the photo online and it spreads to various social networking sites.

1.5 As the meme is spreading there are branching trees of people posting and reposting this image all over different sites.  Someone, an unknown link in this chain posts it to Tumblr.  I’m calling this person 1.5, but really there are an unknown number of links between the initial image going online and the step to getting it into the current Facebook chain.

2. The caption underneath the image on Facebook says “Found this image on Tumblr & had to share it.” So, person 2 randomly stumbled across this picture on Tumblr, and, not even knowing who this person was, agreed with this powerful sentiment, copied the picture and posted it to her personal Facebook wall. Person 2 is located in Toronto, and has over 800 Facebook friends.

3. Now, along comes person 3, my Facebook friend, who shares this photo from the Facebook chain, because he also thinks that this is a powerful statement and wants his readers to see it too.  You can see in the surcap that it says “____ shared ____’s photo.”  Person 3 is someone I follow who publishes news of note for alternative religions.  So he’s kind of a semi-public figure, with a fairly large, but niche readership. Person 3 is in San Francisco and has over 3,000 Facebook friends.

4. Now, go down and look at the second person in the comments. This person, who I will call person 4, says “OMFG. THAT’S MY FRIEND ______!!!!!!!!!  :O  She never told me about this! :(  I’m calling her as soon as I calm down right now.  WTF!!???”  Person 4 lives in South Carolina, and his number of Facebook friends is not publicly available, but definitely includes person 3, but not person 2 or 1, and yet he knows person 0 directly, because he has her phone number.

That is exactly how small the world is.  What you post online may fly through the tiniest chain of people, people you don’t even know and may have absolutely no connection to you, and land right in the lap of a friend.  It really makes you think about what you do in public, what goes online, and how closely held secrets can be revealed without your ever knowing about them.  Honestly more than anything I hope that these two people, persons 4 and 0 will be okay.

OHF Library Update

Tigre and Eric processing like fiends.

We crossed a tipping point at the OHF Library today.  We now have more fully processed books than not.  Of our nine bookcases we have 5 of them done.  Everyone on the project is feeling super excited and a little sad at the same time.  With this milestone we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  While we are really looking forward to having the project open to the membership, at the same time we don’t want our project team days to come to an end.  All of us have really grown together and love hanging out with each other for work days.  Cranking through a pile of books to be processed and getting them done is ever so satisfying, and we are all cheering each other on and constantly remarking on each others achievements. We’ve got a great thing going on here.

But beyond the this initial copy cataloging sprint I know there’s plenty more work to be done.  I’ve got racks of items in the closet that are more than likely going to require original cataloging and it’s been about 5 years since I’ve done that.  Not that I’m worried, just trying to bring my brain back into alignment with cataloging again.

On an equally awesome note the Open Hearth Foundation was featured in this month’s edition of the Hill Rag. The library project got a good chunk of the article and I even got a decent little quote in there as well.  Feels good to have that kind of recognition for all the hard work that we’re putting into the project.

So, here’s our first full wall of books: cataloged, classified, labeled, shelved in order, and just a few weeks out to being able to circulate.

Five bookcases of fully cataloged books at the Open Hearth Foundation.