This was originally contributed to State Magazine. I lob back online here, as it’s relevant to a debate I’m having elseforum. And – y’know – I thought it was a cute abortion of an idea. I’ve never significantly developed it further than presented here. And – re-reading – Christ, I hope that some of the Ego was ironic. People think I’m bad now. I’m a monk in comparison.
As much as I’d like to be the mercurial genius, it’s just not me. I’m a slow, obsessive thinker. I chip away over days and weeks to eventually reveal my final theory which is – usually – pretty much unassailably right. I’m a work in progress.
Here’s how one’s going. Excuse its roughness.
Scene 1: I’m passing through Canary Warf on the way to a bed. In my ears, the echoes of Godspeed You Black Emperor are slowly withdrawing. The Godhead retreats and leaves our conversation quiet, intimate. Sinister Jim, Andy JimFriend and myself on a train seat.
We talk comics. Andy is interested, but distant. He asks about the current developments in its little world – how to bring them to a wider audience and so on. He asks if they’re still being called “Graphic Novels”. “Kinda”, says I, “But that’s really referring to a specific form of work”. Referencing Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”, the best term for them- and really the only accurate one – is “Sequential Art”. Everyone pauses, looks at each other, and laughs at the utter pretentious banality of the phrase.
A moment’s realisation: “Of course, that’s like saying music is sequential noises. True, but missing the point entirely”.
Fade to black. Lights up on Scene 2.
Scene 2: Cattle class on a British Airways flight to Seattle. I’m off to see a developer. I’m sitting next to Mathilde Remy, the legendary insane French-Woman of Joystick Magazine and probably the most important games journalist alive. We’re loose acquaintances, but the flight’s our first real chance to get familiar and tell stories. We share a love of the Looking Glass Aesthetic. She has Doug Church’s phone-number. I’m green with envy.
Conversation turns to a debate she witnessed at the GDC between Will Wright – of the Sims fame – and Scott McCloud about games, describing how the sequential-art gentleman was entirely outclassed by Will’s theory. To be fair, hardly unexpected – it’s not his chosen form and Will is a visionary in the most literal terms. Conversation turns to Understanding Comics.
She argues that Understanding Comics is – in fact – not a comic. It uses the tools of the form, but is in fact something else entirely. Comics exist to provoke emotion – they are a narrative form. Understanding Comics is, therefore, not one. I take the McCloud line, pulling out the plane’s safety card, and pointing at the the diagram of people donning safety gear that couldn’t possibly save them from any aeroplane mishap. “This is a comic,” I say. She disagrees. It uses the techniques, but is not in itself a comic
I take her point, and extrapolate further. She is stating the word “comic” should /not/ be expanded to include anything that shares its tools. Comic is a specific use of these tools, rather than a description of the tools itself. Therefore, I expand, Comics is a subset of a greater over-arcing technique of Sequential Art – images placed in juxtaposition to one another to express meaning. It’s a category error to say that just because the tools are used to make comics, means that anything that shares those tools would also be a comic. A knife can be used to prepare a salad or slash open a man’s chest. This does not mean open heart surgery is a light meal for the calorie conscious.
We move back to games. Since the logical way to express comics potential was to use the tools of comics to dissect and explain themselves in the form of “Understanding Comics”, to make people understand how clever the internal mechanics and language of games are, you would logically make a game called “Understanding Games”. Except, equally logically, if “Understanding Comics” is not actually a comic, merely appearing to be, then “Understanding Games” would merely /appear/ to be a game and in fact be something else, a pure application of the techniques which games rest upon.
So – at the fundamentals, what /are/ games techniques. Try this: Games give sensory input to a user in response to an input to the system. There is a feedback loop, essentially, modulating the experience of the user. Or, in simpler terms, games present stuff to us (sound, visuals, implied situations) when we tell it to do stuff (Press buttons, select options, whatever).
Which means that games are, in fact, a subset of multimedia. As “sequential noises” is to music (or speech) and “sequential art” is to comics (or information pamphlets, tapestry, wall-paintings), “Multimedia” is to games. It’s what games do – and the reason why being a videogame isn’t exactly the same thing as being a /game/. At the systemic roots of them, there’s an entirely different set of tools – with experiences as varied as Final Fantasy, Microcosm and Defender as radically different extrapolations.
Videogames are not games – they are, in fact, an application of multimedia.
Fade to black. Light up on Scene 3.
Scene 3: I’m at work, at lunchtime. I kill an hour carving at the lock of this Pandora’s box and jimmy it open. I let the sprites go free. Let’s see what people make of this and can make out of this attempt at a Paradigm shift or, at least, a new critical spotlight to idly direct at some of the forms darker corners.
I return to chasing PRs for games. It continues.