Games Today: We Do Melodrama?

Illustration for article titled Games Today: We Do Melodrama?

The term 'melodrama' is a somewhat loaded term - ask a few people if X media counts as melodrama, and you're likely to get a variety of answers. Michael Abbott discusses melodrama in one accepted context (a definition that I would quibble with based on my own background dealing with 'melodramatic representation') in reference to games. Yes, we do do melodrama - everything from GTA to Metal Gear to Final Fantasy plays with at least one interpretation of melodrama:

Lest you blanch at the notion of Solid Snake lumped in with Days of Our Lives or Waiting to Exhale, I would suggest to fans of Braveheart, Lost, CSI, and virtually every sports movie ever made that you are also fans of melodrama. The Call of Duty series, the Final Fantasy series, Bioshock - even significant portions of GTA IV - all rely on melodrama to deliver their experiences.

And at the center of these tales is the classic Melodrama Hero - a man (sometimes, but rarely a woman) of strength and courage who must do great deeds in an environment of heightened emotional intensity; a hero who operates within a clearly defined world of good and evil, charged with restoring order and stability from chaos. Solid Snake and Dudley Do-Right are cut from the same cloth. One may be a conflicted hero with lots more backstory (and, okay, Dudley is a cartoon caricature), but dramaturgically they function in remarkably similar ways.


I have to say I would think most people would blanch at the idea of Solid Snake lumped in with soap operas ... but he's got a point. Melodrama is a hugely effective narrative style — and the reasonably clear dichotomies we see in many narrative-driven games is one critical part in labeling them as 'melodramas,' or at least as media possessing melodramatic elements. However, I don't think the world is quite ready for the Days of Our Lives RPG. At least, I certainly hope not.

We do melodrama [The Brainy Gamer]



@etho and @miffy495 are my heroes.

Let's add another word to the list:


That is one underdefined word if I ever found one.

Melodrama is about clearly defined good vs. clearly defined evil...where the clearly defined good wins. It is also about eliciting emotional response from the audience. Melodrama is about morality and moral triumph.

People argue that according to this definition everything is melodrama. But if one knows their literary genres, one will know this to be not the case.

Batman stories, despite quite often having sequences designed purely to play on your emotions (when Robin died, frex)...can never be a matter how over the top it gets...because Batman does not symbolize pure good, and his stories are not about the triumph of good over evil.

Other lots of other genres that are not melodrama, here are a few:

Picaresque: in which a physically vigorous but morally imperfect hero gets into a series of hair-raising adventures. I think quite a few video games would fall under this category.

Bildungsroman: focuses on the psychological and sometimes spiritual development of the protagonist from childhood to maturity.

Drama: quite generic tends to be serious, may have a happy or non-happy ending, and treats an important issue. Many of these other categories are subsets of drama.

Tragedy: Drama that ends in disaster and focuses on a character who undergoes unexpected personal reversals. The protagonists are generally nobles or more important people.

Comedy: Happy endings. Also tends to deal with regular people and everyday situations.

Horror: About eliciting fear.

Gothic: About eliciting fear and exploring the subconcious.

We tend to use the word melodrama negatively, but there is nothing inherently negative about black hats and white hats where the white hat wins and we are meant to be taken on an emotional ride during the process.

Dickens while being sort of a realist novelist...much of his stuff was melodrama.

Star Trek the Original series...more melodrama than not.

Six Feet Under? The Wire? Not melodrama. People are too morally gray and there isn't a whole lot of the good guys triumphing over evil.

Superman can lend himself to Melodrama. Batman can't. Spiderman and Iron Man can't either.

Most 1950s Westerns were melodramas...but there were also a number of picaresque Westerns.

Heck, there are soap operas where the protagonists are morally gray enough that even they wouldn't count as melodrama anymore. Whereas Wrestling...good helping heap of melodrama there.