I Disagree With Will Wright...

Illustration for article titled I Disagree With Will Wright...

I respect Will Wright. He is one of the first game developers to really be a "game designer," helping form the foundation of what I do for a living today. The games he contributed to were really formative to me, especially SimCity, which I actually used as a class project in middle school, doing a paper on efficient city planning. I have had the opportunity to meet Will Wright at GDC a few times, even sharing a smoke with him. One cool dude.

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However, I find myself having to disagree with him on his recent statements regarding telling story in games.

A CNN story quotes Wright saying "Games are not the right medium to tell stories. Video games are more about story possibilities."

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Wright goes on to say that while he has experienced games with strong storytelling focus, like Metal Gear Solid, those are, he said, "not the kind of game I like playing."

Wright is now working on an interactive television show where fans vote to craft the narrative.

So...now is the point where I have to publicly disagree with one of my heroes. I posit that games ARE a good medium to tell stories, possibly just not the medium in which Will Wright wants to tell stories.

Of course, the types of games that Will Wright has traditionally made are obviously not good for linear storytelling (SimCity, Sims, Spore, etc), because they are "god games" where the player controls the world. But that aside, some of the most formative storytelling memories I have growing up have come from video games. The robot uprising in Wasteland, the fact that the Ancients in Starflight were Enderium, the struggle against Kuritan aggression in Crecent Hawk's Inception, becoming the Avatar in Ultima IV, the decision to save or blow up Megaton in Fallout 3... fuck, the first way I experienced Stephen King's The Mist was in a video game...and the video game version was WAY more impactful than the book (although the revised movie version totally fucked with my head; please don't ever watch it if you don't want to kill yourself).

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Games ARE a good medium to tell stories...just maybe not YOUR stories...

I understand the frustrations with storytelling in video game development. I have often muttered the words "I wish I was a movie director," after a scoping meeting. The timeframe and technology needed to pull off what I want to convey from a storytelling perspective is often a limiting factor on a game project. I often joke that a movie director who says he wants his protagonist to jump over a car doesn't get the response "we don't have time to build a car, how about a crate?"

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And, again, I agree that building a god-sim game with a linear narrative would be hard. But if you want to tell a specific narrative, don't build a god-sim game. God of War and Uncharted have awesome fucking narratives. IMHO, and respectfully, Mister Wright, don't dump on the power of narrative in games just because it is not a good medium for telling the story that YOU want to tell. I may not be Will Wright, but I am happy to use the video game medium to tell good stories. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

Christian Allen is a veteran game designer, having served with Red Storm Entertainment/Ubisoft as creative director on the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series, as well as design lead at Bungie on Halo: Reach. Christian accepted the BAFTA for Best Game in 2006, and games he contributed to have taken home several GOTY awards. He currently works as design director at WB Games, working on an unannounced project.

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Republished with permission from Allen's personal blog.

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DISCUSSION

Wright is right.

Videogames aren't a good story telling medium. And it is because of a few fundamentals that will never change.

1. You need lightning to strike twice. You need great gameplay and great story telling.......in the same game. If your gameplay sucks good luck getting players to stick with the game until the end. And what is the percentage of players that play games until the end? Hint: It is pretty low.

Plus no one ever gets frustrated operating a book or a movie. But they do get frustrated playing games. That doesn't seem like the best environment in which to tell a story. And often constrasts with emotions you are trying to solicit.

2. It's just not an efficient medium for telling a story. How many hours was Ultima IV? 60 hrs? And so in order to experience a fairly basic story that could be a 2 hr movie I had to play a game for 60 hours? Not very efficient story telling medium. And hence never going to attract story tellers nor story tellees in any large numbers. It's like those insects that gravitate towards the nice damp environment underneath a good-sized rock except gaming isn't that damp environment, but story tellers and tellees are the insects.

And each new game means having to learn a new subset of controls. It might even mean learning a new controller. More barriers to enjoying a great story.

These fundamentals taken together are why gaming isn't the right medium to tell stories in. It doesn't mean it can't be done. IT just means it isn't the best tool for the job.