The Last Temptation of Video Games

I’ve been playing Remedy Entertainment’s game Alan Wake this weekend. Let me state up front that it is one of the better games I’ve played, is very atmospheric, and has a number of clever ideas and quite an enjoyable story.

Nevertheless, it, along with much of what I’m hearing about Rockstar’s L.A. Noire, has made me a little concerned. It seems almost like video games are trying too hard to imitate other art forms, as if to prove that they are worthy. An understandable impulse, I suppose, given what people like Roger Ebert say about them.

Alan Wake seems to be trying really hard to prove it can do everything that a horror novel, TV program, or film can do. And, indeed, it can. As a story, it is every bit the equal of the typical specimens of those genres. Likewise, Noire–which I have not played–has been greeted with “it is like a Hollywood noir-detective story! Huzzah!”

This is good, I guess. But the thing that bothers me is that video games are not the same thing as books or TV series or films. As others have said, they are a unique form, and it would be a shame if they constrained themselves needlessly in trying to do in their form that which is by its nature optimized for others.

P.S. I should mention that a while back, I read a really good article about this tendency in games. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who wrote it or where it appeared. (Critical Missive and Sane Man of an Insane World were my first guesses, but I couldn’t find it either place.) If anyone reading this happens to know, I will make sure to add a link to it.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?