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Guest Post: Can’t Talk, Gaming

So, a few months ago I invited anyone interested to write a guest post for my Can’t Talk… series about whatever they were enjoying at the moment. I don’t know about you, but I rely on the recommendations of trusted friends to fuel my entertainment consumption.

Here’s the first post, which is written by my best friend and all around gamer genius, Bell. She runs the blog Razorblade Sammich, which you should read. Enjoy!

Cinders and Games as Art

A few months ago, I started hearing about a game called Cinders. Until I started seeing tweets and Tumblr posts mentioning it, I’d never heard of it, so naturally I was intrigued. I like to get in on the ground floor with things. I’m like a video game hipster, really. (Not really.)

Cinders, as it turns out, is best described as an “interactive storybook”. It’s an attempt to re-imagine well-known fairytale (I bet you can’t guess which one!) (That was sarcasm. You can totally guess which one. Because, you know, the name), and while I don’t think it was entirely successful in regards to the story, it was successful in introducing a new kind of gaming experience.

The graphics are simple and the animation is sparse (although the artwork is gorgeous), and all of the dialogue is provided in subtitles instead of voiced by actors. It’s a game without what I would think of as “actual gameplay”. You know, jumping, shooting, and solving puzzles- things we might refer to as “playing a game”. These are all things that modern gamers expect and even demand. Loudly. (Because gamers can be whiny, entitled babies, but that’s a post for another time.)

Cinders has none of that, and people loved it.

When I was a kid, we had these things called “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I don’t know if they’re still around (I hear kids these days with their newfangled devices aren’t familiar with old-school reading technology) but before video games really took off, these books were like paperback single-player RPGs. (Um. That’s a “Role-Playing Game”, in case you’re not familiar; games like Dungeons and Dragons inspired an entire genre of video games in which you get to play the hero, and often making decisions that effect the outcome of the story.)

Cinders reminds me a lot of those old “Choose Your Own Adventures”. When the story begins, you’re introduced to the main character and her sisters, and the first thing that you have to do is determine Cinder’s feelings toward them. Does she pity them or resent them? Is your Cinders compassionate or bitter?

This theme continues throughout the game, with the player choosing dialogue options and actions that effect the attitudes of the people and events of the people around her. Sometimes the changes are quite subtle, but throughout the story your character grows and her relationships change, all in response to the player’s choices.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I wasn’t blown away by the actual game as much as a lot of people I know; I would have liked more depth to the choices and more choices than were offered. (Also, there were occasional grammatical errors in the text and that is a terrible immersion-breaker for me. But that’s just nitpicking.)

What blew me away was that this was a game that relied entirely on storytelling and succeeded, and this has the potential to change the way we view games and the way we play them.

When you talk about video games to “grown-ups” (that’s what I call people who don’t play games and who don’t understand why I do; I endeavor most earnestly never to become one) the image that a lot of them get is this one:

AJ note: Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

 That is how they remember gaming, and the exposure they have to the games being made today isn’t all that positive. Advertisements flaunt shocking violence and explicit sexuality; news reports talk about how kids spend too much time playing games, how this murderer or that one played games, or how OMG THERE’S SEX IN THIS GAME.

If that’s all they know about games, it’s no surprise that they might have a negative attitude towards games and the people who play them. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve mentioned that I played games and had people look at me like I’d just picked my nose in front of them.)

What people don’t see is that games have evolved past mindless platforming (games where you have to jump a lot) and gratuitous violence. Games have become a medium for story-telling; much like movies and books, they have detailed plot lines and relatable characters.

Imagine your favorite book or movie; now imagine you get to play the lead role. It’s like that. (Don’t believe me? I cried harder during Mass Effect 3 than I did during The Deathly Hallows in either its print or cinematic form.)

Game writers and developers are gaining as much fame in the gaming community as writers like Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman do in writing communities. If you ask a dedicated, informed gamer who David Gaider or Cliff Bleszinski is, there’s a good chance they’ll know.

Many gamers aren’t playing games just so they can shoot aliens in the head. (It’s fun, though, not going to deny it.) They’re playing so they can experience grand adventures first-hand. I’ve been to Jerusalem during the Third Crusade and roamed Constantinople in the 1500’s. (I learned more about world history from the codices in the Assassin’s Creed games than I did in school and from watching the History Channel combined. Although the History Channel did teach me that Nostradamus was an alien Bigfoot that built the pyramids or something like that, so good work, History Channel!)

I’ve saved all galactic life from extinction. (I’ve done that one a lot. Best. Game. Ever.) I’ve fallen in love over and over again and made sacrifices that broke my heart.

Just like books or films, games are art. They inspire the same dedication and passion because they can make you experience things you hadn’t, feel things you never expected, and even reframe the way you think about life.

And you get to shoot aliens in the head while you do it.