If I don't write down the thoughts in my head the moment they are there, I lose all motivation to do so. Therefore I wish to make no pretenses regarding having prepared or thought out this blog post in any significant detail. I didn't.
I recently saw another blog that discussed the fact that games often feature things we fear. I particularly enjoy any sort of insight into games beyond their playability factor or capacity for entertainment. Chiefly, how games interact with our psyche and the role they play in our understanding of and our ability to deal with the uncertainty in this world.
I think that games are the next evolutionary step that art has taken. I'm not an art major, and I couldn't define specifically what 'art' is. However, games provide a promising new frontier for art. Early tribes painted on cave walls and performed rituals in hopes that they would have a successful hunt. This type of art dealt cathartically with a very real concern in their lives; that of being able to eat. Later, Greek and Roman tragedy dealt with all sorts of issues, such as forbidden love, murder, thirst for power, exorbitant wealth, and the inevitability of death. In the 20th century, psychology and the grandeur of the human mind came to prominence in the form of the psychological thriller. As civilizations have progressed, all forms of art have dealt with our aspirations and our fears in an ever more intimate manner.
Games, I believe, still haven't grown into themselves as of yet. People are still mostly engrossed with the technical prowess of games and their multiplayer capability. But I think it's reasonable to make the assertion that this is typical of any beginning stages of technology. Computers of the late 60s and early 70s had a devoted group of geeky tinkerers who saw the amazing capabilities of these early machines but were mostly bewildered as to the possible role that they could play in the lives of ordinary people. Now they provide countless features that make our lives more efficient.
My hope is that games will be able to make the most of their non-linear storytelling and divergence from classic Aristotelian models. Games will become thought experiments that truly contemplate the results of our actions by having numerous outcomes. We will be at helm more than ever before, steering the course that the game narrative takes. We will able to shape the outcome of the game to a set of choices that we made throughout, and perhaps gain some insight into the nature of the problem itself, whether it involves nano-augmentation, nuclear war, political corruption, etc etc.
Most people are familiar with the early examples of this style. In the first two Fallout games, you go around a post-apocalyptic northern California, exploring various settlements and choosing to interact in different ways. At the end of the game your choices cultivate in several images of different towns you have visited, and how your visit has changed them.
In Deus Ex, you are given the choice throughout the game to perform a fixed set of tasks in a number of different possible ways. At the end, you have three choices regarding the future of mankind. Modern games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 have continued to refine this trend.
Unfortunately this method ultimately falls flat. Don't get me wrong, these two games are truly great, and represent their respective genres quite well. However, there is still a certain laziness to this method of non-linearity, though mostly necessitated by the hardware limitations of computers at the time. You'd perform quests, accomplish different tasks, and then see a brief picture or animation at the end of the game as confirmation of your deeds. Once the game was over, it made no difference whether you decided to rescue that girl from the raiders or not. All was done.
As processing power continues, and the gameplay interface becomes more sophisticated with the adoption of voice and facial recognition, it is my hope that numerous narrative outcomes may be interpolated into the storyline itself to a greater degree, allowing wholly different people, locations and events to transpire based on the direction the player character takes. Imagine having a quest to assassinate a political figure. What if you failed, causing a completely divergent story based on the outcome of that hub event? Think back to some of the most epic and amazing moments in video games. I personally think back to some of the battles in the Halo campaign. Imagine an event of that scale and design being one of only many choices, such as how and where to deply your troops. Or whether to fall behind and secure a hostile region or to withdraw? As games gain the memory, the power, and the overall capability to have more cool awe-inducing things occur on screen, I hope it will be coupled with a more sophisticated narrative that gives the player the ability to play through the results of their decisions to a greater degree. If so, games can truly one day be legitimate thought experiments for whatever topical issues they care to address. They will be art on an entirely new level.