Well, @Wraith_Magus didn’t take me up on it, but I was serious when I said it would be worth pulling out the critique of ChoiceScript into its own thread. Wraith made a number of interesting points on this general theme:
As an author who’s chosen to write in ChoiceScript for my main creative work, I take a less negative view of the limitations than Wraith does. Any medium has limitations; with all the creativity in the world, you can’t do all the same things in a novel as you can in a movie, and vice versa. But there definitely are limitations to CS, and I think it’s well worth acknowledging and discussing them.
In the interests of reining in the textwalls, I’m going to be selective in pulling out points from Wraith’s critique. We’ll get through them all eventually, but let’s try to take things one at a time, starting with:
This is an area where I mostly disagree with Wraith–not so much about the limited storylines but about what they mean for the potential to imaginatively engage with the game.
First, I’ve always read “vast unstoppable power etc.” as an implicit rebuke to people who think CoG games should have graphics. Wraith raises thoughtful points (some of which I agree with) around computers being especially good at spatial simulation, and graphics being the best way to take advantage of that. I’ll address those in a later post.
Here I just want to highlight the inherent advantages of text when it comes to imagination, advantages which are much discussed when it comes to the difference between novels and movies. Imagination and immersion work differently in an audiovisual medium than a purely written one. In a novel (including one written in ChoiceScript) my mind provides all voices, visuals, and backdrops.
That’s a limitation, but also a tremendous strength. Even, perhaps especially, when I don’t have a clear mental image of a scene, the blended fragments of images and emotions conjured in my mind by a descriptive passage of writing can be more evocative than any literal image. Peter Jackson’s Lothlorien (like much of his elf-stuff in general) is pretty, in some ways great… but inevitably a bit of a letdown from the unearthly glories Tolkien hints at in his mythopoeic prose. There are plenty of Iain Banks novels that I hope they never film because they’d reduce gloriously outsized concepts to the prosaic reality of what you can project onto a retina. Other examples would be easy to come by.
So yes, novels are fueled by the vast power of our imagination. And a CoG game isn’t a straight-up novel; it’s a novel you can explore, following various possibility trails into alternate versions of characters and events. That provides yet more imaginative scope… even if you’re reading a CoG on the Heroes Rise model where the events don’t vary all that much but you’re constantly being asked how you’re perceiving and emotionally responding to them. And there are several CoGs with less linear storylines–ones where the events vary a lot based on your choices, especially in the endgame. Like the one Wraith has written most about.
At the end of the day, though, CoGs are not infinite novels. They offer a choice of pre-written narratives whose elements can only recombine in so many ways. Our imaginations are not literally unstoppable. Wraith suggests that this makes CoG authors like the narrator of Stanley Parable:
I’d say a good CoG author is more like the actual author of Stanley Parable than its narrator. There’s an Errant Signal video on this too, pointing out the meta-metanarrative at work here… in that Stanley Parable is itself a game with a limited menu of paths set by the game developers. You can’t escape the selection of endings they’ve offered you. And yet they clearly expect you to find it an enjoyable, satisfying, imaginatively provocative experience for which you’ll gladly shell out a few bucks. They didn’t make Minecraft, and I don’t think the message of Stanley Parable actually boils down to, “you’d have had more fun if you’d played Minecraft instead of this game.”
Because while Minecraft gives you full creative freedom to make and decorate your own space, it doesn’t actually offer anything resembling full freedom to make up satisfying narratives. For a truly satisfying narrative, you need other personalities to interact with… and you can’t craft those from the elements Minecraft gives you. By contrast, the personality of the Narrator in Stanley Parable is effing brilliant, and the range of stories the game designers came up with for you and the Narrator is terrific fun to explore even though it’s nothing like infinite.
If you want total freedom to make up a satisfying narrative, nothing beats roleplaying with other actual humans. Like I said on another thread, “tabletop gaming has an improvisational freedom and scope that computer games probably won’t have until I’m 90 years old and the AI is good enough.” (And Wraith is right that that’s on a wildly techno-optimistic timeline.) Compared to that, every other medium restricts your imagination. But I don’t think that makes the other media stifling.
That’s enough to be starting off with…