Be specific, please

1Up has a piece up on game stories and the quality thereof. It’s a good read, but what continually bugs me about this games-as-art discussion is that people are rarely specific. Nadia Oxford writes, “there’s no denying the quality of the storytelling in Hotel Dusk.” Really? That surely doesn’t convince me. Show, don’t tell, Nadia. Give me examples of actual dialogue or script from the game that’s unique and not cliched. Do they use particularly original metaphors? Does the game play with the mystery genre in an interesting way? Give me examples of why the story isn’t a typical plot-driven game story with no real character depth.

About Zelda, she writes: “Zelda games manage to stay fresh by giving every character a life and a background. While most RPGs are content to staff weapons and items shops with sprites that may as well be cardboard cutouts, the smallest bit player in a Zelda game remains memorable.” Again, give me some specific dialogue or examples of an interesting backstory that make the characters unique and worthy of an epic story. Don’t tell me they’re memorable — show me why and how. The farmers in Twilight Princess aren’t memorable to me. They speak in video game-instructional dialogue like (paraphrasing here) “I’m bummed because my cat ran away. Find him and I’ll give you the item you need.” (Yes, by paraphrasing I’m not being specific, but I’m not going back to play Zelda for an hour to find that one line.)

Good critics don’t just say “Letters From Iwo Jima had memorable characters” or “There’s no denying the quality of The Sopranos.” They give specific examples to show what makes the characters memorable, what makes the storytelling good. If this sounds a little pedantic and Creative Writing 101, it’s because I get tired of reading this kind of thing over and over. Show don’t tell, people. Let’s elevate the writing about writing a little.

— March 27, 2007

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