Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Actual scientists debate The Singularity

For those of you whose tastes run to these things, the IEEE journal has a series of on-line articles defining and discussing the idea of a "Singularity." Vinge himself plus believers and doubters chime in on the subject, and all in intelligent, academic prose.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I cannot stand The Hero's Journey

It has invaded the gaming industry like some intellectual cross of lamprey and plague. Personally, I'd like to grab Joseph Campbell and all his well-meaning Jungian metamyth discussions and flush them somewhere unspeakable. Not because of the content or the insights, of course, but because it has grown to be The Blob That Ate Creativity.

The Hero's Journey (THJ) has somehow evolved into some sort of de riguer uber-plot-structure for games. Yes, okay, you can find traces of it (intentional or not) in romantic comedy, sci fi, thrillers, everywhere. But that doesn't mean that it is necessary, and it is certainly not sufficient. People with no idea of any other story structure and who have never attempted a long work (novel, movie, full-length game) have somehow fallen victim to the idea that it is the only way that a story can be told.

For crying out loud, I reviewed a game story done by writing 'consultants' who tried to use THJ for a casual equestrian game. It's basically a light story layer that supports the catch horses - train horses - race horses gameplay. "Guys," I said, "You ever heard of the 3-act structure? Maybe that's plenty?"

Creators from Shakespeare to Hitchcock seem to have been able to produce reasonably acceptable fare without using it as a crutch. So WTF is this with the game industry that suddenly every plot has to have some sort of "Conforms to standards" official THJ stamp?

"No," I told the consultants, "jumping the gully is not the same thing as obtaining access to The Inner Cave." Sheesh. I'm surprised they didn't insist that the female protagonist be the son of a king and his royal virgin wife...

Fundamentally, I do not believe that every story with a hero must necessarily go through the phases of THJ. Lucas did it well in the original Star Wars trilogy, but he also did the more recent (and resoundingly godawful) Star Wars trilogy. THJ is not a miracle cure.

Where will THJ be when we have multiple protagonists? When we're developing interactive storylines that lead to several possible resolutions? THJ is by definition a highly stylized and rigidly structured plot, with a traditional hero, that unfolds through fixed progression points to a pre-defined ending. It's everything that is not useful to game writers; it's everything that you don't need a computer for.

As game writers we have enough limits on our plots and characters -- time, artwork, technology, budgets, animation, sound design, politics, competitors, bad designers -- that we don't need to be adding new ones ourselves.

Still, Cambell deserves our thanks. He did good work. We should all read it, we should all learn it. And we should all leave it in the toolbox for those occasaions when it is necessary, right next to the 90° screwdriver and the coping saw.