Friday, November 14, 2008

Teens and reading genre fiction

Recently within my circle of contacts a couple threads have popped up on the question of getting kids to read more. This is sort of a classic question, posed by authors and academics as if it was some sort of cry in the wilderness (Potter-san notwithstanding). Richard Dansky had a particularly interesting question on developing a list of genre recommendations based on what kind of games kids like to play.
That one really intrigues me, as it is a very pragmatic approach to getting kids into books as opposed to asking the local English teacher who would probably reply: "You like First Person Shooters? You should read Cooper's Leatherstocking series. You like fantasy games? Gosh, there are a lot of fantastic elements in Love in the Time of Cholera."
Richard started with a few, and more have been added, and hopefully we'll end up with a lot of good ideas.
The other interesting thread was started by Cat Rambo here, and a lot of good comments were added by readers.
This is important to culture in general, I think, and will continue to be so until that improbable day in the future when game writers are nominated for Pulitzers, Nobels, and Bookers. As the game media takes over more and more of mass culture, and as generations grow up using that as their first window into art and writing, the question can only gain in pertinence.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bad Guy in video games -- why is he so much more interesting?

Part of it, I think, is inherent in the media. The player-character tends to be relatively generic; often either a voiceless cypher (Gordon Freeman, Master Chief) or a relatively unimaginative remodeling of the wise/tough guy that we have known and loved from Bogart/Cooper to Willis/Ford. The player needs to identify strongly with the main characters, want what they want, and love them enough to endure tens of hours of their trials and tribulations.

Too much "character" in the main character can turn off players; not everyone wants to walk in the shoes of a metrosexual angst-ridden teenager with a gravitationally impossible hairdo (yes, I am talking about Japanese RPG's).

So I think that both writers and designers play it safe with the main character. Easy to like, based on well-known and well-loved stereotypes, a comfortable pair of shoes to put on.

So where do you get to be crazy and creative? The bad guy. You get to make him as offensive, outrageous, irresponsible, unbalanced, and crazy as you want. He can be over-the-top sexy when the main hero can't, outrageously flamboyant when the hero is tough and restrained, insulting and offensive when the hero has to be cool and/or supportive.

So why do we make evil sexy? Because we don't want to put too much in the player-character and risk alienating the player. But the bad guy... there is no risk, only reward.