The Portal series shows us how its done.
There is a commonly held misconception that a serious story needs to be entirely serious. This is strange to me, for many people understand that you can have serious moments in an otherwise silly or humorous story, so why can’t you have humor, even perhaps a lot of humor, in an otherwise serious story?
Take the Portal games, from Valve for example. In both games, the player takes control of a character who finds herself in a strange underground testing facility while the computer AI in charge of the place puts her through various “tests,” each of which gets increasingly more dangerous until eventually the AI outright starts trying to attempt to kill the character, forcing the character to attempt to find ways to either escape the facility, or fight back and destroy the AI first in self defense. While quite different in the details, the idea is not entirely unlike that of the movie Cube. Pretty serious stuff.
And yet, both games are so funny you’ll find yourself laughing out loud as you play them, even as the AIs try to kill you. This in no way detracts from the seriousness of the story though. Never once do you think “Well, the AI is just a yuck-a-minute, maybe I should just relax and be friends with that crazy cat.” The seriousness of your character’s plight is heightened by the use of humor, not detracted from.
Games lag behind other media in terms of storytelling.
I was inspired to write this piece based on an excellent post Joel Burgess did on his own blog, talking about Open World Level Design. Go ahead and read it if you haven’t yet. But the thing I want to address is this line here:
We may lag behind film, for example, in story-telling, but I believe we can catch up one day, and that’s a noble pursuit we need to focus on. – Joel Burgess
Now, this is ironic given that Joel works for (or worked for, although I have no reason to assume he doesn’t still) Bethesda, who have created a game equally on par, storytelling wise, to any movie out there (and quite a bit better than rather a lot of films). But it’s probably not the one you expect.
Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, and the gradual removal of the fantastic from our fantasy.
I’m going to do something here which will shock all my friends: I’m going to say something controversial.
There is no magic in the fantasy genre anymore.
I do not mean that there are no spellcasters or spells. Those are a dime a dozen. Wizards and Witches and Warlocks and Priests and Clerics and Druids and Magi and Seers and Thaumaturges and Mystics and plain-old-badly-named Magic Users abound like there’s a firesale over at the “Sorcerer” section of the local Thesaurus-mart. No, I do not mean spellcasters or spells. I mean magic.
I assume if you’re still reading this, that you are at least somewhat a fan of the fantasy genre. Do you remember the very first time you read The Hobbit? I do. I was 5, and it was uncle’s copy, the coffee table edition illustrated by the Hildebrandts. Dungeons & Dragons was still called “Chainmail,” at the time, and movies considered to be ‘Fantasy’ were released with almost audible apologies by the studios. I read The Hobbit, and I was utterly captivated. Hobbits and Dwarves and Elves and Wizards and Orcs and talking spiders and magic rings and a Dragon! Oh my god, a Dragon, the most amazing and perfect Dragon ever! Everything about the story was new and interesting. I had no idea what an Orc was. I learned it through context. I had heard of Elves before, of course, but they were little flying pixie-people who shot tiny bows that gave you tetanus. They most certainly were not tall or taller than a man and beautiful and ancient and wise and deadly and wonderful. A magic sword that glowed when monsters were nearby was an amazingly useful thing to have and just think of all you could do with a ring that made you invisible!