July 05, 2013

Form vs Content in Books/Movies/Games

I watched Holy Motors last night on Netflix instant, which was sort of weird an wonderful. I watched it with some other film-type-people, but none of them really liked it (“what’s going on?”). I had no idea what was going on either, but I still found it enjoyable. It seems to me that the problem with the film is that we don’t have a way to describe it.

If you think about books, a book is just the delivery method. We have descriptive words for the form of content contained within the book: a book can be a novel, a book of poetry, a book of essays, a textbook, a manifesto… there are probably many more. Books have been around long enough that we’ve developed a vocabulary for describing their form.

Film, on the other hand, has only a few: “movie” on its own connotes something like a novel–it’s assumed to be a narrative film. Whereas books CAN be novels, we don’t have a word for a narrative film. We can conflate “movie” with “narrative film” because in 99% of situations they are the same thing. IMDB provides a link to a random film – how many would we have to step through to find one that wasn’t a narrative film? I don’t think there have been enough films like Holy Motors to develop the proper vocabulary to describe them. Maybe Lynchian? Experimental? I don’t like “experimental” because it does more to describe what it’s not than what it is (like if we called a sunny day “not raining”). We do have genres for both books and film, but genre is a description of the content and not the form. A genre describes what type of narrative tropes you can expect, but it’s still assumed that it’s some sort of narrative.

“Video game” as a term is almost useless, because the shape that can take is so varied.

We have tons of descriptions for the form, but very few descriptions for the content. Pretty much all video game genres describe the way you interact with them with no real indication of the content. We know that an RPG will probably be story driven with ways to customize your character, but in terms of content we have things ranging from Elder Scrolls (fantasy) to Mass Effect (space opera) to It Girl (fashion). A first-person-shooter tells us that there will probably be guns, but it’s more about how we interact with the space than the content (which could be WW2 to modern to sci-fi). An adventure game isn’t so much about adventure (in the sense of Indiana Jones), but that we’ll be solving puzzles without the need for fast-twitch reactions. The latest hot genre, MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) says nothing at all about the types of content contained within (though fantasy seems to be the norm, owing to its Warcraft roots). Survival-horror is probably the closest thing we have to a description of content and not form… (even though most survival horror games are 3rd-person games with claustrophobic cameras, some sort of resource/ammo constraints, and labyrinth-like level design…).

These point of having genres is mostly for us consumers to be able to differentiate and pick out things we might like based on things we’ve liked in the past. If I really enjoy first-person shooters like Halo, I’m probably more likely to enjoy something like Battlefield (another FPS) than I am Starcraft (a realtime strategy game). It’s not useful to say “i like sci-fi games,” because that would imply an affinity between things like StarCraft and Halo.

I don’t have a bigger point (yet), but it was an interesting thought. I wonder what a video-game equivalent of Holy Motors would be… maybe jumping into different types of interaction? Something like WarioWare, but with a little more care and detail in each interaction?