Opera, not Movies
At a conference I attended a while back, I heard a refrain often used by certain portions of the game industry: “film envy.” To generally summarize the point, game makers look to film for reference points when making computer games rather than looking for new (or other) models for the potential of games.
This of course ties into the idea of remediation popularized by Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book, Remediation: Understanding New Media. The idea is that new media look to old media for reference point to frame its creation and consumption– radio was theater with sound, tv was radio with pictures, film was recorded theater, etc. While computer games aren’t a medium per se, remediation was and is an unavoidable part of the development of games within the digital medium.
So yes, there is film envy going on. Like games, stories are a fundamental part of the human experience. The most lionized form stories take today is that of film. And so game designers and developers reference the visual and narrative strategies that the 100+ years of moving pictures has developed. What works for film does not really work for computer games. Computer games are not films, just as they are not stories (this is much better discussed by Greg Costikyan here).
Perhaps a better though unexpected reference for the use of narrative by a different medium is opera. Yes, stories are told by opera, but they take a very different form. For one, the marriage of music, voice and acting require different approaches, and value different aspects of story. In opera, story creates the trajectory for the opera, and provides the context for the music and vocals. But it is not really the heart of the creative form. The music and vocals are. The storyline of many operas can be summarized nicely in a sentence or two. That is fine for the medium, as the real value lies in the sound, not the story.
Attending a performance of Turandot or Tristan und Isolde would be an eye-opening experience for most game folk, as it might suggest there are other ways for stories to operate within a different creative form.