One of the most startling things about the opening to Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas is that the cut scenes are well-written. Their characters are well drawn, their dialogue is consistently funny and their narrative arcs are drawn boldly and with a real grasp of human psychology. In the world of video-game cut scenes such artistry is practically unheard of. In fact, by and large, you are far more likely to remember a cut scene for its terrible dialogue or woeful translation than you are for its aesthetic quality. Unfortunately, as far as most video-games are concerned, the problem stretches beyond a few laughable cut scenes and into the realms of systemic narrative failure: Like operas and porn films, video-games are universally badly written.
And yet games are more than capable of telling great stories.
My solution? Hang all video-game writers and Tell Your Own Damn Stories!
My thirty third Blasphemous Geometries column over at Futurismic explains how.
In his excellent extended essay What Ever Happened to Modernism? (2010), Gabriel Josipovici provides a spirited reading of Cevantes’ Don Quixote. Quixote, argues Josipovici, is not merely the first modern novel, it is also the first post-modern novel as within the novel’s various framing devices lies the recognition that there is something profoundly false about the form of the novel. A falseness that can never quite be expunged, regardless of how full-throated an author’s commitment to realism might be :
“Don Quixote’s madness dramatises for us the hidden madness in every realist novel, the fact that the hero of every such novel is given a name merely in order to persuade us of his reality, and that he has giants created for him to do battle with and Dulcineas for him to fall in love with simply to satisfy the demands of the narrative. And it dramatises the way we are readers collude in this game because we want, for the duration of our reading, to be part of a realised world, a world full of meaning and adventure, an enchanted world” [p. 34]
No genre has so proudly worn its commitment to realism as the police procedural. From TV series such as The Wire through to books such as Izzo’s Total Kheops (1995), McBain’s 87th Precinct series and Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels. The police procedural does not merely seek to entertain by providing us with a mystery that the protagonists can gamely unravel, it also seeks to reflect the reality not only of the books’ settings but also of the job of solving crimes and being a policeman. However, as Josipovici wisely points out, there is a tension here. David Simon’s The Wire beautifully captured the political realities of contemporary America, but is it not just a little bit handy that one of the police officers should have chosen to go and get a job teaching thereby allowing the series to devote an entire series to the problems of America’s schooling? Similarly, Izzo’s Total Kheops does a wonderful job of communicating the texture and character of the town of Marseilles, but is it not convenient that the book’s protagonist listens to cutting-edge hip hop while drinking local wines and eating immaculately cooked locally-sourced produce rather than humming along to Johnny Halliday whilst enjoying a burger and a coke?
Clearly, the police procedural’s commitment to realism is in desperate need of being challenged and deconstructed. Corneliu Porumboiu’s Poliţist, Adjectiv scratches that itch. With long and delicately manicured finger nails.
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I am going to begin this piece by presenting you with some insights. Hot off the digits and delivered fresh to your pre-frontal squire :
- Human neurology is such that we prefer engaging with narratives to wrestling with raw data points.
- This fondness for stories means that we are inclined to draw a line of best fit through the facts, eagerly accepting those claims that fit our narratives whilst turning a blind eye to those facts that contradict or complicate the story.
- This tendency to seek out narratives means that it is considerably easier for people to sell us a story than it is for them to convince us of isolated facts, even if the facts are more obviously true than the competing stories.
- Advertisers, politicians and all forms of demagogue are aware of these tendencies and factor them in to their dealings with the public.
These four insights can all more or less be inferred from the title of Christian Salmon’s book-length essay Storytelling – Bewitching the Modern Mind. They are also the only insights that the book contains. Sadly, instead of fleshing out these concepts and painting a picture of the dangers inherent in such lazy thought patterns, Salmon prefers to indulge in a number of weak forms of argument that are, somewhat disappointingly, rife in the non-academic non-fiction sub-genre.
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