For the past 30 years, discussions about the merits of video games, their strong suits and shortcomings, and what their role in society is have been touted by both the common man and the famous. And while the discussions will most likely rage on for another few decades, sometimes you see a statement and just have to stop for a second. In a panel at the University of Southern California in 2013, George Lucas had made the statement that video games can’t have plots.
“They’re always going to be different,” Lucas said when asked if movies and games were going to become more similar. “They’re never going to be the same. Storytelling is about two things. It’s about character and plot.”
“Like sports. It’s about Tebow. It’s about, you know, Kobe. They’re starting to realize that if they focus on the characters it makes the game much richer. But by its very nature there cannot be a plot in a game. You can’t plot out a football game. You can’t plot out feeding Christians to lions. It’s not a plot.”
As the head writer, director, and creative source of the Star Wars prequels, he’s in a tight spot for making such a bold brush stroke of an answer. After all, glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The second panelist, Steven Spielberg, emphasized George Lucas’s point, but with some actual points to argue and wrestle with.
“I think the key divide between interactive media and the narrative media that we do is the difficulty in opening up an emphatic pathway between the gamer and the character — as differentiated from the audience and the characters in a movie or a television show,” Spielberg stated. He then used a hypothetical comparison of a game based off saving babies falling off of buildings to emphasize the argument.
“That idea came from an urge of a gamer to say, ‘Let’s create an empathic experience for a player to save babies.’ Who’s more helpless than a baby thrown into the air, heading for the ground? You gotta catch the baby. But as players started to play the game they stopped looking at the baby as a human being and they started looking at the baby as a score… So they were looking at the numbers they were racking up, and the baby became parenthetical to the calculation in scoring more points than your friends and being able to brag about it at school the next day.”
Spielberg definitely has a point that game developers have been keen to address: seeing the game as more than a game, as something with humanity and not something played in a “practicality first” mindset.
How do you feel about the statements these prolific directors made about video game narrative? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you might even think about one of these director’s own movie plots.