Games are the democratization of fiction!


Awwww…aren’t those words just vigorating? They’re not my own, ofcourse, it’s Tappan King who’s uttered them to Greg Costikyan. It’s so revolutionary, isn’t it?! Games are setting fiction free to the people!

“the Artist creates, the audience consumes. Games, contrariwise, allow individual players to participate in the creation of their fictional experience. The developers still shape and constrain that experience, to be sure, but there is no experience without the active engagement of the player; the player may well do something with the construct that the developers had not anticipated; and the ultimate experience is a collaboration in which both sides participate, not something handed down from On High by the Great Artiste. It is, in other words, the antithesis of aristocratic; games are a way for everyman to participate in creating his or her own narrative experience. Games are a democratic artform for a democratic age.”

But alas, I’m not ready to say that ‘play’ is fiction or that playing fiction is democratic and nonlinear. It’s just a nice and powerful notion. I suppose I fell for this completely because it is right at the core of my arguments on MMORPGs. There is a sense and a feeling of democracy, but come right down to it, it’s all an illusion. One could maybe compare it to the illusion of democracy in Iraq! Or the freedom to say whatever you want in your e-mails!

But, then again, this is not really what he’s saying either, is it? Democratization of fiction! We’re creating fictions that people can interact with. But we’re not exactly creating a collaborative art form are we? Or are we?

Either way, Mr. Costikyan does a fair assesment of how the industry has yet to democratise! And his answer is the Internet! Isn’t that lovely?

“Just as games are essentially democratic in nature, perhaps the way in which games are sold should also be democratic. That is, gamers should be the gate-keepers and taste-makers, not intermediaries; and the two sides of the equation that actually love games should talk and communicate directly. Rather than the industry being structured in a broadcast, top-down model, it should be structured in a many-to-many, networked model.”

It’s funny, but ever since I got into this whole gaming world scene I’ve always loved the way the communication channels are so incredibly open! Computer game academia is always welcome to comments – well…at least the majority. There are so many lovely blogs out there! Terra Nova for example is such a brilliant gathering of intelligent minds thinking about MMORPGs. Game designers are really starting to come out too and I love that!! Although I find it distressing reading about closure of blogs because gamers are being a tad too hateful towards their game designers. All of them, game developers, gamers and game academics are thinking about some serious things!! EVEN BETTER!!! They’re reading each others blogs, discussing! Now it may not be a true democratic process as of yet, but definitely getting there, I think!! But then I’ve been accused of being too optimistic about these things before!

But this notion of democratising fiction, needs to be chewed on a bit more, I think. And I find it only positive that we’re thinking for democratising the gaming industry as well!

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4 thoughts on “Games are the democratization of fiction!

  1. Hm. I’m not convinced… Firstly, “the Artist creates, the audience consumes” is a strikingly old-fashioned view of what audiences do, as cultural studies and media studies from the late seventies and onwards have shown – look at fan fiction (Henry Jenkins has written a pile on this) or the way “consumers” twist commercial products their own way. There’s some ambivalence in the relationship between big media and consumers. Secondly, even if you assume audiences are mere consumers, was fiction really undemocratic? Anybody could tell a story, most authors started out as unknowns. Most of us can’t be movie stars and we don’t have much say about Disney, but fiction is a far broader category than that.Big industry isn’t democratic. That goes for Disney as much as Electronic Arts. And I’m really not convinced that World of Warcraft or The Sims allows me more freedom than my daughter has acting out or retelling Cinderella, whether she chooses the Disney version or the traditional one.

  2. Right off the bat, I suddenly heard a child crying because she has to be the wicked stepmother! But someone has to , because that is the rules of the story of Cinderella. But then again there’s the freedom of interpretation and ofcourse reusing fiction to create one’s own fiction. The freedom of authorship maybe? You’ve got me thinking about that wonderful mobile phone commercial here in Norway. Where they take the much beloved and traditional Czech Cinderella story (that all Norwegians watch Christmas Eve) and completely change the story. It’s still Cinderella, though, because we all recognise it as Cinderella – but there is no wicked stepmother, she’s actually kind. Oh dear, I’m moving off track again aren’t I? I suppose I like to think of these things as in-world and out-world. You’re creating your own fiction and narrative in-world in WoW, in real time and within a fictional environment, but it’s difficult to read Cinderella and create your own narrative or fiction – you’re then dealing with interpretation. It is that interpretation that you use to create another ‘world’. But in games, you’re creating at the same time as you’re ‘reading’. For example, if someone were to write down my complete actions and dialogue in an MMORPG, I would be screaming that they were stealing my story! Not my interpretation of a story or my re-enactment, but my story. As for ‘democratization of fiction’ – well, they’re strong words, definately and I’m not sure I agree either, to be honest! I’ve often wondered if it should be something like ‘the collaborative labour of fiction’. And the industry is ofcourse far from democratic! But, I don’t see the harm in first of all having active dialogue between game developers and gamers – at least giving the gamers a feeling of having some say or voice. But here I am using words like fiction, narrative and story as if they’re the same thing (oh the freedom of not being professional!).

  3. Heh, well, my daughter and her friends have regularly played Cinderella and ALL been Cinderella, no stepmothers whatsoever…I think to use terms like fiction and make useful or meaningful claims about them you have to be sure what you mean – fiction isn’t the same as narrative or story.I sort of see what you mean, though, but….

  4. To agree or disagree. I haven’t thought about games in this manner before, so thanks for shearing your thoughts. I have to read this one again tomorrow, this’ll have to sink in slow..

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