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A moving book, a readable movie

On my introductory post to the forums here, I mentioned it would be a long and eloquent soliloquy to fully describe why I feel that a video game from around the 16 bit era is a movie and a book in one package. Since, I've taken a few moments to actually conceive said soliloquy.

Consider the imagination one uses when reading a good book. For the sake of common ground, I'll use To Kill a Mockingbird for reference. The book provides minimal descriptions of Maycomb, mostly hinging on the descriptor of it being a "tired old town". The reader mentally fills in a portrait of the land, the houses, and the people as the story progresses, and it's likely that no two readers are envisioning the same Maycomb or Boo Radley while reading this book. Whenever dialog is written, it's a fair assumption that even with written depictions, each reader is hearing a different Atticus Finch defending a separately interpreted Tom Robinson. And finally, there is a probable certainty that all these imaginings are strikingly varied from what Harper Lee had in mind when she penned the novel.

Now let's look movies in comparison. When a book is adapted into a movie, the first complaint any reader usually has is how the movie glossed over segments, left others out, and altered characters or settings. A movie is a compressed form of art in that it leaves out the extensive aspects of a book, but in return, a movie is able to give voices to characters, imagery to scenes, along with a musical backdrop. Again for common ground, consider The Matrix. The viewer is given vivid imagery into the story, both in characters and locations. However, many characters are killed before they are given any depth, and much of the history is merely implied. These are things that would be expected from a novel, never a movie.

A video game, such as Earthbound, completes this trifecta by providing an encompassing visual world but not one as visceral as a single movie scene, a musical backdrop but no character voices, and extensive dialog from non-player characters but little to none from the mainstays, With Earthbound, the interactions between Ness and his party are largely up to the player. These characters are only developed by subtle implications. My favorite, and incidentally what kick-started my thoughts on this topic, is when Jeff is first introduced. His friend Tony tells how he was just dreaming of the two of them walking in the park. Just as a character's voice can be heard many different ways, this piece of dialog could be worlds apart for each player.

From that one segment, I imagined Jeff and Tony in a relationship, but forced into secrecy, as it would be considered taboo in their strict boarding school. Something as a simple walk in the park, not caring who saw them together, was all they wanted, and yet could not have (as a small aside, the letter Tony gives to Ness later on always tears me up). A friend of mine took this moment as them being childhood friends, and the walk in the park being a fond memory from years past. Another took it as misplaced prophecy that they would be breaking out of the school, yet only Jeff was able to leave. In any sense, it has been the prime example as to how a video game, a visual form of entertainment and art, has similar interpretative tenacity as a good book.

A good secondary example would be Ness's dad. One player might take him as a travelling businessman. I took him as a divorced father, a mere voice on the phone to Ness who always tried to compensate for his absence with money. When Ness is homesick, he calls his mom, not dad, for comfort.

Beyond the characters, the world of Earthbound can clearly be seen, but in a primitive way. For instance, Ness's house has two bedrooms, one for him, one for his sister and none for his parents with a sparse first floor. Most of the houses in the game are similarly designed, many not making any spatial sense. This is a visual equivalent to a paragraph in a book describing a house. The reader/player is only given a basic sketch, and has to put the rest together on their own. Concerning battles, a movie would show a fast paced skirmish, never dwelling on any tactics or assessments, which is where a book would specialize. But with the game, the tactics are up to the player, and the graphics are minimal, so it stands as a little from both worlds.

And that really is where the video game falls: snugly between the book and movie. This is what gives a game such as Earthbound more depth than a movie, and the visual aids a book is lacking, but still retaining the freedom of interpretation. The current era of video games tend to veer more towards movies, with cut scenes, voice overs, and less opportunity for imaginative freedoms. I do not mean that as an absolution, but it certainly is a trend. A game such as God of War (a fantastic series by all rights) has more in common with The 300 than it does with The Iliad, with Kratos being a simplified Achilles. But that aside, a good video game to me is the best of both worlds between book and movie, and this crossbreeding is what makes me so passionate about them.

I'm Dr. Light ate your Magicite, and this was my first post.
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About Dr Light ate your Magiciteone of us since 8:24 PM on 05.12.2009

I mostly enjoy retro games, but not entirely for the challenge. I like games to be a mix of a book and a movie in that they are visually stimulating but still allow the player to fill in the voices and other elements with their imagination. I'm weird and awkward, which really makes me stand out among gamers.

Outside of video games, my other great passion is music. I'd consider myself a metalhead because it is what I gravitate towards most. My collection also boasts healthy helpings of shoegaze, dream pop, darkwave, visual kei, neofolk, neoclassical, classic rock, prog rock, classical, and of course, video game soundtracks, along with smatterings of whatever else has caught my attention.

My favorite games include:

Bit.Trip series
Blazing Lazers
Bucky O'Hare
Castlevania II, IV, Symphony of the Night, Order of Ecclesia
Cave Story
Chrono Trigger/Cross
Cthulhu Saves the World
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII. Theatrhythm
Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
Gargoyle's Quest
Illusion of Gaia
Kirby's Adventure
Link's Awakening
Lords of Thunder
Lost Odyssey
Megaman II, III, V, X
Mother 3
Resident Evil 1, 2, 3
Rocket Knight Adventures
Seiken Densetsu series: from Final Fantasy Adventure to Legend of Mana
Shadow of the Colossus
Silent Hill 1, 2, Shattered Memories
Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2
Tales of Symphonia
Threads of Fate
To the Moon
Tower of Heaven
World of Goo
Xenoblade Chronicles

Xbox LIVE:Trevoracious
Steam ID:drlightateyourmagicite


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