September 25, 2001

Games and Drama

An oddity of game theory today is that, while game theorists are arguing that games are not narratives, playwrights are relying on games to explain the nature of drama.

Eskillenen writes that viewing games through the prism of drama is "conceptually weak and ill-grounded.... derived from a very limited knowledge of mere mainstream drama or outdated literary theory.

Mamet writes that, "We rationalize, objectify, and personalize the process of the game exactly as we to that of a play, a drama. For finally it is a drama, with meaning for our lives. Why else would we watch it?" (Three Uses For A Knife, p. 11) Indeed, Mamet describes "The Perfect Game" as the archetype of the three-act structure. "The ball game, then, is perhaps a model of Eisenstein's Theory of Montage: the idea of a SHOT A is synthesized with the idea of a SHOT B to give us a third idea, which third idea is the irreducible building block upon which the play will be constructed."

Part of the problem, I think, are the arbitrary scraps of narrative that some game designers tack on to games as chrome: cutscenes, campaign sequences, and so forth. These rarely matter to the game, but it's easy to think they are important because they're so visible.