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Because, video games.

That's the answer I give to my kids when they ask me how any of these weird, inconsistent events could have just occurred on the screen in front of them. Why does this thing start on fire and this thing not? Why did that character just warp through the geometry of the floor? Why can I fly in this game but not in this other one?

Because, video games.

To someone who doesn't play these games, I think it can probably appear arbitrary. Anyone who has been playing games for a while will negotiate the internal logic of each imaginary world, almost by feel. It may be slightly chaotic, but there is a language internal to video games. Like all languages, it is living and plastic. The etymology is strange and meandering. The current syntax is unfinished and shows no signs of logical design.

Similarly, the language of modern sport is internally consistent, but complete nonsense. I regularly strap sharpened metal blades to my feet, and clothed in plastic and foam armour, collide at 20km an hour with other grown men. When witnessed by an outsider this has to seem completely bonkers. It is. But it's also a lot of fun.

I just finished playing Bioshock Infinite. The characters in the game are exceptionally well written and performed. The story is decent, not withstanding a few unrealized plot threads and a few holes patched over with "handwavium", it's on the level of your better, high concept sci-fi films. Better, but not best. Inception, not Bladerunner. Then there is the shooting.

Bioshock Infinite is the latest in a series of excellent first person shooter games. The language of the first person shooter is fairly well defined, but it grows and changes with each successive title. It's a living language. It carries the baggage of its evolution, like a language does. Crates and barrels populate the first person shooter in numbers unmatched by the busier port cities of history. More combatants fall in battle, than the worst military massacres. Usually at the hands of the protagonist. These are the phonetics of the first person shooter. Because, video games.

Film carries, in its language, methods of expressing compression of time, rapid traversal of space, and connecting characters with concepts using editing, lighting, and sound. None of this is realistic in any way, but it is a language spoken and understood by pretty much everyone. You will get that occasional viewer who constantly asks what just happened, not realizing that there are no extra scenes contained between the cuts. The story is being told deliberately, as the filmmakers intended. They have the same information as everyone else. The stories are told this way, because, movies.

Because, books. Because, music. Because, poetry. Because, movies. Because, video games.

The language of the medium informs it's structure. I often have problems with the disjointed way storytelling is handled in games. How heightened violence and action step on character development and narrative, and vice versa. I’m probably one of the only people with a Y chromosome that didn’t enjoy Heat for the same reason. I like me some violent movies and games, to be sure. Saints Row the Third is one of my favorite games in recent memory. It’s unapologetically violent and ridiculous at every turn. Because, video games. It understands the language of the medium better than some of it’s higher minded counterparts, and succeeds based solely on that.

Bioshock Infinite uses the language of games impeccably to tell an interactive story, and to create an interesting, theme park style action shooter. Where it stumbles is in combining the two.

It took decades for filmmakers to even begin to grasp the nuances of the language of film. That language is still evolving steadily today. Video games have only been in homes for a few decades, and the technology of the medium has only started to settle out very recently. understanding and speaking in the language of video games is far from a mastered art. Still, sometimes things happen on that screen that aren’t weird and inconsistent. Sometimes things happen on that screen that are amazing, wonderful, affecting, and profound. Because, video games.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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