It will surprise no-one to hear that I will happily sacrifice what we traditionally call “gameplay” for a well-crafted interactive narrative, which explains my love for the visual novel genre. With a couple of notable exceptions (Aselia the Eternal being the most obvious one) these “games” are almost free of traditional “gameplay”, and instead focus on simply telling their story in a distinctive manner while allowing the player the most basic control over where it ends up. Because the focus is on simply storytelling rather than trying to shoehorn “gameplay” in, these titles can explore a much wider variety of themes and tell some much more mature stories that simply aren’t possible (or at least very difficult) via the medium of, say, a first-person shooter.

The other side effect of visual novels is that they manage to tell a directed narrative while simultaneously stoking the fires of the imagination. By narrating the majority of actions rather than explicitly showing them, the player is left to imagine the bits in between. In non-voiced VNs, the player even imagines what the characters sound like.

This is still true in fully-animated titles like School Days. School Days is effectively an interactive anime, but the focus is squarely on the characters and their interactions, leaving the player to imagine things like the settings and things that are going on off-screen.

“So why not read a book?” I hear you ask. Well, despite the fact that by playing a VN you are effectively just reading for 98% of your time, the whole multimedia experience is what sets it apart from a straight book. You have graphics, sound, music and sometimes voice as well as text — and this makes it its own unique and very effective storytelling medium. It’s more than a book, but less than a movie — plus the degree of involvement that simply making a few innocuous-seeming decisions along the way shouldn’t be underestimated.

That Dyad piece annoyed me not because of what the dude said — though it was kinda dumb — but because it was once again another example of the “one size fits all” model being inappropriately applied to what is possibly the most diverse, flexible artistic medium there is. What “games” mean to one person is not the same as what they mean to someone else, and it is just straight-up ridiculous to make blanket statements like “storytelling in games is idiotic”. It may not to be your personal taste, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many examples of it working well and resonating with others. I think the critical acclaim of The Walking Dead has proven that’s lot of people are hungry for it — and that games don’t have to have juvenile narratives.

Basically, any time you start an argument with “Games are…” just, you know, stop. Then think about what you’re saying. Then be more specific and accurate!

(See also: anyone who finds the most stupid thing they’ve seen in a game recently and then posts it with an exasperated-sounding “VIDEOGAMES” after it. Not helpful. For as many dumb things that triple-A blockbusters do, there are at least as many titles off the beaten track that handle things maturely and sensibly. If the dumbness of Call of Duty pisses you off, go look elsewhere for your interactive kicks. Just like if Michael Bay pisses you off, you’d go and watch other films.)

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