Video Games Are Getting More Like TV, And That's Actually Good

When casting about for media to compare gaming to, most minds land on film. Action movies and action games still draw inspiration from each other, and when game budgets and incomes draw comparisons, it's always to Hollywood.

But over at The Atlantic, writer Yannick LeJacq argues that really, video games and television have much to learn from each other — perhaps, even, a shared future. TV, LeJacq explains, has been drawing in more and more interactivity, and games, particularly explicitly episodic experiences like The Walking Dead, have steadily been taking on more of the broadcast structure.

"Paying $US60 dollars per package-not to mention the cost of consoles, other hardware, and related services-is an increasingly prohibitive venture for many gamers," LeJacq observes, before touching on the rise of the free-to-play genre as well as shorter, inexpensive, casual and mobile titles like Angry Birds. He points out that taking what could be a massive, "serious" game and breaking it into discrete, affordable chunks that require a low time investment from players may just be what makes the medium tick in the future:

The implication for consumer taste is that you're fine spending 99 cents on a game you'll play on your morning commute. But if you spend more than 50 bucks, you damn well better be getting your money's worth — if "getting your money's worth" means being able to spend countless hours in front of the screen day after day.

This makes for a weird conflation of "time spent in front of the screen" with "quality." ... By serializing "serious games" of this calibre, long-form dramatic experiences can be doled out with more thought given to the lives of the people playing them.

So far, this seems to actually be working.

LeJacq is not the first to applaud the apparent trend for video games to be cribbing style and strucutre from television. Kotaku's own Kirk Hamilton recently likened no less-beloved a game than Mass Effect 2 to a television series, applauding its sense of pace and timing. And, LeJacq concludes, the trends may eventually move both ways, connecting our entertainment:

After all, just like RuPaul's Drag Race, more television is borrowing from the success of American Idol to invite a deeper sense of user engagement. We're probably a long way away from episodes of Breaking Bad asking, "WILL WALTER WHITE SAVE JANE, OR LEAVE HER TO DIE? TONIGHT, YOU DECIDE." And hopefully, we'll never get to that. But what we may see instead is completely novel experience, something where we all sit down together with a game and a screen — the 21st century's true campfire — and learn how to tell each other better stories.

The Future of Video Games Could Look a Lot Like Television [The Atlantic]

Top photo: Shutterstock


    I don't think I've ever agreed with one of Kate Cox's opinion pieces, get a very very Helper vibe from her, like she doesn't actually want to play video games she just wants her soap stories to let her press x every now and then and maybe make a superficial choice or two. Sorry if that sounds harsh, I suppose in all fairness this seems to be more a rewrite of someone else's opinion and it's more about structure than gameplay, but while episodic can work for some games I'd hate to see it predominate, I don't really like TV, I like books, right now sprawling epic length games are more like books I can lose myself in and to see that structure lessen for a better commercial sell.. ugh

    So, "we’ll never get to that", to letting audiences choose the ending of a TV episode. Does anyone remember the show "Let the Blood Run Free"? We've already tried that, and it was actually a lot of fun. Who would have thought Australian TV could be so cutting edge?!

    “Paying $US60 dollars per package-not to mention the cost of consoles, other hardware, and related services-is an increasingly prohibitive venture for many gamers,”
    If you're not willing to drop cash for a $250 console and $20-$30 games (because who seriously needs to buy games the day they come out) you're hardly a 'gamer'.

    if US$60 is becoming 'Increasingly Prohibitive' I would hate to see the sale rates for Australia. Those kind of prices would warrant spending sprees down here.

      Hah yeah. Personally I've been gaming for a good one and a half decades or so and my ability to buy games has actually increased a lot considering I was in school when I used to play as much as I could on the family PC and now I have a job. While games have increased in price in that time it really hasn't been that much all considered.

      Maybe the perception of it being 'increasingly prohibitive' is coming from the fact that gaming is getting a bit more widespread and the figures are getting muddled because "Oh you can buy a game for 99c from an app store!" So it seems it's less that serious games are getting 'increasingly prohibitive' to buy and more that we're getting a wider range of selection of what exactly constitutes gaming as a whole. I dunno that's the only way I can see this opinion having come about, while games have increased in price over time it really has been rather minor. It's not like games cost double what they did 10 years ago or something.

    I think the TV-to-games parallels run deeper than that.
    A game doesn't need to be released episodically for it to be played as such. The total running time of a season of a TV show is closer to the length of a game than a movie, regardless of how often or when you play. Then, the equivalent of episodes can be your individual play sessions, or the levels.
    The pacing is more in line with TV as well: with a longer run time, you can spend an episode, or half an episode, exploring a B story, while games can allow for side quests to deepen the characters/world/etc. Movies have a stricter time limit - which is why film adaptations like LOTR or Harry Potter have to exclude so much.
    And finally, it can justify the "sequelization" of video games, that people often complain about. You expect a new season of 12-24 episodes of a TV series each year - that's the model. So why do people roll their eyes at new games in a long-running franchise?

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