Word Play

Rock, Paper, Shotgun prints an assessment of the function of text in recent computer games. Some good discussion of the effect of talking movies, the fact that having good voice actors means you don’t need to write as much dialog (which is a good thing since recording dialog is much more expensive than writing text) and some interesting predictions about the future of text in computer games. (IF authors Emily Short and Adam Cadre are quoted, and Graham Nelson is referenced.)

And the merits of the text adventure remain. They simply weren’t necessarily supplanted by necessarily better technology – just more populist, accessible ones. “There’s a great deal of beauty to be found in verbal expression,” notes Emily Short, IF author of critically acclaimed games like Floatpoint, Galatea and Savoir-Faire, “This sounds trivial, I know, but many of the IF pieces I like, I like for the writing: the rhythm of the prose, the attitude of the narrator, the wit or grace of the phrasing.” Having text as your only medium also changes the sort of experiences you make. “There are things you can write that you can’t draw effectively,” Emily adds, “The reverse is also true, of course: graphics are superior at conveying spatial relationships, color and light, a sense of scale. But words are better at showing the subjective and the internal. It’s hard to draw into a picture what the viewpoint character feels about what he sees; it’s much easier to imply in a verbal description.” There’s even simple utilitarian uses to text in play. “Words are handy for highlighting only the important aspects of a scene, and downplaying the unimportant ones,” Emily adds, “In a text game you can say “There’s something glinting under the water”, and the player knows 1) that there’s something there he should be thinking about and 2) that he’s not expected to know exactly what it is yet. I’ve played a few graphical games where I was scratching my head trying to figure out what a pictured object was”.