My name is Kyle B. Stiff. I come from the future.
I was just a little kid when the “stories in videogames” debate really blew up. In 2015 the Anti-Story division effectively won the debate. First they tricked us, then they bullied us. Then came the bonfires, piles and piles of games with strong narratives thrown into the fires. But we had good reason to go along: Every video game that came out in 2014 had a storyline so incredibly stupid that it no longer seemed like human beings had any part in writing the scripts – it was more like a room full of monkeys banging away on word processors on the off chance that Macbeth or Seven Samurai might come out.
For a decade we were story-free. No more annoying Japanese RPG tropes, no more Western shooters with tough guy clones who find out that everything they believed in was a lie, no more thinking you’ll get to choose between good and evil and then getting shoehorned into choosing good because evil just seems too unrealistic. Our games were lights, sounds, arbitrary goals, manipulation of abstract environments. Our most popular game was called Light Box Excuse Me Please!!!!!, which carried the frantic description, “Can you make it glow red in less than four seconds?!” I can’t say whether it was fun or not because I never bothered to play it.
After video games were relegated to something to do while stuck in traffic, the Anti-Story movement became lax. A game called The Odyssey was made. It was marketed as an educational tool, something to help high school kids understand ancient literature; a necessary ruse to have a story-driven game green-lit. It was about Odysseus and his long journey home from the Trojan War. The gods opposed him and he had to fight a horde of misshapen beasts using brute strength and nauseatingly violent finishing moves. There were tactical elements as well, as Odysseus had a crew of goons to back him up. And there was role-playing dialogue too, in which the player controlled Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, as she devised plots to delay a horde of suitors from claiming her husband’s vast estate.
Damn, we loved it! The final scene was vilified in mainstream news because, just as in the original tale, Odysseus and his son rounded up Penelope’s unhelpful servants, took them behind a building, and slaughtered them. Many child psychology experts, themselves comically out of touch with reality, stated that that scene alone must have produced a dozen future psychopaths. But we didn’t love The Odyssey because it was ultraviolent, we loved it because it made us feel powerful, heroic, like we were on a meaningful journey towards a goal rather than slogging from one day to the next.
We needed that ritualized violence, that cleansing blood, that spiritual journey through Hell. Sorting colored boxes and pushing icons through mazes doesn’t wake the soul like a symbolic quest for revenge that ends by seeing your enemy’s forehead caved in, all of it played out in medium where no one gets hurt.
In ages past, cultures changed at the speed of an uphill slug race. You could fill the same niche as your great grandfather, find meaning through tradition, and maybe take part in a few explosive rituals every year to help sort through the baggage a soul accumulates. But things move fast now and society needs us to be literal and objective, to keep the beast penned up, or else everything will fall apart. You can’t stand up to the bad guys and take them out in real life because… well, they make you go to prison if you do.
Of course, in the future that I come from, the stuffed suits got it wrong once again. They misunderstood the appeal of violent heroism and started marketing things as “dark” and “edgy”. That’s how we got Tetris Torture, a game about stuffing your victims into a cramped, dimly-lit soundproof chamber before the cops bust down your door for an impromptu inspection. It didn’t do so well, nor did any of the shameless copies of The Odyssey. But the stuffed suits refused to budge an inch regarding their policy of not working with creative script writers who have the backbone to take risks. Instead, they stand ready to declare yet another “death of storytelling” in video gaming.
That’s why I’ve come back: To stand alongside those who demand better narratives than what we’re getting. But it’s a tricky task. We can’t demand “good writers” because the suits don’t know what that means – they’ll think we’re talking about a writer that makes a lot of money, which doesn’t mean anything. No, we need script writers willing to take risks.
No compelling video game narrative was ever made by a writer who had his guts clenched up in fear. As with a lot of things in life,
is what’s needed.
Postscript: So why did I clutter up our nice, organized internet with all this noise?
This is a piece I wrote for the “back of the book” section of Play magazine mere moments before Play died. I wrote it from the perspective of someone who comes from the future because, well, I truly believed that I was from the future. I’ve talked with a lot of psychiatrists about this.
Some of them say that what it is, is that I have a brain hard-wired for seeing outcomes rather than details when it comes to retard-psychology, and it works in such a way that if ten retards are put in a room together then I won’t even see what those retards are doing in the present – instead, I will see the outcome of what those retards must inevitably do. They believe it’s a truly superhuman ability and that I deserve an award. (The ability breaks down if a person with even a tiny fucking clue is introduced into the experiment, because neither I nor anyone else can predict what a sensible, creative, and unique person will do in any given situation.) On the other hand, some physicists and forensics experts that work for the CIA seemed convinced that I really did come from the future (but only based on the physical evidence). Thankfully, due to the sheer absurdity of such an idea, my brain has constructed a fabricated past for me that says I’m not from the future, nor can I predict the actions of retards (whether they wear suits and ties or sweat pants and t-shirts). However, some people thought this piece was mildly interesting, so I thought I might post it. Just think of it as something written by someone who was born in a year easily calculated by subtracting their age from the current year. I know I do.
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Hey readers! If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.