The difference.

  • Literature is descriptive.
  • Films are representative.
  • Games are explorative.

That’s a fundamental difference.

Expansion and clarification can be found here.

17 thoughts on “The difference.

  1. @Nels Exploration doesn’t need to be purely physical. Even in Tetris you are exploring and experimenting with the possibility space, seeing how objects and their relationships change over time and based on your actions.

  2. Games aren’t necessarily explorative though, are they? I mean, how much exploring is there in Tetris?

    That’s not a problem, of course. Or maybe above you meant narrative-based games … ?

  3. So tempted to just say “No it’s not,” Monty Python style. :-)

    I do think it’s an overstatement, though. (For example: Choose Your Own Adventure is explorative, documentaries are descriptive, Madden is representative.)

  4. I’m not trying to be an ass or anything ;) I just worry a little that when we say “All games are explorative,” we might be cheapening the value of being explorative a bit. I mean, saying Tetris and World of Warcraft are both explorative is like saying a glass of water and the Pacific Ocean are both wet, you know?

    I’m probably just being too pedantic anyway, heh. I totally agree with the sentiment and more importantly, the fundamental difference it represents.

  5. Don’t think that’s entirely right though.

    Often games are representative of other things. For example a football game represents real football. A turn-based WW2 strategy game is representing a real war with tiny figures. Same is true of all strategy games really.

    Ofcourse you can apply “explorative” to a strategy game on a more basic level but you can explore a film or a book by reading or watching multiple times and pick up nuances you missed etc…. so it’s not so black and white.

  6. I couldn’t disagree more. These distinctions don’t give any of their mediums the credit they deserve. Elements of games are highly representative (modeling real world processes in a digital realm), we can explore the language and form of literature, and film uses visuals to describe the world. Your “fundamental” differences are both reductionist and counter-productive. If you’re going to make these claims, you need to elaborate on, support, and explain why these differences are important.

  7. Gotta agree with Bobby, L.B. and co. here – you seem to be suggesting that only video games (and not literature or film) are explorative, that only literature is descriptive, etc. Right now I can’t really see any way in which that’s true, much less “fundamental.”

    Got anything more specific, here?

  8. Please note I never used the words “all” or “exclusively”.

    I fully intend to elaborate on this statement in my next post.

  9. Perhaps another way to approach what I feel you’re trying to get at is:

    – I grasp literature through the language-y parts of my brain. (My “mental ear,” if you will.)
    – I grasp film through my eyes.
    – I grasp gaming through my fingers.

    …though admittedly my phrasing isn’t very artful.

    There are exceptions to both your formulation and mine, but they’re outliers.

  10. I’m in agreement both with you and those who disagree with you. :D

    Is there a way to square the circle, something like “We encounter games as explorative”? (BTW I really like “explorative” as an improvement over “interactive.”)

  11. While it is common to refer to the interactive aspect of games as “explorative”, I am not convinced it is the best term.

    The term does a good job of suggesting that the events in a play session are largely under the player’s control, within boundaries that are largely designed by the “author”. However, it comes with some baggade I don’t like.

    1. Exploration typically implies that there is some sort of euclidean property in the game space such that strategies can be labelled “near” and “far”, and that “near” strategies are easier to see and reach then “far” ones. I don’t think this is a very accurate statement.

    2. Exploration typically implies that the player is in control of his movement around the possibility space. This completely understates the importance of the interactions between the game’s various components. In reality, the player is not able to grasp all the possible strategies available to him, and he is not able accurately predict the consequences of his

    Point 2 in particular (but also point 1) actually obscures the fundamental differences between games and other passive media, IMO.

    “Interactive” is still the best overall term to describe how games differ from passive media.

  12. I think people are applying what you said to specific situations, but as a general statement, what you said holds true. The nature of games (at least as what they’ve evolved to) is about exploring and navigating a space. There are exceptions to that, but aren’t there for anything?

  13. Prose, verse, and drama are the three traditional genres of literature. Etymologically, the root word of narrative means “tell.” The root word of poetry means “make.” The root word of drama means “do.”

    Maybe if you think of “literature” as mostly prose you could say literature has to do with describing, but what does a Samuel Beckett play describe? The script certainly describes a performance, but the performance doesn’t describe anything else. Likewise, in poetry… the specific snippets of realistic detail that flutter through “The Waste Land” are a means to an end, so in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” Eliot argues that poets can just as well write about feelings they’ve never personally felt — the goal of the poet, Eliot says, is to do something to the reader, not describe a feeling. Further, since film and drama overlap so much, I’m not sure it’s possible to drive a wedge between them this easily.

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