Archway with Words festival: Video games can be an art form, says leading game designer Ed Stern

Ed Stern

Ed Stern - Credit: Archant

Leading video game designer Ed Stern explains how to write stories for a modern medium.

What are the strengths of narratives in video games?

Lots of games seem to get by just fine with no story, just a premise. In Tetris, you manipulate falling blocks; in Angry Birds, you catapult furious avians. But blockbuster “AAA” games like The Last Of Us or small-budget indie titles like Papers Please involve and ­implicate you through your interactions in a way that traditional passive media can’t.

Do you share the concerns about the effect on children?

You wouldn’t want a child to only read and never socialise or play sports, any more than you’d want a child to only play sport and never read or socialise. But currently there’s a generation gap – parents who haven’t grown up playing games. Soon everyone will have grown up with games, and be familiar with what the reasonable limits are. If you wouldn’t let a child watch The Godfather or read Last Exit To Brooklyn, you shouldn’t let them play games like Grand Theft Auto that say rated 18 on the box.

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How does a video game story differ to other forms?

It’s hard for traditional writers to adapt to games, because you can’t do it with language. It’s a wildly distributed form of writing: your verbs are the buttons on the game controllers, your adverbs are implemented by the animation team, and your adjectives are painted by the environment art team. It certainly makes you appreciate the magical direct interiority of prose.

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How did you get into games?

Games have never been the only thing I’ve been interested in. I went to university to study literature, then switched to history, and did a lot of theatre and music, then worked in TV production. But games are the new medium, the new frontier. Nobody knows what the limits are yet. Clearly they can be just mindless fun, or not very good wannabe-movies, but can they be persuasive, moving, transformative? Here’s hoping.

Ed Stern talks at the Worship Centre, Methodist Church on Saturday, 3pm. Tickets £4.

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