The Wall Street Journal today ran a review of Robert E. Howard’s life and work, coinciding with the release of a compendium of his stories. Most famous for Conan the Barbarian, Howard was arguably the pioneer of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, which concludes:
Howard died young but cast a long shadow. He did much to create a decisively American romantic tradition. Those vanished pulp magazines—Weird Tales, Unknown, even Magic Carpet Magazine—how they fed the imagination! Is it videogames, now, that do that job?
The most complete world-makers, say those of Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, or Grand Theft Auto, still feel mostly complete on their own rules — even if fantastically so — rather than as providing informed insights into our own. What is the last piece of videogame dialog you can recall? The last choice you had to make as a character? But that is also the case with the pulp fiction from which this article suggests the lineage of games is derived.
Roger Ebert’s views on games-as-not-(yet)-art can be pigeonholed (here is a good summary) but would its core proposition that games are not yet art be different if the evolution of games did come from Shakespeare instead of pulp? The weakest part of the Ebert claim is that to provide every emotional journey available weakens all of them which seems to me patently not necessarily the case. The choices made in Fallout feel arbitrary — no real consequence or different set of emotions stemming from being good or bad. The choice in BioShock has no effective subsidiary choices to weave around it. Open World games to date are still essentially PvE, not Player versus Self. And when that happens there will be a big leap into the recognition of games as Art.