Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Influences

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A brief personal note about influences and creative synthesis: I take great inspiration from the work of television producer David Simon, creator of The Wire and producer for Generation Kill. Both of these shows are about the most tired subject matter imaginable--cops and marines respectively--yet they're better than almost anything on the same subject because of Simon's emphasis on journalistic verisimilitude.
Not surprisingly he was a journalist before moving to television, and it is that attention to detail, a feel for the real that informs the spirit of his work. The people in his shows, either fictional or based on real people, are human to us.
Without exactly turning this whole entry into a paean to David Simon, the point is this: marines, even their space-based brethren, are not boring. We have made them boring.
They are boring because they are tired copies of copies, faded nth generation reproductions of recycled popular culture. We might not have some of our classic videogame franchises without the all-pervasive influence of Cameron's Aliens, but we might have a lot more interesting games.

I believe the onus of expertise is on content creators, not on the audience, and it is therefore up to us to research and craft characters and gameplay and situation that hews as closely to the unimaginable variety and wonder of actual events as possible.
And so regardless of our aims as to "realism" or simulation in our games, a journalistic desire for truth, or the artistic "lie that tells the truth" (to paraphrase Picasso) should inform our work at all times.
This is fairly major current in my design philosophy these days, so it seems pertinent to mention early on.

2 comments:

jeffdr said...

A good way to sell realism is presenting something to the viewer/player that they didn't know or forsee but that grounds the work in reality. Michael Chrichton was awesome at this - he'd take some silly premise like cloned dinosaurs and add little bits to ground it, e.g. the tendency of the dinosaurs to get sick all the time or the cloning process being all messy and having over 99% of the clones stillborn. It's these little unexpected bits that a guy like David Simon (who has observed his subject matter in person) can deliver. So when you watch Generation Kill you feel like you're *learning* something from a reality rather than just watching fake stuff.

Jack said...

Crichton really was a master at this, you're right. He was great for taking something hovering just beyond the general public's awareness and creating a good populist novel around it.
Like in Jurassic Park, concepts of cloning, details about how DNA (well known then but not popularly), even rudiments of chaos theory in that memorable detour, all come together. Good reason for him being such a golden boy with Hollywood for so long, since most of his book concepts had strong hooks (and superficial characterizations).

And yeah that's pretty much the best sort of science fiction or best sort of fiction generally, to me. Someone who has based their work in observation and research--like you say, feeling as though you're learning something as opposed to watching fake stuff.

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