The editing of games

When looking for the essence of a medium in order to exploit it and create the best possible work with that medium, it’s easy to make mistakes. When movies came about, I’m sure people considered the fact that the image moved to be the one thing that defined the medium, its tool that should be used for expression. Now we know that this is incorrect: the real crucial aspect of film making is editing. Editing the flow of a film is unique to the medium and is the ultimate tool for expressing its content.

Film editing, by definition, is the only art that is unique to cinema and which defines and separates filmmaking from almost all other art forms. The job of an editor isn’t merely to mechanically put pieces of a film together, nor to just cut off the film slates, nor merely to edit dialogue scenes. Film editing is an art form which can either make or break a film. (Wikipedia)

I bet nobody saw that coming in the early days of film. It was something that needed to be discovered through trial and error and inspiration.

Games may face a similar problem. We are all very quick to assume that interactivity is the most important aspect of this new medium. But is this correct? Is designing interactivity to games what editing is to film?

11 thoughts on “The editing of games”

  1. No, I think its a stretch to equate designing interactivity with editing film. Editing cutsequences is part of the non-interactive part of game design in and of itself.

    ‘Editing’ in its general sense could describe the planning and refactoring of environment design, and how the player interacts within a game as a whole.

    I do really like comparing the game medium to film though, especially when participating in ‘can games be high art’ discussions. In many ways it’s the new medium on the block, and new mediums and ideas always get a lot of flack.

    Nineteenth century photography got it’s share of derision from the high art community of the time, as did Impressionism. And I think it would have been hard to convince a turn of the 20th century theater critic that the medium used in pornographic nickelodeons would become an established artistic format in a matter of decades.

  2. I think the idea that editing is exclusive to film is a bit weird — books are heavily edited, and moving around sections of the story, changing how things are presented or the language used can be just as transformative as film editing.

    Level making/editing is similar to film editing in that it involves taking the entirety of what’s available (game mechanics, game entities, etc) and arranging them to create specific effects or scenarios. You’re also not really creating anything as much as you are manipulating already-existing elements (for tile-based games at any rate).

  3. I think there are a lot of things unique to film, not just one distinguishing unique feature that film (and that by extrapolation games and other mediums) would have. Interactivity is one of the things that make games unique, but it’s not the only thing or necessarily the most important.

  4. You mentioned once in your forums that putting the character into a role, letting them literally be a character, is something games do; that could be another unique aspect of games, so that’s one in addition to interaction. There may be a dozen or so unique aspects of games.

    Another one that I can think of is that it can hide parts of itself ‘behind the scenes’. Theater has this to some extent with backstage, but that’s not quite the same thing; in most forms of art what the audience sees is the entirety of the work, whereas games often have to be played many times to see everything in it, and often it’s impossible for a player to see everything in a game. This isn’t true of novels, movies, or music — you go through and read/see/hear everything tangible about it in one viewing (there may be things you missed, but that was due more to not paying attention, not due to it not being presented to you). In games on the other hand there are parts where even if you’ve played a game a hundred times you come across something you’ve never seen before.

  5. Another important aspect of computer technology for me is that it allows for the artwork to be alive in some way. It doesn’t need to passively wait for the viewer to do something, it can act all by itself. Whether the user’s input contributes to this artificial life is a simple design decision and not an inherent quality of the medium.

  6. Yes, there’s ‘life’ and other cellular automata games. There’s also a few games where you can just watch the game play itself (such as watching the AI do things). Interaction includes the freedom not to interact, but even if you’re not interacting you’re still interacting by the choice not to.

  7. Don’t delute the meaning of words, please. Interaction happens when one party does something and the other party does something in return. If, of course, the game world is programmed to respond to inactivity in some way (in The Endless Forest, not doing anything makes your avatar fall asleep, e.g.) then you could call that interactive, I guess. But not very.

    We don’t need to go as far is AI to talk about a living artwork. Just a few animations and sounds that are triggered by random numbers can do the trick. In fact any set of numbers can be used to generate life in a computer application. Random numbers, or numbers coming from some other event (the weather, cars on the highway, seagulls in the sky), or numbers coming from user input. To the computer, it’s all the same.

    But wherever the numbers come from, doing something with them, turning them into visual or audible stimuli, is quite a unique feature of this technology. I think it’s a good idea to design games as living organisms, as things that respond to all sorts of input, not just the user’s.

  8. I don’t think that’s diluting the meaning. By comparison it’s usually well-recognized that free will includes the freedom not to do something, and that action includes the action of no action. As long as the potential or possibility of interaction exists, non-interaction is interaction.

    I’m not saying a book or a movie is interactive, but if there’s something potentially interactive with which you don’t interact with at all there is still interaction going on. If someone visits my house and I don’t say hello to them or acknowledge their existence in any way, I’m still interacting with them and they’d interpret it as rude.

    Also in games the type of interaction tends to be focused on the character’s avatar, but there are a few games in which you only adjust settings or conditions and then watch and see what happens. I think that can be just as interactive as a game where you physically move an avatar around and interact with the environment as a character within it.

  9. I get your point. But the potential of action does not mean active equals passive. When you don’t greet people you are being rude because you are not interacting with them. That doesn’t mean interaction itself or the possibility disappears. Not using a possibility could only equal using it, in some excessively logical-mathematical universe.

    I like to think of interactivity in the way Chris Crawford defines it: as an exchange between two (or more) thinking elements. In that sense mere reaction to a trigger doesn’t suffice. But, more importantly to this discussion, the elements of the interaction do not need to include the player.

    Of course it’s probably a good thing if you design an environment that is aware of the player’s actions. But I find it helpful to think of interactive worlds as self-sufficient entities first. To not build everything around the player.

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