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A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games

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From amazon.com- "An engaging and entertaining read for veteran gamers and curious newcomers alike, A Mind Forever Voyaging traces the evolution of interactive video games by examining 13 landmark titles that challenged convention and captured players imaginations worldwide. Alternative gaming blogger Dylan Holmes focuses on games that tell stories in innovative and From amazon.com- "An engaging and entertaining read for veteran gamers and curious newcomers alike, A Mind Forever Voyaging traces the evolution of interactive video games by examining 13 landmark titles that challenged convention and captured players’ imaginations worldwide. Alternative gaming blogger Dylan Holmes focuses on games that tell stories in innovative and fascinating ways and examines the opportunities—and challenges—presented when players are given the ability to direct how a story plays out. From the text-based adventure of Planetfall and the interactive cinema of Heavy Rain to the one-act play of Façade and the simulated world of Shenmue, Holmes showcases the diversity of video game stories that have emerged in the last 30 years. Along the way, he addresses such questions as: •How did the introduction of moral choices in video games change the playing field? •What film techniques have enhanced (or detracted from!) the gaming experience? •Can video games aspire to be art? [Hint: Yes!] •What are the benefits, pitfalls, and unintended consequences of players' "right to choose"? •Will the robot Floyd make you cry? Critical analysis, historical perspective, and a gently opinionated personal touch make A Mind Forever Voyaging an enlightening read that captures the best that video games have to offer."


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From amazon.com- "An engaging and entertaining read for veteran gamers and curious newcomers alike, A Mind Forever Voyaging traces the evolution of interactive video games by examining 13 landmark titles that challenged convention and captured players imaginations worldwide. Alternative gaming blogger Dylan Holmes focuses on games that tell stories in innovative and From amazon.com- "An engaging and entertaining read for veteran gamers and curious newcomers alike, A Mind Forever Voyaging traces the evolution of interactive video games by examining 13 landmark titles that challenged convention and captured players’ imaginations worldwide. Alternative gaming blogger Dylan Holmes focuses on games that tell stories in innovative and fascinating ways and examines the opportunities—and challenges—presented when players are given the ability to direct how a story plays out. From the text-based adventure of Planetfall and the interactive cinema of Heavy Rain to the one-act play of Façade and the simulated world of Shenmue, Holmes showcases the diversity of video game stories that have emerged in the last 30 years. Along the way, he addresses such questions as: •How did the introduction of moral choices in video games change the playing field? •What film techniques have enhanced (or detracted from!) the gaming experience? •Can video games aspire to be art? [Hint: Yes!] •What are the benefits, pitfalls, and unintended consequences of players' "right to choose"? •Will the robot Floyd make you cry? Critical analysis, historical perspective, and a gently opinionated personal touch make A Mind Forever Voyaging an enlightening read that captures the best that video games have to offer."

30 review for A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kaj Sotala

    As a form of storytelling, what makes video games distinct from other forms of storytelling, such as movies or books? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this form, what techniques has it borrowed from other media, and what untapped potential does it still have? A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games is a book that is essentially doing two things at once. It provides a history of thirteen games that have made important contributions to the art of video game As a form of storytelling, what makes video games distinct from other forms of storytelling, such as movies or books? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this form, what techniques has it borrowed from other media, and what untapped potential does it still have? A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games is a book that is essentially doing two things at once. It provides a history of thirteen games that have made important contributions to the art of video game storytelling, and on the side, it also provides some commentary on more general questions like the ones above. Doing two things at once is always harder than just doing one thing, but A Mind Forever Voyaging pulls it off pretty well. One or two early transitions between the specific and the general felt a little jarring, but then I either got used to them or the shifts became more natural. The book is an interesting read in both senses. I had thought myself relatively knowledgeable about the history of video games, but until now, I hadn't known what 1983 title had been possibly the first video game in history that had managed to make its players cry. And as there several games that I had heard a lot about but never played, it was interesting to hear exactly why Half-Life, for example, had been so popular. The games that get a full chapter devoted to them are: The Secret of Monkey Island, Planetfall, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, System Shock, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life, Shenmue, Deus Ex, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Libery, Façade, Dear Esther, and Heavy Rain. A number of others also get a couple of paragraphs worth of coverage each. As the author readily admits, this necessarily leaves out many games that would have deserved to be included, and the selection of which ones to include is a somewhat subjective one. In one case, a game was excluded from getting the full treatment because it was too good: Planescape: Torment was left out because ”there was too much to talk about: it begs for in-depth literary analysis, which was beyond the scope of what I was doing”. Still, although one can always quibble about particular games that should have also been included, overall the selection strikes me as a good one: I'm pretty sure that if I'd had to pick thirteen games for such a project, I would have done worse. Before reading the relevant chapters, I felt a little dubious about whether it was really necessary to include two games from the same series – Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2, neither of which I had played. But when I did read the chapter about MGS2, I became apparent that the game had been quite innovative in the way that it exploited its nature as a sequel, and deserved a mention because of that fact. The nature of video game sequels is also somewhat special – as the author points out, video games are exceptional in that the sequels are often better than the original games, which isn't the case with most other forms of media. That alone merited some discussion. The titles have basically been picked on the basis of their novelty: whether they contributed new innovations to the art of video game storytelling. As such, the book can also be read as a collection of different storytelling techniques and considerations as applied to video games, which makes for a fascinating read. How can game mechanics and storytelling aspects be integrated so that they support each other in building a more immersive experience? How much does immersion suffer from the game being so difficult that the player must keep reloading earlier saves? If it is exceedingly hard to make conversations with other characters feel like conversations with real people, is it sometimes better to not include any other characters at all? When can a game get away with addressing the player directly, potentially breaking the fourth wall? What techniques can be used to create the illusion that the player's choices actually matter and have consequences? Such are some of the questions which are touched upon in the book, and seeing the intricacies behind some of the games I had liked made me appreciate them, and video games storytelling in general, more than I had before. If I were running my own video game studio, this book would probably be required reading for all my employees. Some of those questions get relatively superficial coverage: they're raised when discussing a single game, in the context of how that game did things, and then they're never touched upon again. Others feel like recurring themes. The book will discuss a theoretical aspect of one game, and then move on and return to the same topic from another angle when discussing an entirely different game. These interwoven threads are not always pointed out explicitly, and it remains up to the reader to notice them and put the pieces together. For example, one recurring theme in the book is the notion that video games are made distinct by the need to develop the whole world beforehand: a strength of video games is that the player can freely explore a world on their own, but fully exploiting this strength also requires the game designer to prepare interesting content that maintains that illusion of freedom and being able to do anything. If the game has many interactive or simulationist elements – an environment that actually gets damaged when it's shot at, NPCs that display signs of intelligence, a system of moral consequence – it also becomes more likely that the player will be disappointed when the cracks in the illusion show up. Examples of such cracks include there being indestructible parts of the environment, the NPCs being clearly revealed as just scripted pieces of dialogue, or when the player's actions don't actually matter or morality is reduced to just another score to be maximized. The designer can avoid this problem by just making things more tightly akin to a movie, where the player is just a passive observer who's along for the ride – but to do so means neglecting some of the unique potential that video games have. Another solution is to try to use artificial intelligence techniques and machine-generated content in order to avoid needing to specify all the content by hand - but again, this can easily fail as the successes of the technique make its failures ever more obvious. This is clearly highlighted in the book's discussion about Façade, an indie game about the breakdown of a couple's marriage which uses a natural language parser to let the player converse with the couple and try to save their marriage. Sometimes the game gets lucky at interpreting the player's writing and delivers a strongly compelling experience, and at other times, it performs... considerably less well. A sort of meta-theme in the book, uniting many other themes, is the sense of game designers being engaged in a constant struggle to overcome the limitations of their format – both technical and financial. In a sense, it is a study of human ingenuity, of many people over many decades throwing themselves into a novel domain and gradually accumulating new ways of handling that domain, each building on the previous accomplishments of the others. Although the book draws heavily upon the academic study of games, it never comes off as dry and boring: instead, it is a fast and enjoyable read. When I first started reading it, I thought that I'd read it for about half an hour before going to bed – I finally managed to force myself to put it away two and a half hours later. While this is a common occurrence with fiction, a non-fiction book that pulls this off is far more rare. When not chronicling and analyzing specific games, the style of theoretical analysis is more tilted towards breadth than depth – which is fine, especially given that the book is mainly focused on providing a history of video game storytelling, not building a grand theory of said storytelling. Still, one gets a clear feeling that the author would have been capable of discussing each of the issues in far more detail than he does now. In any case, while the theoretical analysis does occasionally feel somewhat superficial, and never gets to the point of giving off a similar sense of brilliance as reading someone like Henry Jenkins does, it remains fascinating throughout. Reading it, I felt myself wanting to give it to some friends of mine to read, so that we could discuss its analyses together. As is often the case, possibly the biggest failing of the book is that even at 250 pages, it feels too short. I would have gladly read a version of the book that was twice or even thrice the lenght, and covered that many more games. Right now, the book feels more like a snapshot of the history of storytelling in video games, rather than a history of it. Perhaps the thing that I like the most about the book is that after reading it, I was left with a clear feeling of the very greatest video games still being ahead of us. Video games remain a young art form, and while game designers have experimented with many techniques for better storytelling, the full potential of those techniques remains untapped, waiting for someone to perfect them. We have only began to glimpse at just how good games could be. (Full disclosure: the author is a long-time online friend of mine, which has probably biased this review a little, but I wouldn't have written this in the first place if I hadn't liked the book on its own merits.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Antônio Xerxenesky

    Um pouco datado: ele termina justo quando os games narrativos viram uma tendência fortíssima. Tem boas reflexões, ainda que o livro seja conciso demais para o meu gosto.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jorge

    I have no doubt that this is one of the best pieces of writing I've ever encountered regarding the gamic medium. Dylan Holmes constructs a compelling and immersive story, narrating both the title history of storytelling in videogames, and his own story growing up with the interactive media. The personal approach to the argument serves both as an unique element in the study and as a tool to engage the reather furthermore, and it creates a book that doesn't get tiring in any moment, always I have no doubt that this is one of the best pieces of writing I've ever encountered regarding the gamic medium. Dylan Holmes constructs a compelling and immersive story, narrating both the title history of storytelling in videogames, and his own story growing up with the interactive media. The personal approach to the argument serves both as an unique element in the study and as a tool to engage the reather furthermore, and it creates a book that doesn't get tiring in any moment, always offering knowledge you might not even expect about games we all knew (and even some of them that most of us didn't know before). Of course, there is the occasional "Where's X game? That's my favourite!" cry sometimes, or the discrepance with some of the analysis Holmes make, but that is due to the interesting focus on originality and influence in the chosen topic (i.e. "storytelling in videogames") rather than the quality level of it. With respect to the latter, Holmes also notes interesting aspects, but it's the former that comprises the basis of the book. To any reader with an interest on how videogames evolved regarding the stories they tell, and how they tell them, rather than their gameplays and genres; as well to anyone that wants to get rid of misconceptions about games being "childish" and "non-art", this is a necessary reading. What is more, I recommend anyone interested to read every single word the book contains: from the preface to every appendix and bibliography, as this will provide not only with what you expect from reading the back cover, but also with a thoroughful guide as to how to experience yourself the same journey the writer made himself (including the exact way in which you can obtain the 13 games he analyzes in this book, from "Planetfall" and "System Shock" to "Deus Ex", "Metal Gear Solid (2)", "Final Fantasy VII" or "Heavy Rain"). By the way, spoilers ahead (if the book didn't contain them, it wouldn't be a book half as great), but Holmes is kind enough to tell you in advance about this, and he suggest you play the games prior to reading the book (I did this with "The Secret of Monkey Island" and I don't regret it), and avoids spoiling the central mistery plot that drives "Heavy Rain", for your convenience. So, basically, that's it. Insert coin and read. (P.S.: Points added for using the pronouns "she" and "her" when refering to "the player". Great way to uncounsciously make the reader aware that female players are as common as male ones).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Eric Mesa

    It was nice to take a break from fiction to read this analysis of the evolution of video game narratives through time. Chronologically, the game goes from text adventure games through point and click adventure games to JRPGs and then to the blending of narrative with FPS engines before ending with Heavy Rain. The book is relatively short for its subject matter and decades of coverage (200-something pages on my Nook in epub format including the glossary) so the author has to cut out a lot. He's It was nice to take a break from fiction to read this analysis of the evolution of video game narratives through time. Chronologically, the game goes from text adventure games through point and click adventure games to JRPGs and then to the blending of narrative with FPS engines before ending with Heavy Rain. The book is relatively short for its subject matter and decades of coverage (200-something pages on my Nook in epub format including the glossary) so the author has to cut out a lot. He's honest and upfront about this which, for me, took the sting out of "why did he mention this one and not that one?". I believe the best compliment I can give this book is that the handful of chapters about games I'd played (Monkey Island, Final Fantasy 7, Dear Esther) brought me new insights. The author's throughline was about how the ludic and gamic systems slowly merged as video games evolved. In other words, to what degree were developers using the medium to create something wholly unique. In the earlier games sometimes the story is sacrificed for the game or the game is sacrificed for the story. But as the decades passed and we gained a game grammar and vocabulary (basically, even though it's not a perfect analogy - tropes), the developers were able to work within and subvert or comment on those expectations. No surprise to anyone who's really into gaming and around 30 or older, one of the best examples in this book are Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2. But there is also Dear Esther, which completely subverts the FPS. How much you like this book is going to depend on a few things. The book is written academically with words like ludic and tons of footnotes (easy to follow in PDF (as I read at work) and annoying in epub (as I read on the plane)). There have been more blog-like essays covering similar topics that you can find out there, so that's one caveat. It's not a dry text, not by any means. And the author inserts his feelings and perceptions about the games throughout. But it's just a bit more formal than you might expect. Second, are you interested in the history of video games narratives? Third, have you been playing games since the 80s? Although I hadn't played a lot of games on this list, I'd played enough (and absorbed others through osmosis if they were series my brother Dan liked to play) to have a connection to what he was talking about.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Faye Hopper

    my therapist gave this to me and its ok I guess. fascinating historical context given on the games themselves, less so thrilled by the various analyses. a few too many years out of date. my therapist gave this to me and it’s ok I guess. fascinating historical context given on the games themselves, less so thrilled by the various analyses. a few too many years out of date.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mathew Walls

    Holmes clearly set out with this book to say "video games are art" and justify his playing of them. There's plenty to talk about with regard to how storytelling in games differs from other media and how it's developed, but rather than any of that he basically just reviews some games he really likes. On top of that, Holmes seems desperate to convince us that video game stories are just as good as books or movies (which they aren't) and that the games he likes are not merely entertaining but Holmes clearly set out with this book to say "video games are art" and justify his playing of them. There's plenty to talk about with regard to how storytelling in games differs from other media and how it's developed, but rather than any of that he basically just reviews some games he really likes. On top of that, Holmes seems desperate to convince us that video game stories are just as good as books or movies (which they aren't) and that the games he likes are not merely entertaining but culturally significant, and he trots out the usual wank you expect from those people who seem desperate to have their hobby validated. He argues that Dear Esther actually isn't boring and pointless but artistic and enriching and that Deus Ex's plot is complex and thought-provoking, rather than convoluted and dumb, to give just two examples. I like video games, I play lots of them. I'll even concede without a fight that they're art. Some of them may even be good art. But I'll never understand the need some people have to convince us that video game narratives are good art. They aren't. I have neither played nor heard of a video game with an actually good story. That aside, he's also plain wrong about a lot of stuff. He credits these games that he's picked out with inventing things that pre-date them significantly and generally puts way more focus on where he personally noticed those things than where they actually originated. And he likes some really shitty games. Dear Esther? Come on.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paradasia

    I found it hard to put this book down, and even found myself laughing out loud on occasion. The typical appeal of non-fiction (for me) is learning something interesting, but in this case the analysis was presented with an extra dose of humor and wit. I expected to learn about the history of a certain type of media, (story-focused videogames), and I did. What surprised me was that reading this book brought up new ideas for me relating to game design, story telling, and culture in general. I might I found it hard to put this book down, and even found myself laughing out loud on occasion. The typical appeal of non-fiction (for me) is learning something interesting, but in this case the analysis was presented with an extra dose of humor and wit. I expected to learn about the history of a certain type of media, (story-focused videogames), and I did. What surprised me was that reading this book brought up new ideas for me relating to game design, story telling, and culture in general. I might recommend this book for someone who has an interest in art, technology, or culture, even if they are not interested specifically in videogames. The only real disclaimer that I would give is that "A Mind Forever Voyaging" includes spoilers, and it is (I think) highly unlikely that any one person would happen to have played all 13 of the games profiled, as well as the many other games referenced tangentially. Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine. While that is the reason I heard of the book initially, my enjoyment of it was independant of that friendship. (this review also posted to Amazon.com)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jordi de Paco

    I loved it! The reading was super enjoyable, and it's been super useful to reflect on every narrative progress that has been made in games since the 90s. I'm glad this book exists, I can just thank the auhtor to take the time to digest for us the history of videogame narrative and let us take e driver seat on his journey.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Warren Tutwiler

    Excellent overview of the role of narrative in video gaming up to about 2011. I would like to see an update or an addendum, because I think there are better (or at least more recent) examples of some of the covered topics that could be addressed, at least in the manner of "further gaming."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ninakix

    An examination of the history and archetypes of narrative told through games. Each chapter constitutes an analysis of a particular video game, its strengths and weaknesses as well as impact on the larger video game culture. An examination of the history and archetypes of narrative told through games. Each chapter constitutes an analysis of a particular video game, it’s strengths and weaknesses as well as impact on the larger video game culture.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

    Well written and researched. Would recommend

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Eleneski

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jaakko Koivula

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sonja J.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael Barger

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  18. 5 out of 5

    Donovan Burton

  19. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hammond

  20. 5 out of 5

    alluu

  21. 4 out of 5

    Gareth

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Craven

  23. 4 out of 5

    Juantum

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chris Chinchilla

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  26. 4 out of 5

    G

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Massimo Spiga

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rob

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bill

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