Jon Spaihts On Video Game Storytelling v. Movie Storytelling

io9’s Charlie Jane Anders has a typically intriguing interview with Jon Spaihts, the screenwriter who did the first drafts of Prometheus, and part of the discussion came down to the difference between rendering worlds and telling stories in video games and movies:

Storytelling in games has matured tremendously in the past decade. Some really great work has been done. But the design requirements are totally different, almost the opposite of filmic storytelling. The central character of a game is most often a cipher — an avatar into which the player projects himself or herself. The story has to have a looseness to accommodate the player’s choices. This choose-your-own adventure quality is a challenge for storytellers and, I fear, militates against art.

A filmmaker is trying to make you look at something a certain way — almost to force an experience on you. Think of the legendary directors, whose perspective is the soul of their art. It’s the opposite of a sandbox world. It’s a mind-meld with a particular visionary.

I’m actually curious if this, as well as production costs, are part of why it’s been so hard to adapt major video games into major motion pictures. There’s always uproar in fan communities about how true an adaptation is or isn’t to source material, and if the main character’s mostly a vehicle for a player, to project themselves into the game, it will be awfully hard to reconcile all of those private universes into a coherent whole that’s mostly satisfying to a majority of people. I know we all agree what Chell looks like, but I don’t know if anyone shares my idea of who Chell is.