Sunday, August 28, 2011

WEEKEND ROUND-UP: VIDEO GAMES AND SOAP OPERAS


VIDEO GAME NARRATIVES: On the group blog MMOMFG, reporter Marc Marion writes about "The Story So Far," that is, how narrative is being used in video games. (Image from the site.) In looking over his favorite games in the past five years, Marc notes that all but two have "embraced storytelling" in a way that improves the player's experience. To demonstrate, he compares two games in the same series, those being "Deus Ex," and "Deus Ex: Invisible War." In the first game, the characters you encounter have personal histories, and they go through changes over the course of the game. Newspapers, books, email accounts and other texts reveal more information. And the player's character also transforms as a result of the quandaries you face. Marc writes that the second game resorts to a sort of "choose your own adventure" structure, in which most of the narrative depth is lost. I haven't played these games, but there seems to be a conflict between (1) choice of action and (2) depth of story. In the first game, your choices are limited; you necessarily encounter the same set of characters, and the beginning and end of your "story" is always the same whenever you play. That allows the programmers to go deeper into the story, because they know the basic trajectory. In the second game, you have more options ("choose your own adventure"), but it's harder if not impossible to chart a story out of the many different decisions a player may make, because not all of those decisions actually make narrative sense. That is, you may take a series of actions -- drink the liquid in this goblet, or not; run a sword through that character, or maybe bonk him on the head -- but there's not necessarily an overarching logic or narrative that links them all. To reconcile these two seemingly conflicting principles -- player options, and narrative depth -- might take video games to a new level. 

TELENOVELAS FOR HEALTH: Telenovelas, or the Latin American / Latino soap opera, are of course ridiculously popular forms that have been exported all over the world. (There's also the radio version, radionovelas.) They've also been used to disseminate health messages, as in the case of "Encrucijada: Sin salud no hay nada" ("Crossroads: Without Health There's Nothing"), which originated in Colorado. This 2009 article about the first season says the show helps reach people in the 40% of the state's Latinos who don't have health coverage. The show even has a call-in line for viewers to get information about health care. Then there's this Alabama radionovela "Promesas y Traiciones" ("Promises and Betrayals") about a Mexican immigrant to the U.S., and his sometimes difficult but always interesting life -- it touches on health issues like diabetes, and also has a call-in line. Or how about this Oregon radionovela, "Amor y Salud" ("Love and Health"), about a young Latina named Lourdes, and her fiance Jorge. (The last series was part of the excellent public health initiative for immigrant communities, "New Routes to Community Health," which I also wrote about here.) I've listened to parts of these programs. Pros: High-pitched drama that speaks to Latinos in their own language and culture. Cons: Some of the episodes are heavy-handed, and sound more like a public service announcement than good drama. 

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