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14 December 2012 @ 09:27 pm
Input, Output, and Partnership  
 Look, I had a really nice post typed up and then Chrome and my stupid fucking touchpad problems ate it, so I'm going to make this as quick and plain as possible because I am out of patience.

I like storytelling media when they engage me at an appropriate level. Film and television often fail to engage me because they require no input of physically progressing the story at the pace of my choice, mentally visualizing or 'animating' events, and without these they must either seek to engage me based on visual appeal, characters I can immediately relate to, or a story that I find engaging on its own merits. Which can be hard in some cases. I've noticed animated media, in particularly anime, can meet me on that level and give me characters/story/aesthetics to care about. I also will engage with media if it's observably flawed or bad, because finding the humor in it or engaging on the level of pointing out what was done wrong and how I can fix it is a form of engagement with input and output. Books and comics have the advantage of a different balance of input and output- I input things like the pace at which the story progresses via my turning the pages, and create output in the form of visualizing the input of data the text gives me.

Games have struck a truly excellent balance of input and output for me, or at least the games I enjoy do. For every action, there's a reaction, and in an enjoyable game, this reaction feels worth the action. This can mean a lot of things. The simple act of clicking through a new text conversation is input, and the new words for me to read are the game's output. Killing an enemy is input, the experience/items/story progression is output. Finishing a level or a puzzle? Input. The cutscene after finishing said level/puzzle? Output. Picking a dialogue option in a Bioware game is input, getting a reaction from the character I'm talking to is the output. Equipping an item is input, the changes to appearance or gameplay or my character's strengths is the output. It's not about control- I don't care if my input changes the story in a way that I specifically aim for, or if everything looks/sounds just like one preferred type of story I'm aiming for. It's in a way about reward.

When I create input, I want the output to feel like it's worth it. Arcade games do nothing for me- there is no story progression, and they are ultimately futile unless the system is mastered and you can earn a coveted high score for your effort. Massive amount of input translates to miniscule amount of output. I don't require a 1-1 correlation of action to reaction, but for a game to engage me I need to feel like I'm not just giving and giving while getting nothing back from the game. Pointless input is things like fighting enemies in a game where enemies only exist as annoying hindrances and do not give items, experience, or power-ups, or fighting enemies that give experience when you're at maximum level. It feels unrewarding and dull. Similarly, if an input gives too much output, it can feel overwhelming, and the reactions to your actions feel as though they're worth less for it.

I guess the main thing is the types of output I appreciate to balance out my input. I find dialogue and new text, codex data, equipment, new visuals or areas, cutscenes/story progression all to be appropriate rewards. They don't have to be, you know, under my control. I don't care if my input gives me a happy ending or a bittersweet ending, I just want an ending that feels appropriately scaled to my input. I like it when I go out of my way to do a thing that isn't necessary for beating the game but still creates an output that is worth my attention- codec conversations in MGS are a prime example of this. Games more than any other medium let you meander, take things at your own pace, find the level of I/O engagement you feel like having. And I guess that's what I love about games for storytelling and characters, even if they're not as objectively good as film or literature. They let you find the level of engagement you're most comfortable with. I can see why some people see it as about controlling the experience and getting exactly what they want out of it, and why they're frustrated that the limits of the medium and the vision of the storyteller don't let them control the narrative into a direction they would prefer, but I'm just happy to get an equivalent output to my input.

Of course, this can be waived if the content is immediately relevant to my interests or taste.