Game sequels, chess, and how videogames are not exactly games.

Game sequels, chess, and how videogames are not exactly games. Gonzalo was recently interviewed by a Brazilian magazine1 on violence in games and film, and asked him about GTA3: San Andreas, the upcoming West Coast-locale version of the GTA3 series.

In his comments about the interview2, Gonzalo makes some criticisms of the phenomena of sequels in games.

This is not the first time that concerns about sequelitis have been raised. Edge Magazine once ran a cover story on the problem of sequels, and others have remarked on this before. Gonzalo compares the sequels of GTA to the game of chess, which did evolve over the years, but remained essentially without “sequels” even as variants were introduced.3

What this says to me, ultimately, is that in a very important way, videogames are not like other games – they are also visual media artifacts, subject to phenonema of branding and franchising. In this sense, there are precursors in non-videogames: Dungeons and Dragons spun off a considerable secondary market in pulp novels, children’s cartoons, and ultimately a film.

The case of the GTA franchise, however, is more than simple branding. There is a persistant character, there’s a distinctive millieu, there’s continuity and diagesis; there are unities in visual aesthetics, and there’s also consistency in gameplay.

This is, of course, all within the GTA3 “set” of games. The ‘3’ refers to, I would guess, the same core engine and characters, and gameplay mechanics; GTA1 (and the London 1969 pack) had a top-down interface, and didn’t represent the player-character directly (the use of cut-scenes with comic-art character animations, and the sort of pulp characterizations, was already present in GTA1).

So, in a mini-replay of the question of genre, the “thing” that is sequelized in a videogame is somewhat ambiguous. Final Fantasy sequels have little – but not nothing – in common with each other: it isn’t quite the episodic feeling that you get with, say noir-games like Hitman and Max Payne, but there are recurrent features (moogles, chocobos), some continuity of game-play (map-exploration, turn-based combats, skill systems, etc.) The first true sequel in the FF series was FFX-2, which featured distinct gameplay, but narrative continuity.

In all this, we have channels of content and features for which chess has no real analog, nor do most board games. “Sequelitis” relies on these channels or axes (an improvised list: diagetic, narrative, structural, interactive, franchise) – and like Rick Altman observed with genre, stability in one axis coupled with dynamism in another makes genre-evolution possible. Much of the sequel-logic in videogaming is a consequence of this multiform nature.

  1. that link for the benefit of my vast Portuguese-literate readership. Reharl, are you reading this?
  2. in English, despite the thick Uruguayan accent.
  3. what is now the standard move for the queen, for example, was at one time a variant game-rule called “mad queen.”
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