Games are "democratic fiction"

Games designer/entrepreneur and novelist Greg Costikyan has written a provocative piece about how games and stories fit together. His premise is that games democratize fiction: with fiction, the author tells the audience how the story goes; with games, the story is made by the audience.

Thinking about this recently, and about what Manifesto is trying to do, it occurs to me that the video game industry has, in some ways, betrayed the democratic nature of the form it sells. The game industry, even if the product it promotes is democratic and interactive in nature, is structured virtually identically to entertainment media that predate it. Creators contract with publishers, who do their best to screw them financially; marketing is "top-down," broadcast-style, with a carefully crafted message disseminated via PR and advertising to consumers; publishers, console manufacturers, and retailers jointly act as gate-keepers to narrow consumer options; and gamers are viewed as little more than sheep to be fleeced, induced by a glut of advertising and manipulated press attention to go to the store and buy the next game in the franchise.

Now, let's think about this a little. There are essentially two groups in this value chain who love games: the people who create them, i.e., developers; and the people who consume them, i.e., gamers. Everyone in between is a necessary evil, a means of getting games from developers into the hands of gamers. But it's also everyone in between who basically doesn't give a rat's ass about games, and indeed, would probably be happier selling detergent, or working in film. For developers, and for gamers, games are something special; for the intermediaries, they're just another SKU in a packaged goods industry.