The Art of Video Games” Interview with Video Game Scholar Jane Pinckard

  • The Art of Video Games exhibition was on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum March 16 through September 30, 2012.

    JANE PINCKARD: Storytelling is such an important way of self-expression culturally that it makes sense that it shows up in every art form that we have, including games. Because narrative forms emotional hooks, which I think is really important, otherwise the game mechanics might be interesting, but without emotional engagement it feels a little cold or a little bit without purpose.

    VIDEO GAME: “Now don’t jump to conclusions, Elena.”

    “I’m sorry. Am I sensing some history here?”

    “Oh, Elena Fisher. Last year’s model.”

    “That’s cute.”

    JP: I’ve been thinking a lot about romance and flirting. And the first game that sort of started that whole trend came out years ago. And it was “Knights of the Old Republic.” It’s a spacer RPG set in Star Wars. So, you’re like running around and shooting aliens and then all of a sudden, your sort of NPC character who’s your companion. There’s one moment in the game when he says, “I’m all ears, beautiful.” And that was the moment when I was like, he’s flirting with me! And I felt those sorts of feelings that you feel you know; does he like me? Does he think I’m beautiful? What’s going on? And it was like I was responding to this character like it was a real person.

    Really what’s happening, I think, when you fall in love with somebody is you’re trying to get to know this other person. But this other being is so complex and so beautiful… you’ll never fully understand their system. And yet, it’s so delightful to constantly try. And in a way, I feel like that matches perhaps to interaction with a game system. You constantly want to go back into it and explore and discover new things about them that you didn’t know existed.