Form and Content

Animé and comic books are vast industries, but they are also niches. Watching animé (Japanese animation, for those wondering) is something for anime fans. Reading comics is a thing for comic book fans.

But it would be absurd to say the same thing about watching movies. When someone goes to the movies, we don’t take him as a person who has a special appreciation for movies. And we do not even have a word for “book fan” – we recognize that some people have a reading habit to a greater or lesser degree, or read occasionally, or do not read at all.

Why this difference in perception between film and anime? Between book and comic book? My thesis is that most people are not sure what they are looking for, and so they confuse form with content.

I am agnostic about form. What I seek are stories. It doesn’t matter to me if this story is transmitted through the magic of cinema, the melody of a rock opera, or the mechanics of a video game.

What interests me – though it’s not always what’s the most important to me – is how the content matches the form. If the story benefits from the medium used to tell it.

The world of video games is rife with stories that would be best told in a book, film or comic book, and that do not benefit by being told in a video game; on the contrary, the story, its rhythm, its cadence, are impaired.

A videogame is a unique medium because it does not necessarily have to tell a story, at least not in the traditional sense of the term. Tetris is an excellent video game, but if it tells a story, it’s one completely generated in the player’s head – narratively, Tetris is nothing more than a vehicle for the imagination.

But when a game focuses on telling a story, when that is its central premise, or one of its central premises, then either it takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the medium to do so, or it is a digital mule, a hybrid and defective being.

It is very easy to identify this dichotomy in video games because they are so different from the usual artistic mediums – and because the majority of those who create them still fail so spectacularly in using the tool for narrative purposes, or even in determining what their artistic purpose is.

It takes much more attention and cultural education in other art forms to realize, for example, when a movie would have been a better comic book, or an opera would have been a better animé.

But it is something to consider when we want to talk about the quality of a piece of work.