I've never really been much of a TV watcher, mainly because I find the vast bulk of TV to be utter banal crap. (Of course, the same goes for most films, too.) So instead, I wait to hear about potentially good stuff, then rent the DVDs courtesy of Netflix.
I like the approach because it lets me absorb the content at a controlled pace, without commercial interruptions, and in a seamless progression. It's taken a few weeks, but I worked through all five seasons of Six Feet Under more or less to the exclusion of anything else.
In stark contrast to most television programming, the show is really pretty powerfully written, and draws on some fairly deep human themes. By the time the series finale came around, the show had thrown some hefty punches - some predictable, and others not so much. But, in classic Alan Ball fashion, it left just enough open to interpretation that it inspires a lot of introspection, even while (from a narrative perspective) pretty much every loose end was tied up in a remarkably elegant way that exploited the show's recurring mechanics for great effect.
At the moment I'm wishing I could spontaneously start channeling Oluseyi so I can do the whole film-critic thing and actually sound like I know what I'm talking about. Anyways, the upshot of all this is that it got me back to thinking about something that's bothered me for a long time about games as a medium.
There just aren't too many games that embrace storytelling and character development to such a degree of depth that they can achieve the same kind of emotional response as a good show or film (or a book for that matter). Back in the days of heavily text-centered RPGs and epic point-and-click adventures (thinking of games like Dreamweb, The Dig, and so on) we got a little bit more of that, but still not nearly as polished or brilliantly executed.
When was the last time you sat down and played a game that was so evocative you actually felt genuine emotion for the characters? Has a video game character's death ever really succeeded in making you cry? (There's a couple legendary ones that always get mentioned - Baldur's Gate comes to mind - but that's about it.) Has a game's plot ever truly moved you to feel despair or exhiliration?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I just don't get that kind of depth from gaming. At best, there's an adrenaline rush or the joy of defeating a difficult challenge. Maybe some frustration or a little disappointment. But not emotion. Even games that are renowned for their storylines generally fail to nudge the needle much.
Personally, I think that's a shame. I'd dearly love to sit down with my 360 and play interactively - even if the degree of interactivity is limited - with a universe that is as compelling as what guys like Alan Ball can create on the screen.
I've spent enough time in the game development world - professionally and otherwise - to understand why this doesn't happen real often. It's a hard sell; the target market is ill-defined and publishers and investers are (rightly) wary about dumping cash into a product that may not attract any customers. It's technically difficult to achieve a game that meets today's quality demands and still has much depth of any kind, let alone sophistication.
Trickier still, it takes a very rare combination of skills. You'd need great writers, great artists, and a solid technical team to be able to do something like that. The isolated studio model of the game industry is not well suited to such a thing; Hollywood has a major advantage here in that you can cherry-pick the best talent. Hire this writer, that director of photography, this lighting guy, and that other crew to do the audio work - et voila, you have a great production.
Game developers can't do that. If your staff writer is mediocre - he can push out dialogue and sells boxes, but isn't exactly Kurt Vonnegut - then you're screwed. What are you going to do, try and get him fired? "Hey, boss, we could make these other kinds of games that are totally kind of cool except nobody's tried them before, oh and we'd have to fire Alfred and hire some crazy genius writer instead for ten times the cost."
Good luck with that.
I think the industry would have to change substantially to make such a thing truly possible. This is fortunate, because I also happen to believe that the industry (and most of software development in general) is going to change dramatically in the next decade or so, as it finally dawns on the population at large that the current models just aren't efficient or particularly effective.
So while it's sometimes painful to compare the deficiencies of gaming to other media, it's also worth remembering just how young the medium really is - and how long other media have required to become polished and start producing true masters.
I'm looking forward to the days when we really get game development right, and the true masters begin to emerge.