There has been some argument recently about how appropriate it is to compare videogames to works of literature. Is a game something you can “skim” the same way you would a book? And if a game resembles a physical (albeit still primarily textual) space moreso than a literary world, what does it mean to race through that space? The growing emphasis in games is towards emergent, user-generated narratives. Today at Salon, Willa Paskin described her experiments fast-forwarding through television shows with surprisingly similar results:
Here are some of the joy-giving ways in which I flagrantly overuse the fast-forward utility on my remote control. I watch “Gossip Girl” in under 15 minutes, skipping every single scene that does not involve Blair Waldorf. I speed through most of the operating room scenes in “Grey’s Anatomy” and forensic lab setups in “Bones.” I’ve assembled a version of “The Killing” with narrative tension and solid pacing by ignoring all the dreary, dull, rainy scenes involving Mama Larsen and the tragically paralyzed mayor and watching only those involving Holder and Linden and the Larsen case. Recently, I turned on an episode of “Glee,” started fast-forwarding, expecting to stop on a musical number or a moment that looked not excruciating, and I ended up racing through the whole episode. (Yes, I went back and watched the whole thing, begrudgingly bound by a sense of professional obligation.) And I can’t even tell you about the mauling performance-based reality TV shows undergo, because there’s too little left when I’m done.
On a more basic level than anything involving authorial intent and ownership over ambiguously delineated plot structures, this almost turns television from a “lean back” medium into the sort of “lean forward” medium that games have traditionally claimed ownership over:
Fast-forwarding is cutthroat and impatient, but is yet another way to turn TV from the passive, coach-potato fest that drives parents crazy, into a more engaged face-off between audience and show and, more explicitly, that show’s creator. The version of “The Killing” that can be cobbled together with some judicious skipping foregrounds the series’ best actors and solves its intractable pacing problems. It may not be what “Killing” creator Veena Sud intended — it’s better than that.
It should be added that this week saw the release of The Walking Dead videogame, a game like Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire that purposefully blends the lines between cinematic and ludic experiences. And this isn’t even to mention to other game-like components of television—voting on your favorite characters, audience participation in live shows—that are no doubt increasing with the shift in entertainment towards more social and digital content. Perhaps someday soon all narrative games will be released like TV shows, or maybe all television will look more like games.