Lara can hold a candle to Emma

December 2, 2005

Computer games will one day be judged the artistic equals of great novels, according to a straw poll of English scholars and computer scientists.

The academics expect interactive narratives to achieve a level of sophistication that will be capable of conveying subtle emotions and powerful messages within stories in which the reader could be a passive observer or a principal actor. It may become possible for games to be tailored to a participant.

Two thirds of the English scholars and two thirds of the computer scientists who responded to The Times Higher's straw poll agreed that a computer game could one day be considered equal to a great work of literature in terms of the sophistication and power of its interactive narrative.

Stacy Gillis, lecturer in modern and contemporary literature at Newcastle University, said: "The narrative strategies contained within computer games are in many ways a hybrid of literary and filmic models and are thus already equipped with the same tools to compete with more traditional narrative forms."

Roy Ruddle, a senior lecturer in computing at Leeds University, said the equivalent of a literary great might still be 25 years away.

"Key characteristics of great art are that it stands the test of time, triggers emotional involvement, stimulates imagination, has many layers and is of such quality most people couldn't create it for themselves," he said.

"To achieve this a step change would be needed in the way computer games are designed, in terms of the storyline, artificial intelligence technology that allows rich user interaction with unplanned events, and the longevity of a game's platform."

But one professor of English dismissed the idea. "In games, too much must be literal - how could you film a metaphor?"

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