[Read the story.]
I have to wonder why Andrew Leonard is so preoccupied with whiz-bang graphics. First of all, they're still hopelessly angular, lifeless and afflicted with dull, stretched, repeated textures. Second, gameplay has barely advanced at all -- in fact, it's retreated from the extremely versatile NetHack. Third, I can say from personal experience that it's possible to adjust to more primitive graphics, and especially from "realistic" graphics to the symbolic text graphics of a game like NetHack or Moria, and be seized with terror at the sight of a capital D looming into view, even after playing a recent video game.
Although you mentioned one, you didn't even touch on the more sophisticated text-based MU*'s. I'm a player on one (Elendor), and let me tell you about immersion, and flexibility. You are limited by what you can express in words, and by the theme of the MUSH, and by very little else. Your character can accomplish things that are impossible in 3-D games because everything is text, and so you're not limited to the options that some programmer somewhere had the time to grant you. You have the full capability of developing your own visions of the characters that you'd have from a book, rather than accommodating someone else's interpretation.
Lastly, since it's text-based, the role-play can be logged, and saved, and posted to the Web. It's a style of interactive fiction as well as a game, so a memorable role-play can not only be saved and revisited, but shared with others.
Because of my experience there, I can't even look at graphical so-called RPG's. Despite all the money and talent poured into them, they're all sizzle and no steak. Perhaps Mr. Leonard should look harder at the alternatives.
-- James Robinson
The author makes good points about the lack of immersion with computer games, indicating that the focus on "cool graphics" overshadows storytelling.
For an antidote, take a look at the Baldur's Gate series of games. Cool graphics, not quite. But it does contain an immersive story and is considered by many to be the granddaddy of modern computer fantasy. It uses the D&D rule set that the author seems fond of, in telling the story of your character, the bastard child of the God of Murder, who can either fight his destiny or embrace it.
Pretty cool stuff, for this geek at least. In contrast to the Lord of the Rings game, where we know the story. We have to. It is part of the geek code: read the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy at least twice (once in middle school for enjoyment, once in adulthood for enjoyment and critique). With Baldur's Gate the story is new, not the same stuff I have been reading since my youth.
-- Jeff Holslinger
Why does everybody suggest that the object of fantastic writing is escapism? Can't it exist for its own sake, the way other literature apparently does? What kind of an outlook requires that people enjoy imaginative narratives simply because their own life is an overwhelming mass of bureaucracy and socks with holes in them?
I think that at least part of the appeal of a good fantasy novel is in its ability to mirror our own lives. I submit that that is where so many tedious Tolkien imitators fall short.
-- Micah Drayton
As Andrew Leonard cogently pointed out the limitations of both films and computer games, I couldn't help reflect that the perfect medium already exists. The book.
-- Denise Giardina