Pissing you off in installments, the monthly series “How You Got Videogames Wrong” delves beyond appearances into the slimy interior of The God’s Truth (about videogames). This month we’ll be looking at “Show, don’t tell”—and how it might not mean what you thought it did.
“Show, don’t tell,” is a fundamental lesson in crafting good fiction; in games we go one step further.
—“Storytelling In Dark Souls And Skyrim,” Erik Kain, Forbes, Mar. 201
Ain’t that something: Thirty-five thousand years of storytelling from the Chauvet-pont-d’Arc to Midnight’s Children and videogames “go a step further.” How so? Dive posthaste into the Ye Ol’ Interwebs and you’ll find the following answers: “Play, don’t tell,” sez the trope wiki TVtropes.org; “Do, don’t show or tell” sez Elements of Play’s William Strife, on the basis that “[Books and movies] tell and show their stories respectively; however, games are about doing”; and let’s not forget the aforementioned Forbes article, which goes on to say that “story ought to be embedded within the gameplay itself, with only the briefest of interludes.” Has the world moved on from “Show, don’t tell”?
Sort of—just not for the reasons that you think. In 1961’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, American literary critic ...