Thursday saw me attending a TIGA seminar on the potential benefits of tax relief for the British vidgames industry and I thought I'd say a little about it here, especially as some of the issues pertain directly to interactive fiction.
TIGA, in case you're unfamiliar, is pushing for a similar mode of tax relief for the games industry as is currently enjoyed by the film industry, albeit a more inclusive arrangement tailored to the financial norms associated with the spectra of games development. One of the defining characteristics of the model is that projects must contain a cultural element in order to have any hope of being eligible (something to do with blanket subsidies not being allowed under EU rules and, yes, the irony of having to be distinctly nationalistic in order to appease The Union did arise!) And this is where things potentially get thorny. Or interesting, depending on the kind of games in question.
As with film it's looking like where a project gets made will get you a certain distance towards the cultural requirement (as was pointed out during the presentation, Captain America was British enough to qualify for film tax relief!) and that, similarly and pivotally, there's also going to be a degree of dependency upon actual content. Which begs the question, “What is a culturally British driving game? Or shoot ‘em up? Or arcade puzzler?” With movies it’s straightforward for culture to permeate the defining characteristics of the medium – the narrative and filmography take center stage; With games, though, it’s the gameplay itself that forms the substance of the experience. Gameplay is not a natural carrier of cultural mores while the narrative within which such mores are typically embedded tends to be peripheral to the core experience. Yes, you could set your new FPS in Victorian England, feature steam-powered weapons and give everyone a monocle and a topper, but it’s hard to argue that doing so would make the thing genuinely culturally British (although it would be cool).
Of course there’s at least one genre of vidgame where the narrative *is* central to the gameplay, and that’s interactive fiction, which is why I think anyone with an interest in this area should keep tabs on TIGA’s progress. Given how readily the medium can exhibit culturally pointed material it’s also going to be incumbent upon interested parties to ensure that the definition of “videogame” associated with any eventual Games Tax Relief system is inclusive of interactive fiction. As it stands things look pretty good, TIGA’s working definition currently being...
“Interactive entertainment software made available to the public in any medium (including on disc or by digital distribution) and on any type of device, whether single player or multiplayer and whether of finite duration or not, including software whose content is also educational in nature”
Indeed if I’ve any personal concern at this point it’s that, when it comes to interactive fiction, InTo Games is primarily concerned with decoupling the digital from of the medium from its paper-based forebears. I’ll undoubtedly post about this in more detail but I specifically don’t want players ever having to see a set of digital dice, or a page-turn transition or anything that skeuomorphasises apps as pretend gamebooks. I’m quite anxious, then, that such characteristics aren’t used to formally delineate “proper” interactive fiction vidgames from “merely” enhanced e-books. A piece of digital interactive fiction can maintain a complex world-state without having to sign-post to the player how and when it is being managed.
Which is where I’ll leave things for now. While interactive fiction won’t be the only genre whose entries manage to pass the cultural test in terms of their content, the narrative nature of the form does put IF developers in an advantageous position. Or at least it will should TIGA fully realise its aims. Let’s watch with interest :)