When I was a child, one of the surest ways to make me disappear into thin air, run and hide under a piece of furniture, hands on my ears, was to play a piece of opera. Such a display of torrential sounds, hitherto unparalleled in my little world, left me helpless every time.
Over the years my initial terror morphed into contempt, then, finally, into boredom; a boundless and seemingly irremediable boredom.
The music, voices, plots, costumes, makeup, duration—everything in opera is excessive. This genre thrives in exaggeration and superlative.
Why? Let’s see.
At the heart of opera, as well as its more modern counterparts like the musical, there is an ambition of being a kind of global art, the ultimate show, a sublime alloy of music, poetry, dance, drama and intrigue.
The price of this ambition is that each component of an opera must be at the service of the others; none can flourish by and for itself.
On the one hand, the music is confined to a supporting role by punctuating, embellishing, underlining the story’s highlights and key characters, using contrived, commonplace motifs, choruses, tunes. But on the other hand, the story can not progress at a normal and natural pace; it needs to be shrunk, distended, interrupted at will, in order to accommodate the all-important singing and dancing numbers and other toppings that are so prized by opera and musical lovers.
For me, opera’s main spectacle is seeing these two great, immemorial forces, music and narrative, strive to distort, falsify each other.
And it is because it is unable to let its music, its characters, or its narrative develop, that opera is forced to inflate them so much. That is why it is condemned to perpetual excess, puffiness, effect.
Story-telling games—or interactive stories, depending on the point of view—do make me feel the same ways as opera does, and for the same reasons. They seem to have the same ambition, to be a kind of sacred alloy of two great ancestral forces. Half-games, half-stories, but never altogether one or the other, they try to compensate for the same inevitable shortcomings with the help of the same excess, of the same glitz. Every time I sit down in front of a narrative game, I find a game that is scripted, domesticated, tailored to the needs of a plot that is contrived, frayed and shaken by the game mechanics.
Such games do not make me run for cover under the furniture anymore—although sometimes I wish I could—but they do bore me in the same way (though, I’ll admit, they’re a little less noisy).
It’s because I like games and stories so much that I prefer each on its own, without compromise.