The hobgoblin of fidelity

My first computer game design was in 1977–I came up with a version of Star Wars. It was almost nothing like the movie, but it was a pretty good game for something running on a mainframe.

The Godfather isn’t a perfect retelling of the book. But it’s a better movie as a result.

A really good recording doesn’t sound like a live concert or what you’d hear sitting in the studio. It sounds like a really good record. And when Alan Dean Foster and I turned Shadowkeep from a computer game into a novel, the goal wasn’t to replicate a computer game, it was to create a good novel.

When a medium arrives, or time shifts, it’s sometimes tempting to aim for a complete reconstruction of what came before. Follow the rules, don’t innovate. But that’s a mistake–a safe choice that’s actually a trap.

People desire media that is in and of itself. Each form of media has its own character, and fidelity from one form to another is a compromise that rarely works.

Because the world has changed, original isn’t original anymore. It can’t be, even if we want it to, because now it’s out of place. Just as we can’t step in the same river twice, each innovation in media forces us to walk away from fidelity to honor what’s possible.

Fidelity might feel like an option, and it takes effort and care. But is fidelity the best you can do?

When we switch media, or time zones, or cultures, or technology, it’s up to us to make the idea what it can become, not simply an unpalatable simulacrum of what it was over there.