EL405: "Games, at their best, are not prescriptive."
The fact that playing games--good ones, anyway--is fundamentally a creative act is something that speaks very well for the medium. Games, at their best, are not prescriptive. They demand that the user create a response given the tools at hand. It is a lot easier to fail to respond to a painting than to fail to respond to a game. (Koster, "A Theory of Fun for Game Design")
In class last Thursday, a peer mentioned that people are afraid of letting their kids play violent video games for the same reasons that they are afraid of letting them watch violence in other media (movies, television, etc.), and my response was essentially what Koster points out here: games connect with people much more directly than movies or TV. There's a subtle but notable difference between a kid watching a movie where someone's head gets chopped off and a kid playing a video game where they repeatedly decapitate their enemies.
Don't get me wrong; I play those types of games (Resident Evil 4 and F.E.A.R. come to mind), and I'm fairly docile, so I don't believe they have the sort of tremendous impact on us that some critics say they do.
But I definitely recognize a difference between the feeling I get when I watch a horror flick and the feeling I get when playing a survival horror game. There's a "gross" factor while watching the film, but while playing the game it becomes more of a "gross/cool" factor, because I am mastering the special move that has, as a side effect, a gory animation sequence. As Koster repeatedly emphasizes in his book, the "fun" factor in games (what I dub the "cool" factor here) comes from the sensation of learning and mastery that players experience.
Games are not good at conveying specifics, only generalities. It is easy to make a game that tells you that small groups can prevail over larger ones, or the converse. And that may be a valuable and deeply personal statement to make. It's a lot harder to make a game that conveys the specific struggle of a group of World War II soldiers to rescue one other man from behind enemy lines, as the film Saving Private Ryan does. (Koster)
I would argue that games aren't necessarily bad at conveying specifics, in the sense that they can't do it well; I would instead argue that they typically don't do so because to tell a detailed story (like that in the movie mentioned) would require players' choices to be severely limited.
(Games can certainly tell the story of a specific group of soldiers in a war. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is just such a game. It may not be as dramatic, emotional, or convincing as Saving Private Ryan, but I think that is due to the design of the game, not the limitations of the medium itself.)
"Games, at their best, are not prescriptive" (Koster). Which is probably precisely why most games inspired by movies and television shows are usually terrible games.