Video games can tell the best stories

Posted by Conor Murphy on August 27, 2012 in Casual Gaming -- Share:

Did you read “Choose Your Own Adventure Books when you were younger? Did you enjoy them or were you frustrated by limited choices?

Those kinds of books offered a unique reading experience by giving the reader an active role in the fate of the characters. Either that, or they frustrated readers when decision after decision led to a page describing a character’s untimely death.

While it might have been fun for a while, “choose your own adventure” has limitations in book format. To create a truly immersive, dynamic experience, books would have to be the length of entire encyclopedia collections. Imagine trying to hold an entire bookshelf in your lap!

Choose Your Own Adventure

There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to interactive storytelling, and he might have a pretty big edge over his text-based counterparts. Video games are the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure experience. You not only control the characters’ decisions, but also their individual actions and, in a lot of cases, what they look like and what their abilities are.

As a recent VentureBeat article put it, video games have more storytelling potential than any other medium. Games have the advantage of creating an interactive experience from the moment you press play. Even if they don’t deal with complex or mature topics – something that a lot of games do anyway – they put you directly in control of the action and the characters. Developers don’t tell players what happens so much as they create an entire world to explore and, well, stuff just happens after that.

Many video game developers are already expert storytellers, but, according to the article, they’re continuing to perfect the craft.

“These choose-your-path decisions now decide the fate of entire races when placed behind the guise of Commander Shepard, an avatar for your long-repressed dreams of being an astronaut,” the article stated. “That ‘gimmick’ now means life or death for a reporter, a private eye, an FBI agent, and a father and his young son in Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. Very few movies have even approached this. The only example I can think of is a video-tape-accompanied version of Clue, which was marketed as a game anyway.”

Role Playing Story Telling

Going even further, advancements in technology for online games have allowed players not only to experience in-depth stories, but share them in real time with their friends!

One of the criticisms that has cropped up with regard to video games is that they don’t deal with complex, real-world issues. While it’s true that the average person probably doesn’t have to travel through time to help historical figures find hidden objects, some games deal with problems that a large number of people face.

Can games tackle real issues?

Storytelling has served a number of purposes throughout the ages. We’ve used stories like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to teach lessons. Other stories exist so we can escape reality for a while. Just like the stories of old, video games can serve a variety of purposes.

The more stereotypical view of video games has stuck them firmly in the “escapism” category, but that doesn’t mean they can’t deal with topics from the real world. Some games like Planescape: Torment ask the deep philosophical questions such as “what can change the nature of a man?” However, a more recent game deals with an issue much closer to home for many: alcoholism.

According to a Mashable article, Papa & Yo deals with alcoholism, but doesn’t force an agenda on the player. One of the main character’s companions, Monster, can be lured to puzzle-solving areas through his love of coconuts. But Monster has a dark side – he has an addiction to frogs and eating them will send him into a rage. Although Monster’s addiction is an allusion to a struggle with alcoholism, the game doesn’t lay the message on to heavily and players can enjoy the game without picking up on the deep intricacies. However, the deeper conflict is available for players who decide to explore its meaning.

Drawn Dark Flight Story Telling

“I wanted people to deal with that: a character that is good to you and evil at the same time,” said the game’s creator, Vander Caballero, who was quoted in the article. “I wanted people to deal with that conflict.”

The role of video games in our culture is evolving. They have been used to treat illnesses, and some would even say they have become art. In the next few years, there’s no telling what some video games could become, but one thing is certain: Our favorite medium of entertainment is no longer just one thing. Video games have become a uniquely dynamic medium capable of blending elements of books, movies and art into a single, interactive experience. So, feel free to download games and enjoy the abundance of stories they have to tell.

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+