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August 8, 2009

Are video games a good medium for storytelling?  Good article discussing video games as narrative over at Gamespot.

I think when it is done really well (a la Final Fantasy, etc.), then video games can perhaps do story telling more effectively than movies or literature because of the way that the player is involved actively rather than passively as with the latter two mediums.  However, I recognize I’m very close to, if not crossing, the line of comparing apples and oranges (the article alludes to this).  I say this from personal experience, but also the rhetorical theory that audience involvement makes the experience (aural, visual or verbal) more impacting (i.e., inside jokes are funnier than knock-knock jokes).  The fact that a player can control the player(s) involved is certainly a strong argument for the potential of video games as a story telling medium.

As for personal experience, I remember getting choked up when Aeris was killed (FF7), laughing hard at Curse of Monkey Island and jumping out of fright upon first encountering the Flood.  But I also vividly remember getting choked up when a certain house elf died (HP7), cracking up every time Miracle Max describes a MLT and having my heart pound the first time I read the last couple of chapters of Lord of the Flies.

I think we gravitate to movies and literature more for storytelling because we’ve been doing them longer (literature much longer) and because it does seem to be difficult to tell stories well in video games.  But I don’t think the full potential of video games as a storytelling medium  has been fulling tapped.  ‘Course, how would we know when it was?

What say you?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Slothboy permalink
    August 10, 2009 10:56 am

    This is a comment I made over at Kotaku on a news item about how video games have no denouement and some of the problems with storytelling in games. I think a lot of it applies. The idea is that video games are still a relatively new storytelling medium and their use as such hasn’t been fully tapped yet:

    “The trouble is that storytelling has always followed a pretty specific pattern since the days of fire pits and cave drawings. They are one-directional (storyteller to audience) and they are linear. This is true of campfire stories, books, theater, and film. Sometimes there is limited audience participation, but it rarely, if ever, changes the outcome of the tale.

    Both video game reviewers and developers alike have a hard time separating and adapting this style of linear storytelling to a truly interactive environment. For example, there are many games that have a great “story” but that generally takes place in the cut scenes sandwiched between the action sequences. They are really two completely different things, the time you are playing, and the time you are watching. Bridging the gap is difficult.

    Investigative games like Condemned and Assassins Creed do a better job of creating a real cause and effect relationship between the actions of the player and the progression of the plot, but they still fall back on the use of cut scenes to deliver the information and actually advance the story.

    If some brilliant developer figures out a way to truly combine the “open” decision making process of an honest-to-goodness interactive game with the ability to tell a story without locking the player out at critical plot moments (via cut scenes) then I think issues like climax and denouement will resolve themselves. If the player is never removed from the experience then there would be reason to continue playing even after the final adversary is defeated (or great obstacle overcome.) It will feel natural to continue playing out the events in the cool down period at the end.”

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