Storytelling in Video Games Pt. 2


In last week’s feature, I unveiled what I believe to be the next great storytelling medium, video games. Coincidence would have it that yesterday (when I should have been writing this post) I was at a book signing for The Big Bad: An Anthology of Evil. A lot of my friends were there, but John Hartness and Jay Requard were having a conversation with a fan about video games and the direction the industry seems to be headed in. It made me realize I missed something in my last post – a disclaimer.

For those of you who aren’t fans of video games, but fans of great storytelling, I must warn you that the games that get the most publicity and sell the most units are shitty in the storytelling department. They’re first person shooters and sports simulations focused on a competitive multiplayer experience. These are the games you’d play online with a headset and an asshole of a kid on the other side either telling you off or his mother off. I know I featured Battlefield 4 in the last post, but it really is the exception to the first person shooter rule. When people familiar with the video game industry think of storytelling three letters usually come to mind, RPG (role-playing game). In this genre, you assume the role of a character(or a party of characters) in a fictional setting. However, even some RPG’s are terrible at telling a story. Massively Multiplayer Online RPG’s, like World of Warcraft, are superb at worldbuilding, but you and I both know it takes much more than that to tell a good story.

For more than a decade there’s been a steady trend towards so-called open world games, where the players decisions affect the outcome of events, hopefully lending more realism to the in character world. Games like Fable and Knights of The Old Republic come to mind. However, game designers only have so much time, money, and imagination, and it seems as though the more open an in game world is, the less characterization you see. In that last example, the main character, whom you name, customize and control, doesn’t have a voice at all. Depending on the decisions you make for this character, he/she will either become a Jedi knight or a Sith lord. It was fun to play, but it wasn’t compelling at all to me. It takes games like that to fully appreciate other mediums in which the story is completely out of my hands. It made me appreciate JK Rowling‘s choice to make Harry Potter so whiney in the Order of The Phoenix. We may not like the choices an author makes, but it’s almost always better than the choices we’d be given.

The following is only my opinion, but I regard it very highly in this situation, seeing as I’ve played video games for as long as I’ve read books, watched movies, and gone to the theatre. The best examples of storytelling in games has, and always will, use elements we find in literature and cinema. Therefore, games geared towards a multiplayer experience will never be good in this respect. I’m antagonizing a lot of Call of Duty and Halo fans by saying that, but how are you going to insert a cut scene into a king of the hill competition involving fifty players and a thousand bullets flying in the air? You can’t, and that’s okay. You guys aren’t looking for a good story (even though you should :p ).

A game that does well with this is most likely to be single-player, action-adventure, with RPG elements (take note that I did not mention turn-based). It will be linear, with enough optional side projects to satisfy a player’s curiosity about the fictional world, but it will only have one ending, with maybe an alternate for replay value. When you bring all the elements of great fiction together, do them well, and use them to compliment the interactive nature of a video game, you can create a story that the audience is more likely to feel and relate to. It’ll hit home. One did that for me. It’s pretty old, it’s pretty well known, and I get misty eyed every time I hear it’s music.

This game deserves its own post, and I’m working on it. Promise. Until then, scroll past the cast picture and enjoy the beautiful music of Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII

(top left to right) Yufie, Aerith, Barret & Marlene, Cloud, Sephiroth
(bottom left to right) Vincent, Tifa, Zak, Rufus Shinra & The Turks, Kadaj

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One thought on “Storytelling in Video Games Pt. 2

  1. Pingback: Gone Home Shows the Potential of Video Game Storytelling | Gamemoir

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