Tag Archives: Video game

Trust me… Just trust me!


We’ve explored the ensemble masterpiece authors couldn’t make up in the Superbowl, the body’s narrative in dance, and even the storytelling power of video games. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, have I? So I’m going to need you to trust me when I say there’s a criminally underrated tool for learning the mechanics of storytelling.

This tool has been hiding under your nose for some time. A few of you are rabid fans, a few of you scoff at it the moment you see it, and more than a few of you secretly indulge in it as a guilty pleasure. Ratings don’t lie, and since I’m working under a pen name I have no problem admitting World Wrestling Entertainment taught me a lot about storytelling. Now before you unfollow Crown Town Scribe take a few minutes to view the tearful retirement speech of Mark Henry, one of the WWE’s most dominant superstars.

Shocked?

Good.

WWE can teach storytellers and writers a great deal in terms of pacing, originality, audience perception, and as you saw plot twists. Find out more on Tuesday.

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

Related articles

The Next Great Storytelling Medium


Dear Fellow Writers,

Consider the following: you’ve got a story, with compelling characters, a well-defined setting, a strong plot, and a decent amount of action, but you want your prospective audience to experience your story as best as they possibly can. You want them to deal with the failures and successes of a character’s journey, and immerse themselves in a world with as many senses as they can. If audience experience is your primary goal, which storytelling medium should you go with? Do you turn this story into a screenplay, a book, a song? Maybe, but I have another option for you. Why not turn your next great story into…

a Video Game?

Don’t rub your eyes! You read it correctly. I said a video game. If you’re over a certain age and if you’re a woman, you’re likely to turn away. I don’t mean any offense by that. My seventy year old father loves playing the Civilization and Sim City series and I know plenty of female gamers, but the numbers don’t lie – although 41% of gamers are women, most women still aren’t gamers (Entertainment Software Association). I’m saying this to urge you not to turn away. This young medium has something the others do not – immersive interaction. When you play a video game, you’re investing not just your time, but your effort, your wits, and inevitably your emotion. It’s been years since I’ve regularly played, but I can still speak from experience. When used correctly with traditional storytelling elements video games immersed me in a world that sparked my imagination, made me care about heroes and despise villains, and one game even drove me to tears. You’ll want to stick around for that one.

If you’ve read my stuff before you know I like to back up what I’m saying with research. So far I haven’t found any academic studies on video games that would be relevant to this conversation. Most of them are focused on violence and hand eye coordination. Those don’t do me any good, so let’s take three storytelling elements that video games have a unique advantage in Point of View, World Building, and Stakes/Tension.

Point of View

First person shooters are games focused on using projectile based weapons in which the player experiences the action through the eyes of the protagonist. When a work of fiction is in first person, the writer uses the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘Me’, and there is a sense of intimacy the reader gets from this. If done well, the reader feels as though they’re privy to the point-of-view character’s thoughts. They feel like they’re taking part in that character’s actions. The interactive nature of video games gives this, and a little bit more. Not only is the audience in on the main character’s thoughts, they are in control of the character’s actions. You’d think that would take some of the creative power out of the storyteller’s hands but it doesn’t. The following clip is a gameplay preview of Electronic Arts’ Battlefield 4. The term gameplay preview means that this is what we’ll experience when we have full control of the game. Therefore someone is at the controller, playing the game as you’re watching this.

Turn the volume up and the lights down, and put this on full screen when you watch it. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. It’s seventeen minutes long, but at least watch he first two minutes and take note of the various storytelling elements the game is using. Tell me, fellow writers, how many paragraphs or pages would it take to explain the following? And what’s to say that your particular style of writing doesn’t pull certain readers out of the experience?

Notice the beginning, and the elements at play here. You and three of your companions are trapped in a car underwater. Your superior officer is stuck, the doors are stuck. He gives you his firearm and orders you to shoot your way out of the car and save yourselves. As the player you’re immediately asking yourself “How did I get here?” and the flashback ensues. In the case of the video game’s story, however, you get to play the flashback. It doesn’t kill the pace the way it could in a book. The ordeal is even more effective when the controller is in your hands.

World Building

Storytellers, from Stephen King and George RR Martin to Woody Allen and Christopher Nolan, need to build worlds, from Middle Earth and the sparkly vampire infested Pacific Northwest to the Upper East Side of Manhattan and South Fork Ranch of Dallas, Texas. Some might have to do it more than others, but just about everyone has to do it. The writer must acquaint the reader with an alien world without shoving a textbook down their throats. In television and film, a screenwriter must do the same through dialogue alone and trust that the set designers will do the production justice. While video game culture is diversifying, its roots are steeped in science fiction and fantasy, in which world building is critical.

Star Fox, released in 1993, takes place in a futuristic system inhabited by anthropomorphic animal races. You play Fox Mcloud, the leader of a team of elite mercenaries, you’ve been given state of the art Arwing fighters, and you’ve been charged with saving the star system from the mad scientist Andros. I feel old just talking about it, but back in these days games didn’t have voice actors. They just had dialogue boxes that you had to read as they scrolled down on their own sweet time. In spite of the limited technology, these worlds were impressive, vivid, and they gave rise to the best example of world building I’ve seen so far.

Ladies and gentlemen, the steampunk masterpiece Bioshock Infinite. (Watch this one all the way through)

Despite the relatively slow beginning, the first two lines that you hear are compelling enough to make you stick with it. Once the point of view character makes it to the floating city of Columbia, world building goes into hyper drive. Less than thirty seconds of gameplay could amount to a page of description. Observe the signs, the dialogue and banter you hear from the people around you, and other details that may take pages to read. I particularly love that quick flashback in which we discover the point-of-view character’s name. This is also a gameplay preview, so you’re watching this player stop and observe the things around him, not because he has to, but because he wants to. He could just as easy run right through to the next objective, and he’d still hear a revealing line or two.

Video games can do much to enhance Point of View and World Building, both elements which are crucial to telling a good story. I’ve saved the best for last, but it deserves its own post. In their immersive interaction, video games can do so much to raise the stakes of a story. I’ll get into this, and the one video game that brought me to tears on Saturday.