Following up from my post a few weeks ago, I wanted to expand on what I said about everything being a narrative, and them being quite literally everywhere.
Specifically, I wanted to comment on games as narratives. Now if you’re a gamer, surely you play for the entertainment value. But how important is the story?
For me, the story or plot of a game is essentially the number one thing which will keep me interested. The gameplay might be awful, but I’ll finish that game just to finish the story and learn what happens if it’s intriguing enough. Going back to Bioshock 1, the gameplay is repetitive for me at points, and I’m not a huge fan of first person shooters, but the story is so bloody damn good that I’ve played that through three times.
Alternatively, take a game like Fallout 4. I was super excited for this game when it came out – so much so that I thought it would eat my spare time, so I restricted myself to not buying it until after I’d graduated. Well… that fell short, because I ended up with my fiancée, and his ownership of both the game and a console to play it on meant I dabbled with Fallout 4 when visiting him on some evenings.
Fallout 4’s world is expansive, there’s tonnes to do, some improved game mechanics really improve on the last instalment in the series, but… in my opinion, the plot is terrible. I called it the massive twist before it had happened, and while sometimes this is rewarding (because you’ve read the signs, figured out the puzzle of the plot), in this instance for me it was more a case of “seen it all before”. To me, it was nothing original. I had more fun exploring the landscape and finding all the cool dungeons than I did playing through the main story. I’m sure I’ll go back to this game at some point and give it a full chance, but right now I’m disappointed in it. Was it the initial hype, later giving way to general disappointment from other players? I’m unsure. Fallout 4 reminded me of FO: NV a lot, and I was one of the few who preferred 3 to NV.
For non-gamers, you’d never think that the story for a game is so important. I’m willing to bet a lot of people who have experienced gameplay by only watching or adverts on a screen think of gaming as “those FIFA games” or “that Call of Duty one”. I might be heavily generalising here, but let me say: there’s a reason I claim that video games are usually just like interactive films. If the plot is solid – e.g. The Last of Us – it’ll make you cry, laugh, groan in anger, make you hate it’s antagonists and root for the people you’re in control of. Cutscenes have come such a long way graphically, and with some film actors branching off into the voice acting industry within games, it’s no surprise that video games have become more cinematic over time. That means they need a decent plot. And those narratives are sometimes much, much more engaging than passively watching a story unfold on screen.
I prefer my favourite games to my favourite films. Give me a film and I’m occupied for three hours at the most. Give me a game and, well, at the very least it could take me 15 hours to finish the main story. Add in all the subplots which might be there and you’ve got the scope of a book, or even a series of books, or a television show. It’s a medium in itself, but games have some of the richest and most diverse narratives in them, while borrowing some of the best elements of other mediums.
Narratives are everywhere – yes. And I think some of the best are found in games. They should definitely not be ruled out as “just some sad waste of time”. For some people they’re a good way to engage in entertainment – maybe if you’re not so into reading, games are more for you. If you put the subtitles on, you’re reading. If there are lore documents in a game, you’re reading. If there are puzzles, you’re thinking logically. Games can teach in the same way books can – games can have empathetic narratives, analogy, allegory. They’re rich with it.
I hope this has convinced some people that game aren’t worth writing off – they’re very much worth the investment of time. Perhaps you’ve tried writing for video games? Have an idea which would make a great story for a video game? Because, in essence, stories are still at the heart of what a video game is. Without that, there is no Call of Duty, no Ratchet and Clank, no career mode on Madden NFL 2018.
Let me know what some of your favourite video game moments are, whether that’s a random event which occurred from dynamic AI in the game, or a cutscene which had you bawling your eyes out – or even just some of the fantastic soundtracks composers have gifted our ears with!