Video Games and Storytelling

This entry was supposed to be a comment post in response to a Kotaku article that I forgot to bookmark (note to self: check phone later). It kind of went astray and turned itself into one giant thing. I am pretty sure that I am rehashing at least one or two previous posts, but I don’t feel like checking. Anyway, as I gather, video game storytelling methods fall somewhere on or between these two spectrums

  1. Open-ended storytelling: Your story is your own and it is one that organically immerses as a result of gameplay. The game provides the necessary tools and settings. In some cases, a rough direction or purpose, but your goals and what you do to achieve them are your own to decide.
  2. Linear storytelling: These games have a specific story to narrate with a very specific cast and setting. Think of an interactive book.

Most games seem to fall somewhere in the middle, probably leaning more towards being linear as most games have a fairly defined story. It’s a tricky balancing act and treading on the paper thin border between being too open and too linear is no small feat. In fact, I would say that it is one of if not the most challenging aspects of crafting a video game story. A game that is too open lacks guidance and gives way to a non-cohesive story. When you unleash players upon your world there is always a risk that they will get sidetracked and forget about the main storyline, often to the point of becoming bored and dropping the game all-together.

On the other hand, being too linear hinders gameplay. Games should be designed to be experienced and not just told. Never underestimate the importance of interactive content within an interactive game. Linear stories are a tightly kept package, everything from the camera angles to the pacing needs to be delicately crafted without feeling forced. Even so, even linear games need choices and choices need consequences. You want the player to feel like their actions have an impact on the outcome of the game, whether they really do or not. It is essentially giving the player an illusion of choices. This kind of balance is rarely found and difficult to achieve, but artful when properly executed.

Ultimately, by definition, the focus of a game should be with the gameplay. Many of my favorite games are able to integrate the narrative with the gameplay into one seamless package. Portal for example, the gameplay pretty much was the narrative. I like the recent immersion trend in first person shooters: Eliminating interface elements and integrating ammo and health meters into the game context (vision fading for health, ammo meters on the guns, etc). I mean, isn’t that kind of the point in a first person game, being able to see through the character’s eyes and all? A giant red bar along the bottom of the screen doesn’t exactly suck you into the whole experience. I also liked the Animus in the Assassin’s Creed series. It was kind of a plot gimmick, but works well for explaining away game elements.

Games in my opinion at least, have much more potential as a storytelling medium if they can ever get over their own tribulations (well, publishers). But you know what gaming really needs? I mean, REALLY needs?? Better writers. Good God.

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