Video Games and Storytelling

I have a confession to make: I’m easily addicted to video games.

I start playing one and not only do I want to sit there until I have finished the game, but I want to gather every achievement and examine every nuance and subtlety crafted into the game world. That’s why I’ve put thousands of hours into games like Skyrim, Minecraft, Bloodborne, Super Mario Sunshine, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Yeah, with how much time I’ve spent playing these games, I could have solved world hunger.

Now that I’m older and am heavily dedicated to my writing career, I no longer find myself with the time to play video games. Occasionally I’ll get ten minutes to turn on my Xbox One, hop into a game, take a quick look around, and leave. If I’m really lucky (like the kids are not at home and I’ve been a responsible human being and have done everything I needed to do for the day) then once in a blue moon I’ll find myself with an hour to kill. And now that my time is limited, I’m a lot pickier about what I play.

Single-player, story-driven video games

I’ve always been a single-player, story-driven gamer. I tried the online multiplayer scene, from COD to Fortnite, to DOTA and even good ol’ Age of Empires, but I can’t get the escapism I want from those games (don’t even get me started on the cancerous community, loot boxes, and pre-release garbage that you then have to pay even more money for to get “DLCs” that were actually meant to either be part of the original game or are bug patches because the company released a broken excuse for a game). I lean toward spending my limited time on games that move me.

In essence, let’s talk about single-player, story-driven games.

To start, if you give me amazing level design that not only flows freely (I love open-world), but you give me narrative details built into the environment—I’m all over that game.

A great example comes from a moment in a game that blew my mind—like I said, I love searching out little details in a map. So I’m playing The Last of Us and I’m pretty far into the game, when I decide to thoroughly explore this apartment complex I had been wandering through.

Now you can clear this area of baddies fairly quick, but this place is pretty large and many of the individual apartment rooms you don’t even need to go into—you can instead just move on to the next zone of the game.

So, it would be easy to miss that in one of the decrepit little abandoned bathrooms in a far-away apartment there are the remains of two skeletons sitting in a filthy bathtub. But it’s more than that. Their pose, the dimness of the room, the crusty filth on the floors and walls, the furniture and decorations inside the room, and have specific purpose. The visuals and stylization point to a story of hopelessness and suicide.

There is a story created from a simple, still scene.

Yet here’s the deal: the gamer was never pushed to go find that room, and there is no mission leading you near that area. It is purely built as part of some serious world-building and story setting. That single moment of me finding that room, piecing together the silent story, and recognizing the level of detail put into the game blew my mind. It sent me into a deep state of immersion.

Video games need better worldbuilding

Games need more of that: worlds full of intricate details…that tell stories and fuel the imagination. No more easy details or copy-paste assets. For me as an author, that translates into book writing.

A scene can be glossed over because an author was too lazy to think deeply about potential details—and the story behind those details. As a creator, if you show that level of care for your world-building, your audience will not only appreciate it (because believe me, others will notice details or the lack-thereof) but the audience will also recognize your dedication and care for what you build.

Let’s build a scene:

A starving homeless man walks into a private buffet for gods. That is interesting enough, and more so if you describe the sizzling meats and tangy wines.

Now give me little details about the story behind the food with well-thought-out calculated words: show me where food was dropped and hint at why it happened and who did it, show me what foods are not being touched by the characters and what is being fought over: do that and you are more than telling a story of a homeless man walking into a secret party, you’re telling me stories within stories. That is how you draw your audience in.

Video Games and Politics

Here’s something else: something plaguing the gaming world right now. Politics. Oh-oh, that’s a dangerous word to use now-a-days. You say that word and you have to prepare yourself to accidentally “offend” someone.

Games today, both multiplayer and story-driven and having political views and beliefs grafted into every story-line, character, and message. You’re a gamer wanting to de-stress and get away from everything? You want to relax? NO! You’re going to eat this political message and you’re going to agree with it because the game pushes forward in acceptance of the proposed belief.

The game doesn’t consider the audience. It doesn’t consider their wants. It assumes their wants and beliefs. It assumes they want to stay plugged into the real world. (You want an example of this, search up backlash involving Mass Effect 4, sheesh).

Games need to be cleansed of our real-world political battles. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have politics, it means they should have beliefs and politics that don’t pertain to us, or not at all. And don’t try to secretly sneak it down my throat. Gamers want to escape. If they wanted to stay connected to the real world they would be playing some educational garbage on a free-to-learn website that hasn’t been updated since 2008.

Game producers, like authors, should not build something assuming what their audience wants, and game producers, like authors, should not force their own beliefs and ideologies down the throat of their audience.

As a gamer and one who keeps up actively in the community, I can say this: people (at least myself) are endlessly hungry for more games. Feed us good-quality grub. Don’t be lazy. Don’t try to be a pompous philosopher or a great teacher to the public—people will listen to you naturally if they like and respect you. Take your time to create content properly.

And if you’re a gamer or avid reader, support the people and companies that are doing things right. If you don’t, we will see a decay in these communities that will spread more and more over time.

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