The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 14
Just the other day, I posted a blog about the amount of freedom video games provide. While this is by far one of the strongest attributes of gaming and what sets it apart from the likes of film, gaming has one particular aspect that is severely lacking, by comparison to other forms of media. That aspect is the realm of storytelling.
I know what some of you are saying. "Video games have some of the best stories ever presented, and the interactivity provide a whole new level of immersion." I'm not even going to try to deny that statement, as there are some games that have had truly memorable stories, that just wouldn't work in other formats. However, gaming is limited in how the story can be presented.
I came to this conclusion the other day, while reading the book The Long Walk by Stephen King (under the name Richard Bachman). The book is about a competition where 100 boys, under the age of 18, begin walking from the same location, and must maintain a constant speed of at least 4 miles per hour. Should they fall below this speed, they are issued a warning, which they can have removed after walking for an hour without another warning. However, after they receive 3 warnings and fall below speed again, they receive their ticket, and are shot to death on the spot. The winner is awarded anything he should wish for, as well as money. The book occurs over the course of a few days, with the characters walking the entire time with no respite, but death.
As I was reading this book, I realized how limited video games are as storytellers. In this book, there are several instances where the only conflict that occurs is that of characters fighting against exhaustion, pain, and drops in morale brought on by what is going on around them. The book is a perfect example of man vs self style of conflict, as the biggest enemy that any character has, is himself and lack of willpower to continue walking even after days of continuously going. For me, I looked at all of this, and I thought of how gaming could never come up with anything to truly match the experience of this book.
Video games thrive upon man vs man conflict as well as man vs nature conflict, but to my knowledge, there isn't a single game that provides a deep and meaningful man vs self type conflict. Any attempt to convey such a conflict is almost always re-directed and portrayed as a conflict of a different style.
In my opinion, gaming might be close to branching out and finding ways of making this type of conflict a reality in gaming. I think the key is with morality systems that have been becoming more and more prevalent in recent years. However, rather than simply having an arbitrary effect on how gameplay progresses, these choices need to have serious consequences for the player to see, internalize, and analyze whether they should have done things differently. I don't know if this will ever fulfill the potential power it could have for storytelling within video games, but it is a shining beacon of possibility.
What are your thoughts? Do you see other ways that developers are branching out in terms of storytelling?
The best stories I have experienced in gaming are Heavy Rain and Shadow of the Colossus. Both of those games have a unique way of telling their story, and I believe that both were done successfully.
I think games are relying on their endings to drive home a strong story. When I look at Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 3, and Arkham City, one theme stands out (which I won't state for spoiler reasons, but anyone who has played them knows what it is). I fully expect to see more of that theme utilized to strengthen a story.
I think I've played a few games that come close to this, although metaphorically or peripherally. Glad you mentioned The Long Walk. As a King acolyte, it's one of my all-time favorites of his.
I totally agree, Chris. In fact, while I did a post on storytelling in games never being equal to films and movies (and did catch a lot of flak for it), I would have to modify that feeling a bit. Yes, I don't think the three media will ever be equal as far as storytelling goes.
However, that's not a slam on any one medium. They tell their stories in different ways, and some stories work best in one medium over another. Games have their own storytelling methods, many of which wouldn't work in the other two.
The Long Walk is one of my all time favorite King stories. After seeing the story that can be told in a game like Heavy Rain, I believe that a man vs himself story could be told. I'm not sure how it would work, and it would probably have to be done by an Indie developer, but with enough creativity it is certainly possible.
One of the great things about gaming story telling is the way that video games have been expanding play method. The Wii remote, the Kinnect, The Move, 3D, and touch screens, have all expanded what can be done by the player, and thus, what can be shown in the story. To me, this opens up a lot of untapped potential in story telling. Right now the Wii remote is still just a cool gimmick, but maybe there is a story you can build based on that control system that can affect the player in a different, and maybe deeper, way. Games like Metal Gear Solid (spoiler) took a look at the fundamental assumptions of a gamer and then messed with them to instill fear. Once again this is still a gimmick, but the ability to manipulate the player's emotions, unless they've been spoiled, through the interface, allows for the inclusion of greater concrete details. Does anyone remember the time before rumble controllers? In this case I can think of several instances where the story has been enhanced through this simple feature: Halo: Combat Evolved used the rumble to indicate heart rate in several places, enhancing the players immersion. The steps of the colossi. Countless explosions in almost every game. My point is this; No other genre of story telling has managed to successfully combine the visual with the visceral before, but video games did it and nobody noticed. Video games are the art form that truly have limitless potential. The question isn't "what form of story can video games not embody?" but, "When will video games create the technology to deliver this aspect of story telling." Unfortunately, I don't think that video games will be able to show the battle with the self effectively for a while. Until it does though, I'm eager to see how these other new features will enhance the story experience.