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(This blog was originally posted as an editorial on Gamers-Association.com)
Video games aren’t famous for their stories. In the eyes of the average person, video games are just about having a good time. They’re not about being immersed in a rich, new world, or getting attached to pixelated characters. They’re just about entertaining the player for a little bit. Just look at the most popular video game franchise in the world, Call of Duty. Call of Duty is famous for its multiplayer, not its story. In fact, many people don’t even play through the campaign; they just go straight to multiplayer. While there certainly isn’t anything wrong with this, it doesn’t encourage developers to put a lot of effort into the story in their games. This leads to the common opinion that video games are just about having some fun. Now, I don’t want to confuse you. While I think video games are about a lot more than just having fun, I do think the entertainment aspect in video games is the foundation of gaming as a whole. However, there are richer forms of entertainment than just having fun. For video games to reach their true potential, they need to successfully incorporate a good story with the gameplay. While great gameplay is a blast to play, a great story in a video game takes the game to the next level of entertainment- art.
Long gone are the days of most video games having pixelated graphics, horrendous voice acting, and an abysmal story. Lots of improvements were made during this generation of consoles, but the greatest improvement has got to be the quality in games. There is a much higher quality in your average video game now then there was ten years ago. Most video games now have at least good graphics, decent voice acting, and an acceptable story. Video game characters are now more realistic than ever. They look and sound like real people. However, they don’t always act like real people. While stories in video games are usually decent, they’re not usually great. For most games, the story feels like an afterthought. There aren’t very many games that have “book quality” stories. This needs to change.
Movies haven’t always been plot-focused. Back when cinema was first created, movies usually didn’t have a great plot. The plot was usually something along the lines of “stop this bad guy.” There wasn’t an apparent reason why the villain was bad, he just was. Also, there was absolutely no character development. You didn’t even always know the main character’s name! However, as time passed, cinema evolved. Soon, there was strong character development, good plots, and excellent villains. It took cinema a few decades to start achieving its full potential. Now, video games have been “mainstream” for a few decades. It’s time for video games to start achieving their full potential.
In my opinion, the gameplay, graphics, and sound in most video games is at an excellent level. These three areas in video games have drastically improved in recent years. However, the story in most video games has not progressed at the same rate. Video games have failed to explore a large variety of stories. Many video game stories are still stuck in the “save the princess” mindset. Even though the characters look and sound more realistic, they frequently don’t act realistic. For example, in many games today, characters will go through terrible dangers without much reason at all. Sometimes you just have to wonder, “why are they still doing this? Is it really worth it to them?” Many of our favorite games struggle with these kinds of issues. However, there are some games that are getting past these issues.
In Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake is searching for the “Atlantis of the desert.” Naturally, some bad guys are also looking for it. These guys will do anything to find it, even if it means murdering Drake. However, Nathan Drake continues to search for it, even though people are trying to kill him because of it. Now, Drake isn’t the only one who is in danger, his friends are too. While searching for the city, he constantly puts the lives of himself and his loved ones in danger. It seems crazy that he would continue on this ridiculous quest. However, the game addresses this problem. The other characters in the game ask Drake why he is searching for the city time and time again. This leads to some of the best character development I have ever seen in a video game. By directly having the other characters address the problem, the plot is drastically strengthened while making the characters feel more realistic.
Even though there are a lot of bad things you could say about video game stories, it’s not all doom and gloom. There have been some phenomenal video game stories in recent years. Video games are starting to tread new ground with their stories. For example, in the recently released Max Payne 3, Max is addicted to painkillers. When was the last time you played a game that had a protagonist with those kinds of problems? There are some seriously creative writers out there, and more and more are starting to pop up.
Video game stories have one aspect that the separates them from the stories found in literature and cinema- immersion. It’s one thing to read or watch an epic conclusion, but it’s another to play it. While stories in cinema and literature have aspects that can make them vastly superior to the stories found in video games, they can’t touch the level of immersion in video games. Video games are just more immersive than cinema and literature. They add an element that the other two can’t match- control. When done correctly, the control you get in some video games allows you to directly affect the story. Heavy Rain probably does this better than any other game. There are no retries in Heavy Rain. If a character dies, the story goes on. There is no game over screen. In the future, more video games need to use this concept. This concept is probably the most brilliant thing we have seen in a video game story this generation.
Now, I want to clear up a few things. I don’t think most video games have bad stories. I just think that your average game could have a story at an even higher level. I love video games, and I want them to reach their full potential. Video game stories have so much untapped potential, and I can’t wait to see this potential realized.