The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
(No spoilers are revealed in this post)
What makes a good story? Be it a book, movie, video game or even music, most often critics like to judge and define based on the allure of the subject's story. Of course, any layer attributes to the form's reception, such as visuals or topic. But the be-all end-all of an entertainment product is always associated to, yes, the story. However, it's not always the story that defines the significance; instead, the weight behind the delivery is the performance behind it all. The interactions of the actors, the believability of digital personas, the realism written into a character, the soul in a singer's performance.
The act of solid performance is a complicated one to describe, and best illustrated through things that we know.
In music, for example, an orchestral piece isn't beautiful only because Theory claims that a 3rd and 5th interval above a root note is harmonically pleasant. No, the likes of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Rimsky-Korsakov's works are always best portrayed by the musicality drawn out by the musicians who bring their works to life. The ebbs and flows of a lyrical etude, the aggressive anecdote of Mars' rule are performed, and the provided material is simply a guideline to what we, the audience, will receive.
More contemporarily, I always appreciate the christian rock band, Red, for the way their albums are presented. The music they produce is fine, similar to that of most other post-grunge rock bands looking to differentiate themselves, but the really gripping aspect of each album release is the conjuration of empathy found from the beginning rage of "Feed the Machine" and "Faceless", all the way to "Not Alone", and ending in "The Best Is Yet To Come". Admittedly, the material is purposefully written as a story, but I sure believed it and was gripped by its implementation and delivery spanning an hour-long album.
Shifting focus now, the same can be said about video games. Specifically the reason so, is that video games are notorious for being blown off as light-hearted and immature - that video games can't match the same sort of intellect found in the material of a classic film or book. In this aspect, I still agree - you may argue that we have games that exemplify art, and exceptional stories. But I counter - were the stories all that great, or was the experience just really well done?
Specifically, all of the critical darlings: the Uncharteds, Mass Effects, and Heavy Rains of the industry, as well as the Journeys and Bastions of the up-and-comers. Now, think about it... It's not an insult when I say that the stories of these games were mostly empty, one-layered events. It's more of, say, subjective fact (ha, oxymoron) that they are. Nothing in these games is particularly 'intelligent', from a critic's perspective - but the delivery of these games sure makes a world of difference.
Uncharted and Bastion hold rather average gameplay, with the respective games both flaunting a slightly interesting layer of depth, and then proceed to take you on wild rides of adventure and whimsy. Bastion features its amazing narrator and captivating visuals, Uncharted captures audiences with spectacular setpieces, as well as more-than-believable performances. Heavy Rain and Journey revitalize genres by introducing new concepts and ways for games to be played, and capturing a player's interest into their worlds. Mass Effect, the novelty of choice, and the ramifications of player decisions, and to me the entrancing part was that, rather than the okay story.
All of this leads down to the recent Big Boy in the industry: Bioshock Infinite. Don't worry, no spoilers are spoken of ahead. There's a lot to be said of Infinite - it's a true revolutionary in the way we should think of approaching and analyzing games. Why?
Because there's a feeling that is conveyed throughout the run-through one-hundred percent of the way: Experience. From one act to the next, the expertly crafted world pulls you in through its atmosphere and life like no other virtual reality has ever achieved before. People chat and believe in ideals that are important to their lives and their feelings, and worry about the very problems that are happening at the moment. Music and locales express deeper establishment in the very society that they inhabit - it feels like their has been history and life before we players ever even set foot on it.
Elizabeth looks, behaves, and thinks like any real person would in the situations that are faced, along with Booker. The voice actors do a wonderful job at conveying emotions that are both natural and heartfelt. And what's more, is the collection of miscellaneous audio logs that inform us of anything that could possibly pull us out of the immersion. It's stunning, really.
Ken Levine and Irrational pulled off what most other developers have still been striving for, and nailed it on the head. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Infinite will be remembered from this generation as the definitive swan song (even in the face of GTA V) that our culture has achieved up until this point. It's moving, enthralling, and above all, performs heads above the rest. The developers behind the scenes pulled their best work, providing nothing short of a convincing adventure (And I guess it doesn't hurt that it's story is kick-butt, but that's not the point).
Circumstances considered, so far we haven't seen games achieve truly "deep" stories, but of course we've come close. The aspect that we hold, and should hold dear, is the wonder that indescribably pulls us in to a game's world, like no other media has truly manifested.
It's something we should really be hoping to see more of in the coming years, and I don't doubt we'll continue to rise and shine.