Tolstoy, Hardy, Orwell, and EA Games?

Were you lost when Harry Potter was truly over? When you realised that you could never live on Pandora? That Firefly got cancelled after one season? How about when Commander Shepard lead the Normandy against the Reapers? That last one may seem out of place, but storylines in games have progressed to the point where their place in modern media cannot be denied. Storytelling was once a folk tale whispered from a distant relative; now, poetry has evolved into countless musical genres, novels are adapted to ostentatious displays of visual effects on worldwide stages, and video games offer an interactive storytelling experience like no other… right?

Very few video games are touted as masterpieces of well-written narrative and immersive storylines, and yet their interactive nature would suggest an innate medium for the art that, as yet, has been largely untapped. When you picked up Skyrim at the behest of absolutely everybody around you ever, were you instantly gripped by the Dovahkiin’s plight, or were you more stunned by the aurora borealis and the landscape around you, the distant trees and rocks? To illustrate precisely how unimportant story is to success: Call of Duty. Enough said.

Despite this, as both graphics capabilities and processing power increase year on year, we are treated to visual delights and faux-reality with alarming regularity, and even smaller independent studios are impressing with unique visuals and core mechanics. The uncanny valley is fast approaching, with studios opting for complex character modelling, alongside facial movement scanning to enable that extra layer of reality to be added. All of the above should allow for the ideal medium for getting out a good yarn – all the reality of a movie, but with a truly interactive experience.

The _Mass Effect_ series has done wonders for the art-form, by doing exactly this – creating a monolithic precedent with its reactiveness to player actions. The cutscenes are breathtaking, the characterisation impressive, and the scope enormous, and yet there is also a large degree of player control. Who lives and who dies is largely up to you, and your interactions with others open and close avenues of play constantly. You could be the galaxy’s harshest bigot, or you could be the gentle romantic, or both; it’s entirely your choice. Either way, you’ll be involved so absolutely that it may shock you. The result is a rich storyline, with characters you really give a damn about (yes, I did reload just to save my teammate, on many an occasion), and a story that makes you crave more.

Another unique storyteller is _Dear Esther_, originally merely a mod for Valve’s Source engine, which struggles to earn the title _game_. Controls are minimal, without even the ability to run or jump, and with your only control being the eyes of a wandering protagonist. Guided through a desolate island by the contours of the landscape, only walking onwards, you truly are only along for the ride. Its episodic nature, alongside the narrator’s slew of stunted information and half-truths, made for a storytelling experience quite unlike anything else on the market at the time. Garnering relative success for a very minor studio, however, it clearly demonstrated one thing: there is a place for stories within games, and it may not be as small as previously thought.

Perhaps we can begin to look forward to a future of strong releases whose successes rely on a strong storyline – who knows, there may yet come a day when novels are brought to games rather than the big screen, and the masses love it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.