I would like to thank Feliza Casano for sharing these ideas with Girls in Capes readers. I’ve found her to be a great resource for new and interesting perspectives and I would specifically recommend her take on some great books for the summer.
When you think of a video game, what is the first thing you think of? Do you think of the story that is unfolding in front of you? Do you see it as a work of art with themes and complex characters? Do you see ideas beneath the immediate surface? Are you only concerned with how entertaining the ride will be in terms of pure gameplay mechanics?
Well, sometimes the plot goes vastly unappreciated in video games. This was never really an issue back in the day, but gaming has changed a lot since the days of the Super Nintendo. Many games in the past simply didn’t need a great plot to succeed, yet now some of the most acclaimed games ever created hang their laurels on their storytelling capabilities.
Let’s take a look at how stories are told in games today and just how important they are.
Modern Gaming has Changed
In the 1980s and 1990s, systems such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis and PlayStation were dominating the market. These systems were mostly backed by excellent platforming titles to act as their flagship games. Mega Man, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Crash, Spyro and Sonic all come to mind as one looks back on gaming history.
Yet platformers did not necessarily have great or complex stories back in those days. These types of games can simply use imagery to portray the simple story they are trying to tell. They strictly focused on the gameplay and let the world do the talking instead of spelling out every detail for you.
The Emphasis on Visual Quality
The graphics of yesterday do not regularly hold up to today’s standards. While graphics were important to express the ideas of the developers, today’s mainstream video games often have a huge focus on visual quality and graphical detail. Some games have cinematics which some people would swear are from a Hollywood studio.
Accompanying this are stories that more heavily incorporate player agency, often borrowing from the genre of games known as the visual novel. Consider the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises as examples. While neither one of these video games are technically a visual novel, the presentation of the cut scenes is clearly a main focus of the game. The choices the player makes to change the story keep the player engaged far more than the gameplay.
Modern games want to place you in the protagonist’s shoes. Open-world settings and first-person perspectives are often used to allow for a greater sense of immersion. Think of games such as Dark Souls 3, Far Cry Primal and The Witcher 3. While some might consider it a move away from what some would consider a traditional story, this level of immersion breeds empathy.
Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, a recent release, is a perfect example of this in how it puts you behind the eyes of a woman running across the world fighting back against a totalitarian society. The player more deeply understands her unique experience because the technology now allows us to see as Faith (the main character) sees, and do so believably.
We Can Now Tell Shared Stories
Gamers have never been more connected than they are now and the dawn and growth of the online multiplayer market has allowed players to share stories with each other and create experiences of their own. While developers sometimes don’t have much hand in the actual actions or plots of these “stories,” they do create the world and the platform. There are hundreds of tales that have happened on the servers of games such as EVE Online or World of Warcraft. People devote part of their lives to create something online, in some cases even using VPNs to transcend regional restrictions.
I imagine in the future players might even be contributing more to the stories of the mainstream games we play. As studios listening to consumer demand, the stories will be designed to have enough branching paths and choices to allow nearly every player to have a unique experience. That will be the root of games storytelling in the future, and this potential is why games are a unique storytelling medium in the own right.
Do you have any thoughts on stories and their development in the gaming sphere? Do you think that stories can be effectively told in this medium? Where do you see the future regarding this important and ever-changing topic? Please leave a comment below and tell us what you think.
Isa is an entertainment and technology blogger who also loves to play video games in her spare time. She looks forward to seeing how the industry progresses and hopes that you’ll consider games in a new light after this. Follow her on Twitter @isa_culture.