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Storytelling in Video Games
Posted on Wednesday, October 17 2007 @ 00:31:15 Eastern

Storytelling in videogames. Stories told in games seem to be only seen by those who like to play videogames. We, the gamers. Nobody outside the gaming world notices that games are anything more than just shiny 3-D interactive distractions.

Ultimately that is a pretty good description of a basic videogame: an interactive distraction. But games these days have evolved far beyond the simple diversions that they were in the 70's and 80's. Games can tell stories. In the following, I make lots of reference to Halo, but simply as it is a good example of what I'm trying to get across.

I was recently arguing with my sister about this subject, who believes that a game like Halo couldn't possibly have enough story to make a movie out of it. She's also very biased, and still strongly believe that videogames amount to absolutely nothing beyond looking pretty while you bust skulls all over the place in a digital escapist's fantasy. I tell her that Halo has a story to it, she denies its any good. Of course I couldn't just give her the basic rundown of Halo's plot, since she would simply dismiss it as a silly excuse to go shoot things. While that is true, part of the whole point of Halo is not only to go shooting things, but look at the story, and see why you're on a ring-world, shooting at aliens with big guns. I do explain to my sister that Halo actually has a great story to it. Most of it isn't in the game itself though. The games just tell a part of the story, the story from the Master Chief's perspective (or the Arbiter if you're playing Halo 2). There is an ongoing series of novels based on the world of Halo, and they are very well written science fiction novels. When you read the books, the games become more like a way to enter the world of Halo, and be a part of it. I tell this to my sister, she dismisses it, once again, as nothing but silly tripe that doesn't mean a damn thing.

This may or may not have to do with my bias as a gamer, but I think my sister is disillusioned. She just thinks nothing great can ever rise from a game. But there's more to it than just looking cool. Games are a form of art, just like movies, painting and sculpture, and the literature my sister so dearly praises. The art form is not in playing the game. That's not art, that's just playing a game. The art is in the game itself. The art is in what the developers did to make the game a collection of arts ranging from the visual aspects, the sounds and music, to the story and beyond.

Some games are made with the sole purpose of telling a story, or at least some games seem that way. Some of the Final Fantasy games tell good tales. Halo, again, is a good example of a game that is made to tell the story of the Spartan super-soldiers and their place in a war between Earth and the Covenant, which just happens to also be really fun to play.
Another good example would be in The Legend of Zelda series. Ever since the first game, Zelda has told many stories. Most of them, yes, are usually variations of one another, almost always revolving around the concept of a young boy who travels the world to save the princess Zelda from the evil hand of Ganon, but those stories are always very well made, and are one of the reasons I love the series so much.

Of course, ultimately most games have stories simply as a reason for why you do what you're doing in the games. But isn't that the whole point of a story in other forms of art? In movies, oftentimes the story is just a reason to make the movie. Snakes on a Plane was given a story as an excuse to have people attacked by snakes... on a plane. Titanic, the whole romance between what's-her-face and what's-his-name was just an excuse to make girls swoon over Leonardo Dicaprio while the ship hits an iceberg and sinks. In Harry Potter, both the books and the film, it seems the whole story of Harry Potter is an excuse (albeit a damned good one) to let kids fantasize a world of magic and wonder.

I'm not sure I'm making all the right points here... But what I'm trying to say is that is video games can tell a story just as well any movie or book. People, such as my sister, bring up that "If videogames can tell stories, why is it that almost every movie based on a game is terrible?" The answer is obvious. The people who made the movie suck at making movies. That's the most obvious answer. Though there is also the fact that some games really weren't suited to be movies, like Street Fighter or pretty much any game that Uwe Boll thought would be fit for the theaters (once again in the department of 'the people who made the movie suck at making movies').

Games can have some fantastic stories to them, serious stories, funny stories, sad stories, scary stories. You just have to let the game tell the story. I hope I made my point, and I do realize going on about something in a videogame on a gaming website is like preaching to the choir, but I post it here in the hopes that maybe someone can see this and tell it better than I can, or suggest how I may be able to tell it better.

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