Written by Joseph
I like to play video games. I play quite a few different genres, and I prefer science fiction and fantasy. But I have pretty much one rule for whether I’ll enjoy a game or not — it has to have a good story.
As a creative writer I suppose I have some kind of storylust, some instinctive need to seek out compelling tales. Some of my favourite video games are hugely story based; I love Dragon Age and Mass Effect. And one of my favourite genres is the ‘interactive story’ type of games, which have recently seen a surge in popularity. I’m talking about the choose-your-own adventure type of things here, like Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and DontNod’s Life is Strange. I find these games have more unique and gripping stories than many other traditional titles, and even the action often offers more excitement.
I bought Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us in the Steam summer sale the other day (oh, my poor wallet!) and I played it from start to finish today. It lacked some of the heart-wrenchery of The Walking Dead, but I was surprised by how fast my pulse raced during the action scenes. Many games have dialogue-based choices that affect the plot, but it’s rare to see a story where missing a punch can result in the entire story taking a new turn. I was pleased that the climax (minor spoilers here) was a battle of dialogue rather than fists (or in Bigby Wolf’s case, claws), and it’s so satisfying to win by crafting a brilliant argument when you know the whole plot might be for nothing if you lose.
With the rest of my day I played another game, one of my favourites ever, which reminded me why I love videogames as a storytelling medium almost as much as I love books. The Stanley Parable is a triumph of player choice in video games, highlighting the expectation — the ‘real story’ — and contrasting it with the player’s freedom to do whatever they please. The Narrator, fantastically acted by Kevan Brighting, narrates, berates and conflates Stanley’s story, sometimes playing omnipotent god, sometimes playing a crying, bumbling fool. The whole premise of the story is summed up in one of the first rooms you encounter. A blank room with two doors, the narrator says ‘Faced with two doors, Stanley went through the door on the left.’ The brilliance of this is that you of course have the choice to either do as he says, or disobey and take the right door.
And this is what I love about stories in games — you can explore metanarratives and branching stories in a way you could never do in text form. Games can have brilliant stories, but the player can stand still, letting their immortal character languish in some hellish purgatory. You can make a story where there isn’t one, or ignore the story that’s given to you. There’s a reason novels and text-stories remain popular, but I think we don’t give enough credit to new media forms of storytelling, especially when they can bring us so many innovative ways to tell our tales.
Thanks for reading