Video Games: Storytelling Innovators
Video games have developed into a great storytelling medium. While there are countless examples of innovative storytelling through the use of gaming, I’ve picked out a couple of mechanics that separate gaming from other popular media.
In games that rely on player choices to further the plot, the player often has to think about how other non-player characters will react to what’s going on. For example, in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the player constantly has to choose between making good choices (light side) and bad choices (dark side). While you still have to complete all of the areas in the game, the player experiences a different story progression, character interactions, and end game depending on whether they like to help or dominate their way across the galaxy. Some of your companions may even end up leaving your party if they don’t like the way you are acting. The branching story-line accomplished by reputation based decision making not only gives the player more power over the story, but also creates “replay value”; even thought you beat the game once, you only experienced one of many stories available.
A great deal of modern video games allow for the player to customize their avatar, the character they control in game. Your personal avatar is your digital self, behaving and acting in a digital environment based solely on your decisions. People actually like customizing their digital appearance so much that they pay an inordinate amount of money to play online games (this man claims to have spent $357.38 on DOTA 2, a free-to-play online game: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/08/20/dote-night/).
While avatars can provide a more personal connection between the player and their digital character, certain games allow for specialized character attributes which can completely change your story-line or game-play. In Dragon Age: Origins, the choices you make during your character creation process determine your class, gender, race/species, and background. Class determines your gameplay, so you’ll either use swords, magic, or bows the whole game. Gender determines your romance options and modifies certain dialouge. Race and background are linked in that the first part of the game will be different depending on if you are a dwarf, elf, or human and each of those races has multiple social statuses. The complexity of this character creation once again creates replay value as modifying any of those choices would provide a new gaming/story experience. The avatar is also made to be more important to the player as they had to put some effort into creating this unique digital person.
Video games often have side quests, optional goals, and non-important items throughout the game that many people don’t even bother with. This optional content is one of the greatest innovations of the gaming medium. When reading a book or watching a movie, one generally cannot skip chapters or scenes without becoming utterly confused as to what’s going on. When a game gives you optional content, you can either focus on the main task at hand, or you can play around and learn about the world you are in. A good example of optional game-play can be found in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Not only does this game have more side quests than actual main storyline, but there are items laying around everywhere in the world which you can interact with. So while you could just play the main story and close the hell-portals, you could also become head of a guild, craft your own weapons, buy a house, or even read books.
So while not everyone has the patience to grind through an entire digital world, video games provide the innovation of optional content. The side content may be rewarding (I personally loved being a bounty hunter in KOTOR), but the story can go on fine without it.