I’m part of what I hope is not a dying breed: People who love reading.
I’m not one of those purists who has to use paper, even though I don’t own an e-reader myself. Books have the fantastic ability to broaden the mind while still being entertaining. It strengthens those imagination muscles and, as Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Books allow some freedom while reading them. No matter how descriptive the author is, there’s always room for interpretation. Scenes play out in one’s head and it’s up to the readers to paint their own picture of how exactly the actions play out.
This is part of the reason that when a well-known book is adapted into a movie, there will always be those who are disappointed with the result. Even my favorite film adaptation, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has parts I didn’t picture while reading the books, and even has pieces missing.
That’s not to say that film is weaker for creative storytelling. Far from it.
If anything, film allows for a more detailed, finely-crafted tale. Now, the author (I.e. the director) can purposefully manipulate and detail each aspect of the work. The style, the characters, the words, the backgrounds, every aspect of a movie can be controlled.
Certainly this takes some freedom and control over the story from the audience, but at the same time the director can now create a story that’s crafted so much more precisely. Obviously not every movie is a work of art. However, each picture at 24 frames per second can show so much more than a writer could describe using pages of text.
Again that’s not an implication that movie’s are a better method of storytelling, just a different one.
Which brings us, in a round-about sort of way, to the point of interest—video games.
Video game stories, like those of comic books, have been derided for being simple, badly written, immature and even sexist. While I can’t speak for comics—not a heavy reader myself—I can say that in the last few years video games have developed as a medium beyond those simplistic generalizations.
Pointing at the latest game in the Call of Duty franchise as an example of poor video game writing is tantamount to saying that movies have no creative value based on a Michael Bay film.
Instead, take a look at games like Journey or LIMBO, which know how to pull players into an engaging world without a single spoken word or line of text. The atmosphere and exploration are enough to entangle the player’s interest, and the imagination takes care of the rest.
Or examine one of last year’s best games, Bastion. Using a single narrator, finely tuned story and an opening mystery, one which slowly unravels over the course of the game, it manages to create a full and believable world and amazing characters that draw you in. Throughout the game only one person speaks to the player, but by the end of the game I felt like I knew every character for who they truly were.
This is the true beauty of telling a story through an interactive medium: The creator can finely craft a unique story just as he or she wants, and also give the audience the ability to make that story their own personal experience.
It bypasses both of the issues books and film contain.
Games can also do things neither of the others can, such as choice. Games like Mass Effect or The Walking Dead offer players the chance to make their story all the more personal with choices at key points throughout the narrative. The player becomes both the audience as well as the storyteller.
Video game story writing isn’t always at the level of films and books, but it’s getting there, and getting there fast. While I’ll still always enjoy books and movies, I’m looking to video games to provide the innovation that will take storytelling to new heights.