One Upon a time…in a video game far far away
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Stan and I have been an English teacher for 4 years. Before that I studied English Literature at University. You can probably tell I am a huge fan of stories – from Dickens to ‘Star Wars’! People often mocked my view that video games had some of the greatest stories ever written…I want to explore that issue in this article.
I know for many gamers aspects such as graphics, or online play mean a lot to them. For me it’s all about the narrative. The narrative makes me care about who I am, the characters around me, even the world around me. If I am a faceless no-one why should I care that I have just been shot and have to respawn? For example: knowing I missed the jump and seeing Lara Croft fall to her death (with the horrifying image of spikes impaling her) is much more significant to me than my Stormtrooper in ‘Star Wars Battlefront’ being shot. To me his death just doesn’t matter. He could just be an Action film extra we completely forget. I have no emotional investment in this nameless Stormtrooper…
Are stories in video games a dying art?
Let’s use ‘Star Wars Battlefront’ as an example again. You have one of the greatest stories ever told: a simple tale of good versus evil. Yet it was decided that this game doesn’t need a storymode! This is more than just ignoring a certain section of a video game fanbase, this is deciding to shun the epic tale created in ‘Star Wars’ to only create a game that focuses on repetitive online gaming. Remember the brilliant storymode in ‘Star Wars Battlefront 2’ where you actually saw the emotions from the Stormtroopers before and after the famous ‘Order 66’. I found that captivating, and a reason to play on. I guess JJ Abrams did too as he created a whole film based on uncovering the person underneath the Stormtrooper helmet.
As a child my favourite game was ‘Ocarina of Time’. I remember wanting to buy every single magazine that had anything to do
with ‘Zelda’! As soon Link woke up and walked out to Kokiri Forest I was hooked. I loved every character, adored the fun environment, but most importantly I was captivated the by the story. Again a simple tale of good versus evil. I guess you could compare my love of ‘Zelda’ to the fandom created by ‘Harry Potter’. Children and teenagers alike were completely in awe of the simple boy who became something special. In a very similar way to Link we followed Harry, learnt with him, were shocked with him, and most of all we felt with him.
Each story is a simple good versus evil, so why do video games now seem to want to shun this?
The Good versus the Evil in the Video Game Industry
Replay-ability…longevity…profit. These three attributes have really become important in recent years. Developers seem to want to make a game that we can play for years, and a game that we will always sink some of our money into. This is where online gaming really comes in…
Let’s look at ‘Destiny’ for example. Again a game of good versus evil. However Bunjie and Activision wanted their players to constantly be coming back to their game. Many updates later and the online multiplayer has completely evolved from what it once was. This makes us want to keep coming back as there’s something new, something else for us to play for a while, and something else for us to spend our money on…I guess this must be more effective than adding new storylines and compelling missions as many games have followed this suit. Look at ‘Grand Theft Auto 5’ for example.
Is there a Happily Ever After for Video Game Storytelling?
I’m sure there will always be a place for a story-driven game, but they seem to have become more and more rare. Online gaming has changed everything, and it’s here to stay. When I was younger my mates and I would always discuss how much we wanted to challenge the Elite Four, or how we wanted Link to grow older. Now as a teacher of teenagers all I seem to hear is: “I beat him 5-0 on Fifa” or “yeah that head-shot I got was awesome”.
Have the golden days of storytelling in video games been and gone? What do you think? Leave a comment and have your say!
Written by Stan Cohen