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Videogame Storytelling: Untouched
by Gonzalo Daniel on 01/19/10 09:45:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
Recently, I have made the inner reflection of what is that thing that makes me love video games, and I must say that is the way in which they deliver a message and are able to make the player a part of it in the whole process of the developing story.

Videogames have an edge over other media, a huge edge that is usually underestimaded or not seen at all with its potential, and that is why even though I have played through these huge Blockbuster games that are critically acclaimed everywhere , I dont like them at all or even get to hate.

So the question raises: What is this edge that videogames have over other media and how can it be fully exploited?

The first part of the answer is: Interactive storytelling. And for the second part I will have to elaborate a little more.

To not overstate the obvious, let me just mention how videogames provide a third experience over other media that are usually referred to to tell a story. We are used to watch movies, read books or maybe hear a tale, all these share something and is the one way direction the information goes, no matter what you do, the information you recieve is unchanged. So as for the first two ways to get the story, you use video and audio as your aids to get information, but videogames deliver a third, which is an input you can give to eventually recieve a coherent reaction to it.

In this part of reaction we can start referring to different levels of conciousness the player goes to for aid in the moment of solving a problem. Some of them are very instinctive, which require quick reactions and good reflexes (like an enemy suddenly appearing and success depending on how fast you react to shoot it), others go a little further and require you to analyze a context to achieve a goal (using a ladder to reach a high object) and finally a third in which emotions and feelings define the action (deciding the fate of a character).

The problem of games nowadays is that too many of them refer to the first two, forcing them to find new ways to challenge the mind in very basic levels, while other media (like movies) aim straight for the latter, making emotions involved all the way through the experience.

What videogames need is to focus more in touching the emotions of the player, so they can define themselves as a new genre equally or more deserving than other media. Some of them do this but its not a trend all games are moving to and there are good recent examples of right and wrong in this matter.

Mass Effect and accordingly most Bioware games are very focused on the story and its character development, and its this aspect that gives these games and edge to start tinkering with the emotions of the player, making it memorable all the way through. Characters are deep and very defined which helps the player get attached and eventually emotionally involved in the fate of each one of them, not to mention the huge effort that comes in creating a believable and exiting context.

Half Life 2 and its expansions work very hard in getting the player emotionally involved with a secondary character and through it with the plot in general. In this case the formula works very well since it doesnt have a single cutscene that takes away the control and still manages to tell the story focusing the attention of the player where something meaningful is happening. With this formula they manage to deliver a story and make work this deep part of consciusness of the player while at the same time the game goes by.

Bioshock is a game that starts in the correct way and somehow ends trying to do everything but acheiving none. Even though the storytelling tries to get you involved with the characters, they dont share with you enough to make you love or hate them, and the game doesnt allow you to change any aspects of them at all. You could basically turn off the sound and not look what they tell to you and still be able to beat through it. The context is great though, but it suffers from the lacks of the main plot.

Fallout 3 attempts a huge task, that is to get the player involved with an entire wasteland and its inhabitants, but the uncanny valley that appears between the player and the characters is too great to care about them, and even fuels the main theme of the game which is mass killing npc´s (even though there are consequences like karma) and the fate and reactions of the main characters (which are 2... by far) is untouched regardless of player actions.

In conclusion, there are great examples of how videogames as a genre can get to explore new ways of storytelling, opening the infinite options this offers, but so far most of them have remained on the calm and uninteresting waters of monotony.

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