Narrative in Gaming *SPOILERS*
WARNING: Spoilers inside for the Harry Potter Series, you have been WARNED!
I have talked before about RPG’s in general, but today I wanted to focus on narrative. Oftentimes some of the biggest games in the industry fall short on narrative – a game can have amazing game-play (graphics, responsive controls, good entertaining systems of stuff to do, etc) but a narrative is integral to the overall experience. Oftentimes we will have a blockbuster game, that has the appearance of being incredible – but falls off when the story is disjointed, the writing is bad, or you cannot get attached to the main character.
Sports and fighting games (mostly) don’t fall into this piece, so try not to think about them. As I wrote before, I grew up playing Final Fantasy 7 and Resident Evil 2 – these were probably the first games I thoroughly enjoyed at the ripe young age of 10, when I was just beginning to read novels (Goosebumps, haha) and understand you could tell a story through something you could tangibly read or experience.
I think most of my generation that really loved Final Fantasy 7 probably falls into this same category, if you look back on the pedigree of Squaresoft (Square Enix, *blegh*) you will realize they have been making story-centric Final Fantasy games for years beforehand, it just so happens FF7 was a huge push game for the PlayStation 1, which for people around my age, the timing was ripe. Ask anyone who played FF7 as one of their first games/rpgs and you will most unanimously get a response of, “That’s the greatest game of all time.” but that’s just because the story and its’ nostalgia to us.
Gaming is a unique medium. You take on the role of an individual, or individuals in some cases – and tackle a major problem in a world handcrafted by a team of people. Whereas in a book or movie, you see sets of characters, or follow multiple views – to keep the viewer entertained and on the edge of their seat. Gaming generally doesn’t follow this cliche, and with some exceptions these days (GTA5 for example) we follow one protagonist and his journey/story through this world. You’re probably thinking, “Well how can this be advantageous?” – well this is one of gaming’s strongest points and I’ll explain it to you. Time investment, and personalized character growth.
When you take on the role of one person and their friends, you grow as that one person. You experience their tale through their eyes. It almost feels like you become him/her, and you are the one having their conversations with other characters (NPCs – Non-playable Characters). This creates a depth of ownership, not really achievable by a lot of other mediums – Books can do this too, but in a book you are having a mental-visual experience, whereas in gaming you can have this visual experience, and also tailor it to your own choices.
Time investment? What does that even mean? You literally become emotionally connected to your protagonist, to the point that when bad things happen to them, you feel them yourself emotionally. That sounds crazy you say? It happens to everyone, everyday. Think about Harry Potter and his journey to destroying Voldemort. How you felt when Hedwig died, and all his friends are going through their individual turmoils. Imagine if you will you could experience Harry’s journey (Oh god I wish this would happen already) but instead of a set events happening in the sequence they were written – you become Harry. You get to experience Harry’s life at Hogwarts, you are the one going around and talking to who you want to, forging relationships you want to. Maybe you didn’t like Ron Weasley (I know, this is REALLY hypothetical) , in a novel, you’re stuck with him. In gaming they have the ability to let you choose what you want to do. I know if I were playing Harry in a video game, I would take Hermione and Luna Lovegood as companions with me – because I liked Luna so much more as a character. In gaming something like this is possible, and this is not achievable in static media.
Surely with the previous example you see the positives gaming can bring as a medium. Imagine again if you will, experiencing Harry Potter as a video game instead of a novel. Developers give you so many choices and system these days, you would be absolutely shocked (especially if you have not interested yourself in gaming at all) with just how much the storytelling industry has evolved as a whole. While you can’t have infinite choices, it is currently within technological power to give you a self-tailored experience through sets amount of choices. Could you imagine that instead of watching Snape killed at the hands Voldemort, you chose to engage and try to save him? A lot of you are probably thinking, “Harry Potter is what it is, because of how the story was laid out.” And you’re right. Everything in Harry Potter happened for an exact reason to tell that story as a whole – but there are a lot of things in there that can change or be altered from a gaming centered experience, and still achieve the same ending (or hell, multiple endings in the world of gaming – it’s possible that in a gaming medium Harry could join Voldemort and rule the wizarding world with him) but giving you the emotional attachment of a self-tailored, self-created experience.
Closing this out I want to mention probably one of the best, “no game plays the same way twice” game right now, and that’s Detroit: Become Human. I watched my girlfriend play this game, almost start to finish, and when she finished it, as a non-gamer she said, “I want to play this again and see the different way it could have played out.” Don’t you, as the reader see the value in that? Google Detroit: Become Human if you don’t want to play it – literally they are quoted, and this is true, as saying the game can end in over 1000 different combinations. Could you for a moment visual if a book you read could play out differently 1000 different times. Or a blockbuster you watched could play out differently 1000 times? The infinite possibilities of gaming as a medium is unique to it, and if you aren’t exposing yourself to it or experiencing it because you think it’s a “child’s hobby” you are missing out on one of life’s better entertainment outlets.