Saturday, December 15, 2007

Superior Storytelling

I am fairly confident that stories have always been humanities #1 form of entertainment, and that is still true. If you look at the stuff we all do for fun most of them involve listening to stories (TV, Movies, Books, some music, theater, etc.) Over the past few months I have become convinced that video games are the single best way to tell a story. Since October I have played four games that completely convinced me of this. All four games took a different approach, but all four games were amazing storytellers. The story was not always one I liked, but I was always left amazed by the way the story was told. What follows is a brief explanation as to what made the story telling of these games great, and if you are a gamer there will be SPOILERS You've been warned.

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Bioshock used the video game device of the silent protagonist. The game is first person, and the character that the player controls never talks. The philosophy behind this is that the player is then the character. Unfortunately, this means that the story develops around the player and does not really include the player in a more powerful way. Bioshock tells a good story because it nails the setting. Bioshock takes place in a failed underwater utopia that was suppose to be the pinnacle of human development, but in a powerful statement the society destroyed itself. The game creates this world in such a way that is believable and more vivid than any book or movie could ever portray. Gameplay wise, the game is very linear. That is, the whole game is designed to get from point A to Point B. The genius of the story though is that it comes up with a deliciously sinister and twisted reason as to why this is the case (at least for the first 2/3 of the game). I won't say what that twist is because that would just be to much of a spoiler.

Call of Duty 4

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I like a good action movie. Usually in action movies the plot takes backseat to explosions, but in good action movies the plot is just as explosive as the effects. Call of Duty 4 is the best "action movie" that I have "watched." Seriously this takes all of the reasons that make movies like The Rock, Blackhawk Down, and other such movies awesome and makes it interactive. Typically first person shooter war games do not tell a true story. They are more or less a disjointed collection of sequential battles. However, COD4 tells a complete narrative, that is a little far fetched to be realistic, but is solid enough that the writers of the game should sell the script to Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. The strength of this game comes from the first person aspect. Imagine watching Blackhawk Down from the perspective of a single solider (minus the motion sickness that would be caused by a jerky camera), and you begin to get a good idea of how this game plays out.

Assassin's Creed
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In the end, I did not like the story of this game (let's just say if the watchdog groups that freaked out at the claims that the Davinci Code made about Jesus then their head would explode out of rage from what this game claims). However, I did very much appreciate the story telling of the game. The game tells the story a disgraced Medieval Assassin earning his honor back during the third crusade. However, the way the story told is really good because it develops in two different ways at the same time. Technically, the majority of the game set during the Crusade is just a memory, and this is not a medieval action game but a sci-fi game. The premise is that everyone genetically carries their ancestors memories, and a modern day bar tender is abducted because he holds memories that mysterious corporation wants. Thus the majority of the game is leading up to the key memory this corporation wants. As the game progresses in both the memory and the "real world" the story gets deeper and more tangled. Usually in open world action games like this one the game's story usually gets as deep as "kill the bad guys", but the plot of Assassin's Creed is more like something that Dan Brown might write.

Mass Effect

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I fear that I can not put into words just how incredible I think this game is. Well actually, I might. As far as the story and the universe the story takes place in, I consider Mass Effect only second to Star Wars. If you know how big of a fan I am of the Star Wars series, then you will realize just how big of a statement that is. The story telling in this game is amazing, because more than any other game I have played I was the main character. Everyone who plays Mass Effect plays "Commander Shepherd" but everyone's Shepherd is different. The choices you make about who your character is actually affect the narrative. The plot is also really good and straight up Space Opera, again only second to Star Wars. Where Mass Effect succeeded is, just like a great book, it actually made me care for the characters. If you like good stories, then quite simply you need to play Mass Effect.

These four games convinced me that video games are the most superior way to tell stories, because unlike any other form of storytelling the game is experiential. Video games are diverse, and there are tons of mindless racing games, annual sports release, and shallow game all about killing bad guys. However, I hope that more and more good stories become playable.


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