Being a writer, I am extremely interested in all forms of storytelling. I have always been an avid reader. And while I do occasionally enjoy the all action, no plot Bruckheimeresque type of movie experience, my favorites are often those with solid stories at their foundations. Recently, animation has climbed my list of exciting vehicles for the telling of new tales. However, I have come to realize that videogames have the potential to claim the top prize as the ultimate medium in which to tell a story.
I would proffer the idea that most people believe books to be the epitome of storytelling; for good or ill, a writer or novelist can cram a book with every available description and detail. The reader can receive in-depth accounts of any and all written facets, as well as profound explanations covering the thoughts of every character. With this omniscient viewpoint, an inventive and talented writer can completely flesh out a convincing story.
Movies, especially those based on books, must usually sacrifice certain developmental elements in order to fit into a desired timeframe. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy tried to stretch movie time restraints to incorporate as much of the (original novel’s) story as possible. And for me, as one who has read Tolkien’s books, it is still absolutely amazing how much narrative complexity was missing from Jackson’s final celluloid product. But movies have the power – for better of worse – to visually realize that which previously only existed in imagination, and, when it’s well crafted, this movie imagery enhances the overall quality of the story. And because of this (using the movie adaptations of LOTR as an example again), I will forever envision, to my own satisfaction, Viggo Mortenson as the Ranger, Aragorn, and Weta Workshop’s digital representation of Gollum when I read the books.
Videogames can synthesize the storytelling advantages from both books and movies. In terms of effective narrative portrayal, they have the potential to reach a depth approaching that of books. Many games promote their staggering amount of gameplay: The EB Games website product pages for two recent GameCube RPGs, Baten Kaitos and Tales of Symphonia claim 60 hours and 80 hours of gameplay respectively. Though I’m a self-confessed slow reader, I could probably finish the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less than 80 hours of reading time. With the possibility of games holding such staggering longevity, developers have the opportunity to imbue their games with an incredibly detailed storyline.
Videogames can also capture the visual capabilities of movies. As gaming systems become steadily more powerful, the game world in turn becomes more immersion friendly. Characters can now look and behave as the player might imagine they would if they existed in a real world. Talented voice actors breathe further life and personality into the characters on the screen, too. Environments are more realistic, incorporating dynamic lighting effects and ambient sounds. Improvements in character control allow the player to better interact with the onscreen avatar, almost as if the player were consciously performing certain actions him (or her) self.
This element of control provides videogames with the method of taking storytelling to the next logical level. Videogames allow the player to take an active part in the unfolding of the story; and in some cases the player controls more than one character during the story’s telling. You can take the role of a single character as with the forever lone-wolf bounty hunter Samus Aran in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Or, you can choose a team from a variety of participants as in X-Men Legends. Usually, the game directs the player throughout the story arc, with few chances for deviation; it is the player’s responsibility for the well-being of their avatar and perhaps some NPC companions along the way. With increases in technology, however, more advanced story and character development is now possible. More recent games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Fable allow the player to make choices that will affect, not only the course of the story, but their character’s appearance, personality, and evolution.
And then there are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). These games provide the prerequisite environment for the story and the player provides the evolving character. Most MMORPGs allow for an impressive degree of customization to make the avatar feel as though it’s truly your own creation. The story has the potential to be a lot more open-ended, and other players get to portray their chosen characters, too. With MMORPGs, the opportunity exists for many gamers to work together and advance the story as a community.
Neither books nor movies currently allow their participants this level of interaction. As much fun as the Choose your own Adventure novels were, they did not involve a whole lot of reader defined choice when it came to the story. After turning to the page where they were brutally killed, readers simply had to go back and make the