Storytelling in Video Games

I used to hold the opinion that video games couldn’t be considered an art form. This was in part because it resembled nothing close to traditional art, and also because I liked video games, and I figured a teenager with minimal life experience’s opinion on anything was probably wrong. Naturally, I was wrong. Video games are capable of telling intricate, detailed, and engaging stories, and what’s more, the stories are often interactive in a way that even actors at the Globe Theater can’t reproduce. Not all video games are art, but they certainly have the potential to be. Below are some of the video games I’ve played whose stories have impacted me just as significantly as any book I’ve ever read.

1) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR)

Just before one of the greatest reveals in video game history: Darth Revan removes his mask.
Just before one of the greatest reveals in video game history: Darth Revan removes his mask.

This was the video game that got me into gaming in the first place. It’s an RPG, or roleplaying game, meaning that the character you play as in-game makes choices (often through dialogue/action) that influences the outcome of the story. KOTOR had everything: great story, great voice acting, fantastic companions to accompany you as you journeyed across the galaxy. You begin play as a Republic soldier  who has to rescue a Jedi, only to discover soon after that you have the potential to become one yourself. Moreover, you also find a clue that may lead to the downfall of the galaxy’s current Sith Lord. Playing through the game is essentially like watching a Star Wars film where you were the protagonist. Maybe the twist near the end was predictable, but when I first played through it at the tender age of 11ish, it blew me away.

2) Braid

Pictured here: Tim, the game's daring protagonist.
Pictured here: Tim, the game’s daring protagonist.

Braid is a platform/puzzle game, meaning that it’s 2-dimensional and that the player must solve puzzles in order to proceed, rather than simply shooting/slashing at obstacles as is common in other types of games. The story unfolds as Tim, pictured above, navigates through the world to rescue the princess from a monster. Text passages laid throughout the game reveal a multifaceted narrative, giving clues about Tim’s contemplations and motivations. As much as I would like to rave about how cool the game mechanics are, I’ll limit this to the story. Suffice it to say that by the end, the standard “Mario rescues Peach” story is turned on its head, and the passages of text present throughout tell a different story. The game’s ending is purposely ambiguous, but one popular theory is based on the inclusion of a hidden event and the famous quotation stated by Kenneth Bainbridge after the detonation of the first atomic bomb: “Now we are all sons of bitches.” The theory basically states that the princess represents the atomic bomb and Tim is a scientist involved in its development.

3) Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/Frozen Throne

The transformation of Arthas Menethil into the dreaded Lich King. Such character development!
The transformation of Arthas Menethil into the dreaded Lich King. Character development much?

This particular Warcraft game is an RTS, or Real-Time Strategy game, meaning that it is basically played by building/maintaining an economy with which to build an army so as to destroy the enemy. In this game, we see the fall of Prince Arthas Menethil from gallant paladin to commander of the undead legions. We see him betray his mentor, murder his father, and become the very thing that he had hoped to save his people from. The Warcraft lore was so immersive that it spawned the famous World of Warcraft, a game designed so that players could create heroes within the existing story to forge their own legends.

4) Dungeons & Dragons

OK, technically this one isn’t a video game, so I don’t have a good picture to present with it. But Dungeons & Dragons inspired many RPG-style video games because in a way, it was the first. Often dismissed as an incredibly nerdy thing (which it is), Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game, which means that players gather together to essentially craft a story together, one that each of them is personally invested in making spectacular. I have played the game as both a player and as a Dungeon Master (DM, chief storyteller, if you will), and both can be incredibly rewarding. As a player, you can watch your character develop in countless ways you never imagined when it was first born in your head, and as a DM, you can take immense satisfaction from the fact that people have become invested in a world/story that you have poured hours of effort into.

In short, I hope that I’ve made my case sufficiently. Games can be good art, and good story. I hope that like graphic novels and comics, they one day are considered as highly as more traditional fare.


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