How Games Are Changing The Way We Tell Stories

It’s no secret that games are a monster in the entertainment industry nowadays, making even more money than the film industry annually. eSports are also broadcast on TV, which is actually crazy. And with such success, it was inevitable that criticism would begin to emerge.

The gamer community has always been treated with a certain prejudice, considered childish by some and “addicted” by others. Recently, there were even news on TV and websites talking about the potential danger of games that might be recognized as an addiction that should be treated.

Considering all of that, the first connection I make is with the TV boom in the last century. Children who spent the day in front of televisions were considered addicts in a proportion similar to what happens with the gamer community nowadays. However, there’s one crucial difference here: what most televisions showed was crap, including tons of commercials, biased news and silly programs. While what games do is immerse the player into different worlds, tell stories and even teach.

In recent times, we’re having increasingly immersive games and plots that are a lot better than many Hollywood movies. Bioshock, The Last of Us, Beyond Two Souls, Quantum Break, Life is Strange, Telltale’s The Walking Dead series… and that’s just a few. And what about Assassin’s Creed? With a little discernment between fantasy and reality, a young player can learn History while venturing through ancient scenarios. And with the virtual reality, we tend to have more and more immersion.

I remember when I played the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, the Point and Click system added to the partial free will given to the player took me into the story in a way that no book or movie had ever done before. I was in love with little Clementine and her relationship with Lee throughout the story, always with the option of interfering in the dialogues and making my own choices as the story progressed. Then, when the end came, everything that happened was so shocking that the tears are still running from my eyes.

Another game with a similar vibe was The Last Of Us. It doesn’t share the Point and Click system of Telltale’s game, but has a well-constructed storyline and well-developed characters. Few works, even within literature, have as much emotional appeal as The Last Of Us. We’ve got a prologue in which a father, Joel, and his daughter, Sarah, try to flee during an outbreak caused by a still unknown disease which is turning humans into cannibals. During the escape, Sarah is shot by a soldier and dies in her father’s arms. Twenty years later, we find an embittered Joel who has to take a little girl named Ellie out of town, with whom he gradually creates a father-daughter relationship.

Besides the outstanding characters, what also draws attention in the game is its narrative structure divided into four acts referring to the four seasons. Each of the seasons ends in a shocking way, my favorite ending being Winter, in which Joel is sick from an injury and Ellie needs to take care of him. She ends up stuck in a community of cannibals and eventually needs to face David, the guy who had put her in there. The tension in the scene is built masterfully, reaching the apex when Ellie reaches a machete and kills the man with repeated blows on the face. Soon after, Joel arrives and holds Ellie in his arms as she cries. And that’s the scene that brings us the proof of how far Joel’s love for Ellie came by calling her “Baby Girl,” the same way he used to call his deceased daughter.

I get excited everytime I think about this scene.

The end of The Last Of Us is also the proof of how shocking the games can be, approaching moral relativism and hitting the player with the acts of Joel in the name of the love that he feels for Ellie, who ended up as kind of a substitute for Sarah.

Speaking of shocking endings, we can’t forget Life Is Strange. Some time ago, I asked on Facebook what was the most emotional story that people had ever seen, whether in literature, movies or games. I wasn’t surprised when Life Is Strange was quoted by the majority.

The game follows the Point and Click style, giving choices to the player that interfere in the direction of the narrative. The story shows us Max, a girl who gains the ability to go back in time and has the opportunity to save the life of her ex-friend, Chloe, from whom she became distant over the years. Their relationship is developed in the middle of secondary conflicts that permeate the adolescence, dealing with themes such as love, drugs and suicide. But the more the protagonist acts to change the past, the more dangerous these changes become thanks to the Butterfly Effect.

At first, Life Is Strange may seem like just another cliché story of time travel, but the triumph here is the same of The Last Of Us: the character development. Chloe and Max’s relationship is so well explored that in the end we just don’t know what to do. This is because the protagonist’s changes have reached a critical level and the entire city of Arcadia Bay can be destroyed by the Butterfly Effect. And it’s with this background, with Max looking at Chloe, that we are confronted by the only two options that appear on the screen: sacrifice Chloe or sacrifice Arcadia Bay.

And I didn’t even mention the soundtrack of Life Is Strange, capable of causing a deep existential emptiness in anyone.

The gaming industry, however, is going even beyond the shocking stories and reaching intellectual fields through games like Bioshock, which talks about themes ranging from ideological fanaticism to the danger of dictatorial regimes. And if there’s a lack of emotion for you here, don’t worry, because we have Booker and Elizabeth, two characters who also develop a paternal relationship throughout the narrative.

Thinking about all this, we can see that the gaming industry has renewed storytelling by using cinematic scenarios and the game’s main feature: the interactivity that makes us connect with the characters and the story itself in a way that literature and cinema will never be able to.

Regardless of the mass media’s hate against the gamer community, the gaming industry is here and growing. Games continue to evolve and revolutionize storytelling.

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Read my short stories here.

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9 thoughts on “How Games Are Changing The Way We Tell Stories

  1. I do agree that the most creative new avenues of storytelling now are being pioneered by video games, but I would argue that it’s more in spite of the AAA industry’s efforts than because of them. The medium’s storytelling is at its best when it’s forging an entirely new path as opposed to following the road films have already traveled several times over. At the end of the day, when I think of good video game storytelling, I am far more likely to cite games like OneShot, Undertale, and Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors than BioShock, The Last of Us, or Beyond: Two Souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Plus television is just passive entertainment whereas in gaming you are constantly being proactive, making decisions, strategizing and much more, especially in eSports like league of legends, Dota, cod. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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