The Future of Writing: Video Games
We are now living in the Technological Revolution, a time period in which technology is growing at an exponential rate, and as a result our culture and society is evolving at the same rate. This begs many questions as to what will become of society and what will the daily life we know today look like in the future. For example, what will happen to the art of writing and storytelling? The answer: video games. As gaming is becoming more popular and more advanced, developers have been incorporating more flourished narratives for players to experience. But even without society becoming more and more electronically based, video games still hold unique qualities that take story telling to a whole new level.
Psychology in Gaming
A major factor that sets gaming apart from other forms of narrative is the act of immersing player into the content and breaking the fourth wall. The “fourth wall” is a term meaning that a story directs its attention to its audience, such as when characters look at the camera in a movie like they are looking at the viewers or when a narrator addresses whoever is reading or watching their story unfold. Games don’t just address the audience, they make the audience play as a character and have that character play through the story, thus making the player go through the story themselves. This shifts the experience from watching or reading someone else navigate a story to navigating the story themselves, making the mentality be “I” am doing something rather than “they” are doing something. This is a heavy factor in emotionally tense games and choice-based games.
We all know the horror movie cliché of someone going into the basement because they heard a noise and everyone in the audience simultaneously thinks “I wouldn’t go down there, Becky here is just being dumb”. But a video game has the ability to force its players to do just that. Go into the basement if you want the game to progress. And there you have the difference of watching someone else do something scary and thinking “great, now I have to go down there”. This intensifies the experience over a movie where you feel more distant from whatever lurks in the shadows. To add to the experience, a gamer knows they have to act in response to whatever happens next. They have to be on their toes and do what they can to survive. This immerses the player even more into the game and builds even more suspense as the player feels that they will be attacked and their survival is on the line.
Choice-based games are games in which the player has to make decisions, ranging from small, inconsequential choices to shaping the course of the game’s narrative based on the actions you take. There are many games with multiple stories or endings that the game get directed toward based on how you play the game. Until Dawn, a survival-horror and choice-based title, explores this with the theme of the butterfly effect, which is when one decision changes what will happen down the road through cause-and-effect, changing the outcome of the narrative. Who lives and who dies is up to you, the player, and sometimes the game gives you difficult decisions to make. The image below is one of the first choices the game gives you. You are hanging off a cliff by one hand and clutching your twin sister with the other, do you willingly kill her to save yourself or fall to your doom? The key here is that you have to be the one to choose, to click the button and determine her fate. Spoiler alert: you both die anyways, so if you dropped your sister you might have some guilt. And to make things even more tense, the game makes you choose in a matter of seconds, forcing the player to push the narrative further.
Another style of choice-based games are those in which you can customize the details of the game, individualizing the experience. One of the most classic games of this category is the Sims, a game that is entirely based on creating a life for your avatar and deciding how their life progresses. Who will they marry? What will their house look like? Will you give them a pool and then take away the ladder so they have no way out? Other games, such a Skyrim, a medieval fantasy known for its open world, are so vast in detail of the world it’s set in that beyond the main story line of stopping an evil dragon from taking over the world you can customize the rest of the game to your desire. You can choose what species your character is, what type of powers you’ll develop, and even which side of the civil war to support. In the case of Skyrim the overarching story doesn’t get altered much based on your actions but you can change all the fine details as you wish.
Examples of Different Writing Styles in Games
There are many ways in which video games have implemented well written stories and enjoyable content for its viewers. The use of breath-taking visuals and cinematography has already started to be implemented into titles and enhanced the gaming experience. With cut-scenes (when the game-play stops for a scene to show) developers can take the opportunity to add cinematic value by choosing what is or is not in the shot or what the characters do in relation to the story. As programming evolves, developers are finding new ways to add different visuals to their titles. Any art style that can be designed through a computer has the potential to be played through in a game.
Many titles take advantage of the interactive element of gaming to enhance the experience they provide. Open world games have hidden content that can be found through exploring the game. For example, in Skyrim there are dozens of books scattered throughout the land, in libraries and on people’s tables, in which you can pick up and read. You can also find notes, letters, or talk to other characters who have their own preset story you can listen to. There is so much hidden content and side quests within Skyrim that the gaming community doesn’t see just finishing the main story line as completing the game. It is estimated that it would take the average player over 300 hours to beat every mission and max out a character’s rank. That’s a lot of writing to go into one game.
Another series, Child of Light, has a unique take of narrative telling. The whole story, from the narration to the dialog spoken by characters, is written in iambic pentameter. In other words, this game is one long poem, designed with rhyme and meter. It also uses watercolor styled art to add visual appeal and create beautiful landscapes to explore. These elements serve as a great example of how poetry and different styles of art can be implemented into the gaming genre.
There are numerous other ways developers have found to tell their stories. In Her Story the game is comprised solely of video files and the player has to find and watch the videos to complete the story in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. The Half-Life and Portal series are known for having no cut-scenes in their play-through so that it seems like the characters in the game are talking directly to the player rather than just the person they are playing as. Other elements that have enhanced a game’s narrative are visual art (as seen in Child of Light, the Final Fantasy series, and Okami) and amazing soundtracks (as seen in Kingdom Hearts, Life is Strange, and Ori and the Blind Forest).
Virtual Reality: The Game Changer
But one of the biggest factors to keep in mind when thinking about the future of writing and its relation to video games is the aforementioned development of technology. Virtual reality equipment is already on the market, particularly for gaming. As this kind of gear becomes more advanced and more popular, gaming will become more focused on bringing the player into the game as it literally can. This will both enhance the experience of playing as well as change how developers will think about how their audience interacts with their content. It brings a whole new level of an audience’s point of view into factoring how a game will affect those who pick up the controller. It will also open up more possibilities for the entertainment industry as a whole and therefore more media will progress towards gameplay so it can add that virtual reality effect. An example of how this technology is theorized to effect society is seen in Ernest Cline’s book Ready Player One. In this dystopian novel everyone in society lives the majority of their lives in virtual reality. It’s where they go to school, do business, and ignore whatever reality they don’t have to face, because in the virtual world anything can be simulated and anyone can live through the actions of their avatar without physical dangers or limitations.
Gaming is no longer just a venue for Adrenalin-filled game play and addicting puzzles, it’s become cinematic, thought-provoking, and emotionally charged. Many gamers will talk about how they cried while playing The Last of Us or were scared out of their minds during Silent Hills P.T. All the titles mentioned are critically acclaimed and were designed by brilliant writers that knew how to use the video game format to convey an incredible experience. In 2008, the Writer’s Guild of America added video games as an officially recognized subject in which awards for writing can be achieved, marking how recognized writing in games already is. As technology grows and people become more engrossed in interactive entertainment the video game industry will dominate as a literary platform.
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