Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Games as Art 3 - Game as Story

I’ve already talked previously about online games, which for most intents and purposes don’t really need a story - even an MMORPG like WoW doesn’t need the rich history that it has to be successful, it’s essentially just a nice bonus for those who are interested - but what about the other side of the coin? While I would hesitate to say that story based games are the antithesis of multiplayer online games they certainly are a polar opposite in terms of what kinds of content you might find and frankly expect.

I look at the recent examples of L.A. Noire and even Alan Wake to see games that are interested in telling a story that compels the player to move forward. It even allowed a feature that allows a player to bypass more action oriented parts of the game if they prove to be too frustrating in order to allow them to move forward with the plot. L.A. Noire might not have been perfect, but it is a step in an interesting direction, although hardly the first step.

L.A. Noire and Alan Wake are just the most recent permutations of a genre that really has tended to get ignored, unfairly so. I’m talking about adventure games: titles like Myst, and Day of the Tentacle. The point of these games were to submerge the player in a story, and reward the completion of tasks and puzzles with an ever deepening plot and the eventual payoff of a well earned resolution. In cases like these the writing was the draw, the reason to keep soldiering on even when that next puzzle was frustrating as all hell.

Some would say that this genre has been slowly fading away, and I tend to agree with them. However, I don’t think it’s a lost cause. Far from it, I think that what this genre needs is just one title that would make people sit-up again and pay attention. Especially prolific would be the fact that an adventure game more than any other genre might be the one place where the often touted morality system could really be used to full effect. Could you imagine say, the impact of a game that allowed a player to be subtly evil, or good, but with Byronic tendencies? Adventure games could lend themselves well to such a system, in that through additions and player feedback they could even be tweaked to allow for a greater and greater variety of choice. A story told through an open-world model that allows for a player to decide how they will progress and just how they want to be recognized within the story. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see just how long you could get away with being the real villain in a world that thinks you’re the hero, or to see how many people recognize the good you do over your own outward bastardness? I’d play a game like that in a heartbeat.

What it all boils down to is that games have been and can be used to convey a point. Perhaps it is a bit of a hard sell, but when it’s pulled off right - and there are enough successful games out there to prove it can be done - it’s something that can stand next to texts that are considered great pieces of literature, art through text, through story.

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