I think that video games are an incredible vehicle for storytelling. They are often overlooked by outsiders as juvenile, violent, or wastes of time. Well, yes… they definitely are a lot of times. However, you can’t discount the value of an entire artistic form or method of storytelling just because some stories are done poorly.
I’d like to share a couple examples of extraordinary storytelling that I’ve seen in video gaming and how I think they are the future.
That Dragon Cancer
I heard about the video game That Dragon Cancer first from Wired’s amazing story “A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make The Most Profound Videogame Ever.”
I then heard about it on one of my favorite podcasts, Reply All. Their episode, “The Cathedral,” was one of the best podcast episodes of any show I’ve ever listened to.
If you have time, I would recommend doing both. I was moved to tears by them both.
Ryan Green decided to make a video game about his son’s battle with cancer. Green’s intention with the game was to help others feel in a very real way, the pain and desperation that one feels in this battle. The game seeks to put players in Green’s shoes while living through specific moments of Joel’s journey.
Video games like this give me hope for an immersive experience that will foster empathy within the player. Imagine the barriers we could penetrate by putting people into situations where they can experience life from another’s perspective. While movies and books work well in this regard, the are absent of choice. As players in this example use their choice and controller to try and stop the cancer, they ultimately realize that there is nothing that they can do. By making choice and realizing effort, they become invested in the story on an emotional level.
There are two things that I find most surprising about Journey and that I hope will shift the future of video gaming. Journey is first of all a short video game. It’s intended to be. This way you can revisit the game as an experience. You are invited to play through it multiple times.
The second aspect that I’m intrigued by is the therapeutic nature of the game. From the visuals to the music, the game is built to provide an escape that’s meant to uplift.
Many gamers play to escape their reality. They get to be knights that conquer things and hardcore soldiers, but when the game console switches off, they lose that high. Games like Journey seem like the soul-soothing achievement of just exploring and making progress towards a single end will translate emotionally to the player.
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery
When I was playing Sword & Sworcery on my iPhone I wasn’t sure what the point was. But that’s what I loved about it. I was just exploring. I was tapping on object, meandering around a village, and enjoying the clever dialogue.
The game was beautiful and it was something I had to kind of step into. I couldn’t just tackle a level or two on a lunch break. I had to find time to sit down, zone out, and just play through it. There were moments where I was asked to Tweet out certain phrases, items and menus that were sparsely used, and the story was told in almost a meta format with the player being acknowledged by the narrator. It stepped out of just a video game and became slightly entangled with my digital life.
In a time when iOS gaming is limited to mostly getting 3 stars, crushing some candy, and time killing, it’s refreshing to see some good storytelling emerging.
What To Expect
I don’t keep up on all the newest video games at all, but I do watch it continually to figure out how the art form is evolving. With all three of these games, I see video games taking on a more emotional level for the players. They bind themselves to you either through putting the player through an emotional experience, providing therapeutic gameplay, or integration into your digital life.