Are Video Games More Than Just A Game?
Video games can provide you with countless hours of entertainment, or for some playing them can be a therapy session. If you’re not playing video games for entertainment or to blow off steam, why are you playing them? Is it because you’re a devoted fan of a franchise, or are you drawn to the narrative? There isn’t a right or wrong answer to any of these questions, but you can’t deny that video game narratives are changing in a big way.
Games seem to be making the transition towards works of art, with some adding a cinematic element to how the story is told. They’ve become more than just simple exercises in button pressing and eye hand coordination practice, so let’s take a look at a few recent games that have managed to push the games as art debate forward.
When Master Chief stated in Halo 3, “Wake me when you need me” he meant it. In 2012 Halo 4 brought back Master Chief to face an entirely new threat, but it wasn’t all about him kicking ass and taking names this time around. Chris Schlerf wrote a story for Halo 4 that was more focused on the relationship between Master Chief and Cortana, rather than a narrative that was only meant to get him from one battle to the next. The cutscenes were reminiscent to something you’d see in a movie, not a video game, offering a glimpse into just how far game design has come.
Just as the game picks up Cortana confesses to Master Chief that she is suffering from rampancy, which will ultimately kill her. Cortana, thanks to her bond with the Chief, brings out the human side in him in Halo 4, which has never been shown before in a Halo game. There were times in the previous Halo games where it wasn’t clear if John really was a human, and unless you read the novels, you may have never known that an actual flesh and blood human body was encased in the iconic green Mjolnir armor.
When you think about it who is Spartan 117 without Cortana? His main directive has always been to destroy the Covenant and enemies of mankind, but thanks to his bond with Cortana, many of his exploits involved saving her, or helping her to achieve her own goals. At one point in Halo 4 he is ordered to surrender the malfunctioning AI, but Master Chief wasn’t going to giver her up that easy. He wanted to save her, in a sense she had become a part of him, and the thought of losing her troubled this superhero-like warrior unlike any of the galaxy saving adventures he’d been on before. Getting her back to Earth was a priority for him, because if he did Dr. Halsey could possibly fix her. In the end Cortana scarifies herself to save Master Chief, and to ultimately save humanity.
For the first time emotions were brought into a Halo game, and they felt real. Watching his digital best friend die did not sit well with him, and it was made clear that beneath the armor, there indeed is a real person in there. Where the Master Chief goes next remains to be seen, but there’s a great chance that his love for Cortana will drive him in his upcoming missions.
Irrational’s BioShock Infinite is another recent title to really push the boundaries of video game narratives. Ken Levine wrote a story that was thought provoking and mind-bending at the same time. The details are what make the story the wonderful masterpice that it is. The Lutece twins visit Booker Dewitt and tell him “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” How much debt does Dewitt have that by simply bringing them ‘the girl’ it can be wiped away?
There are moments throughout the campaign that you can spot similarities between BioShock and BioShock Infinite. When you first laid eyes on Songbird it is easy to assume that he is a Big Daddy, and that Elizabeth is a Little Sister, but as you progress through the story the aforementioned assumptions slowly start to fade away. It becomes clear that Levine has woven an intricate tale full of multiverse theory that rivals a TED presentation, and that BioShock Infinite is more than just a catchy title and simple FPS.
You know that a well written story has served its purpose when everything is explained by the end, even if the explanation makes your brain want to explode with questions. Infinite’s ending smacks you in the face with the realization that you truly had no idea what was taking place throughout the campaign. To learn that Dewitt is Comstock, and that he used the Lutece’s Siphon machine to create a tear in the multiverse to come back and take his daughter away probably never even crossed your mind while playing the game; hence the brilliance in the narrative. The revelation that Elizabeth’s real name is Anna Dewitt, and that the letters marked on Booker’s hand are indeed her initials also provide a “say what” type of moment.
When Dewitt realizes that he has to die in order for none of what he experienced on Columbia to happen is most definitely something right out of a mind melting science fiction movie plot. There’s a great chance you, like most gamers who completed Infinite, spent hours after watching the near 20-minute ending trying to figure out what the hell multiverse theory is, and what the hell you just witnessed. Not many video games can elicit this type of response, which is why BioShock Infinite was so revered in 2013 for its strong narrative.
The Last Of Us, Tomb Raider, and Mass Effect are just a few games that weren’t mentioned in detail in this post, but they too all feature a story that rivals what you’d experience in other art forms. Most games are starting to stray away from simply being made for entertainment purposes. Developers are starting to realize that if they want to take their game to the next level a great writing team is require to do so.
Big explosions and Michael Bay-like action are spectacles to enjoy in gaming, but sometimes having an entertaining and fulfilling narrative can outshine the glitz and glamour. Just look at the success Telltale has had with its point-and-click story games that really don’t feature much of anything that resembles playing a video game. We as gamers can only hope that more titles like Halo 4 and BioShock Infinite get made, because they seem to have the best mix of intense gameplay and story.
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