Storytelling is the backbone of being a writer, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. And there are many places to learn storytelling; books (obviously), but also art, music, films and TV. But there’s another a genre you might have overlooked – video games.
The computer games industry is a relative newcomer to the world of entertainment. And although game developers put plenty of thought into the back story of their games and characters, initially it seemed like these elements were incidental to the action. The fun was in the moment, the kinetic energy of doing, not thinking. Games followed a regular pattern of fighting an opponent or trying to outrace them. They weren’t considered “great cultural experiences”. There was nothing deep about them – until of course there was.
Because ultimately humans turn everything into a story. Video games wouldn’t grown as they have if they hadn’t embraced storytelling. And once you get under the surface, I think video games are more like books that television or film. They have more time to develop than a film, and playable characters offer more connection to them than a TV show.
There are still games where story and character are less developed. But there are multitudes more that have created an in-depth world, that may not involve fighting any opponents at all. Rather they’re all about following a tale, uncovering a mystery or finding something. Walk-around and RPG type games are my favourite ones, whether they follow a linear, once-through story or delve into a variety of small quests, each a story in its own right.
So where does Super Mario fit in? After all it’s a simple story about hero saving a Princess from a monster. Hardly original. Well storytelling often uses tropes over and over again. It’s how you use them that makes the difference. The traditional hero in Super Mario should be a Prince. But instead we have a short, mustachioed Italian plumber. Would the game have made left the same impression on popular culture without him? I doubt it. Prince’s saving princesses are ten a penny. But by playing with our expectations the game was onto a winner.
So whether you’re a seasoned player, or rarely pick up a controller, it could be worth exploring and studying the storytelling facet of computer games.
What do you think? Do you have any favourite games, or ones that have sparked off an idea? Please share in the comments.