I‘m not ashamed to admit I’m a gamer. Computer games, and I’m grudgingly including console games as well as handheld device games, are a big, accepted industry and a very varied and cosmopolitan customer base.
But the biggest reason I personally play computer games is interactive storytelling.
There are many types of games and even more types of gamers, the number of genres and composite genres attest to that fact and where once people who played computer games on their actual computers might be frowned upon or laughed at, the gaming industry is now a big industry. Ads for games like Titanfall and the Battlefield now take pride of place on billboards alongside movies and television shows.
But the biggest reason I personally play computer games is interactive storytelling. Ok, a lot of the games out there that I’ve played – and enjoy immensely – don’t have much of a story in them, such as Torchlight 2 or the Diablo series. Games designed primarily for multiplayer such as Battlefield and EVE Online are, by and large story free and you can choose to ignore what story there is without any real loss to your enjoyment of the experience.
However, I think computer games are the best mode for storytelling, simply because you are able to choose certain pathways in the story to make it uniquely yours. Take my favourite series for example, Mass Effect, featuring Commander Shepard and his or her merry crew, saving the galaxy against the Reapers. Even though the storyline was not the most original in the world (save the galaxy from some unbeatable threat), it did have a wicked sense of humour, great characters and fantastic writing, right up until the end, when some macaques took over the writing team.
Computer games have come a long, long way since the early days of Pong and repeats of Super Mario World, and so have their narrative power. Harking back to the good old days, when a choose your own adventure entailed reading poorly written books, hoping you didn’t encounter an orc or a black hole randomly (which, by the way is extremely silly). At that time, games tried to tell good stories, with some success, but none were up to the level of complexity that can be attributed to their modern successors. For example, the vast majority of storylines didn’t have deviations and no matter how you played the game, you ended up at the same point.
Computer games have come a long, long way since the early days of Pong and repeats of Super Mario World
Of course, much of that was due to a need to tell a specific tale. Even the games that had branching storylines generally only paid lip service to alternative endings. Freespace 2, for example made a song and dance about its two endings, but the difference was whether your player character lived or died. Ultimately though, players of games want consequences to their actions in that particular world. So far, only two (maybe three) game series have really been able to give that satisfaction to players. Mass Effect and Dragon Age by Bioware are the pioneers of long term story telling with consequences for your endgame and The Witcher series from CD Projekt RED is also a contender.
There are some fantastic looking titles coming out within the next twelve months, and some that I hope will make it on to the PC platform with their release on consoles completed. For one, I’d love to finally have GTA5 on PC, but since there’s no news about it, I can only assume that we’ll be left behind on that front. One thing I’m quite looking forward to is Watch Dogs, which looks fantastic, realistic and decently action packed as well. The final iterations of The Witcher and Dragon Age trilogies hold the promise of having decent conclusions to a long saga in storytelling.
As technology improves, story telling via interaction in computer games will probably overtake reading and the moving picture because immersion is easier when you’re placed into a situation where you’re personally emotionally involved in the story. Devices like the Oculus Facerift and even methods of getting more expansive viewpoints like triple monitor gameplay (how I wish I had the room for that!) are sure to be more and more appealing. Long live the gamers!