Gaming has been accused of being trivial, as well as shallow, when it comes to the art of storytelling. At least that’s the image it appears to have built. But if gaming really is so inconsequential and trivial, why is it that so many people not just play them but enjoy reading about them?
And why do they keep tabs on the latest news of publishers and developers and are on such a high when a game lives up to its hype or deflated when it fails to? Maybe there’s something to be said for spending time on those things that you enjoy. One of the biggest criticisms aimed at gaming is the supposed shallowness of its storytelling. Film and TV might be unrelated forms of media but there’s a connection that drives right to the heart of this article. When movies began in the second half of the 19th century, they were mere curiosities. Promoters would make their way around the U.S. filming crowds who would pay a small fee to see themselves on film.
Earlier examples of storytelling
Moving forward a decade or so into the future and we began to see the early storytelling attempts being produced. They were often cops and robbers slapstick comedy or boy meets girl melodramas but we saw the medium’s potential. By the 1920s, movies like The Lodger and Nosferatu, while they still had something of a melodramatic narrative, showed us how storytelling had improved.
It wasn’t until the following decade, however, that films like The Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood, and King Kong demonstrated the elements of what we now know as modern cinema were born. That’s not simply in terms of technology but also how they constructed more engaging and complex narratives that weren’t even attempted up until this point. So, it essentially took around five decades for motion pictures to reach this point. Games used to consist of nothing more than bright coloured pixels with plinky-plink sound effects and a shallow narrative. In just over two decades, however, we have moved on to games such as The Last of Us, Bioshock, and Half-Life 2.
Light years ahead
While these gaming narratives may not be held in the same regard as film and television, that isn’t 100% relevant. What is relevant, however, is that they were light years ahead of anything that had previously been attempted in the medium. It seems somewhat inevitable that storytelling in gaming will improve and evolve even more, even if only incrementally. For now, we can sit back and conclude for ourselves whether games will improve in the area of storytelling to the point where they can match the other mediums we have discussed here.
It may be that the anticipated diminishing graphical returns on upcoming releases could yet act as inspiration for developers to shine the spotlight more on creative writing when it comes to games that are largely dependent upon the art of story.