Storytelling in Gaming vs Storytelling in Literature Part 1
One-way stories simply don’t exist. The very moment that an audience engages with a story, they interpret it in their own way and it becomes a different version of the original story, That’s the case whether the story is told in a book, an audiobook, around a campfire, on the big screen, or in a game. Each audience member’s views and life experiences are on a collision course with the creator of the original story.
Games are exciting as they’re still working out their form, experimenting with the technology and art, and pushing accepted boundaries. Not unlike 20th-century cinema, the medium is an immature one. There are numerous fantastic and surprising stories told in movies, but cinema’s language and form have now settled, like prose fiction did before it. In other words, we are only too aware of what books and movies are. When it comes to video games, however, we aren’t exactly sure where they begin and end.
The majority of storytelling mediums have a shared thematic language. That’s just as true for games as it is for any other medium. In the world of gaming, you’ll find stories in genres such as war, horror, action thriller, cyberpunk, science fiction, and fantasy. These genres exist in books comics, and movies but they’re also commonly found in gaming, It’s no accident that each of these genres focus on action- in the sense that they require you to take action, as opposed to featuring action sequences; although, of course, that could also be the case.
Traditional fantasy features a quest-heavy structure, which is ideal for player goals and motivation. Cyberpunk and science fiction are ideal genres in which to introduce gadgets and unusual interfaces. War games and action thrillers feature combat and immediate interaction via weaponry. Horror games benefit from the very latest in gaming technology and a visceral level of information, and it leads naturally to stealth design.
These genres tend to be regarded as catering towards males, which aligns with the assumption that gamers are male. The last decade has given less power to these assumptions but it isn’t difficult to see how they influenced the earlier days of gaming. There are certain genres that haven’t crossed over into gaming, like literary fiction, crime, comedy, and romance. Each of these is significant genres in literature and movies and yet are extremely rare in gaming. Romance games are hard to come by, although narrative-heavy and adventure subgenres have been known to include an element of it. It’s still hugely underappreciated when compared to literature, however.
Comedy is even rarer, possibly due to the fact that the introduction of player agency is at odds with traditional comedy structure and timing concepts. Essentially, while it’s true that there’s the odd funny moment in gaming, it’s rare to find a game where the main aim is to make players laugh. That’s at least not since the likes of early 90’s LucasArts. Portal 2 remains one of the most well-known comedy games.