Unpopular opinion: Video games can tell a compelling and thorough story just as well as books can. Don’t believe me? Go play Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity or The Last of Us and tell me you didn’t feel as though you were transported to another world where imagination ran free and you became lost in the story the director had to tell.
As a young boy I was enthralled in vast worlds where tyrannical leaders enslaved young children to be raised as magic warriors, of a tormented man that is cursed with eternal reincarnation and simply wants to find his place in the world, and of a young boy that takes matters into his own hands when an alien force transforms his family into creatures. I was amazed that someone had the imagination and creativity to conjure up worlds and characters like these. These video games also made me think. I had to logically put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to move forward in the game. For example, a game like The Witness forces players to seek out the answers in the game’s strange world through explorations and puzzle solving with no guidance whatsoever. The following quote is meant to demonstrate the level of thoughtfulness that video game writing can achieve:
If there is anything I have learned in my travels across the Planes, it is that many things may change the nature of a man. Whether regret, or love, or revenge or fear — whatever you believe can change the nature of a man, can. I’ve seen belief move cities, make men stave off death, and turn an evil hag’s heart half-circle. This entire Fortress has been constructed from belief. Belief damned a woman, whose heart clung to the hope that another loved her when he did not. Once, it made a man seek immortality and achieve it. And it has made a posturing spirit think it is something more than a part of me.
-The Nameless One, Planescape: Torment
Video games have the unique ability to demand your complete attention. By requiring you to actively play the game, you have no choice but to redeem your entire attention span to what the game has to offer. This can lead to an extremely engaging experience, and if the director designed the game with a strong story arc, the experience can be truly memorable. Video games have the capability of being an incredibly sophisticated vehicle for storytelling, one that is unorthodox and unique. One of my favorite video games, Dark Souls, tells its story by not telling its story directly. The game forces you to seek out the true meaning of the world and of your character by collecting clues from item descriptions and from the minimalist dialogue from the other people in the world. Also, the game is notoriously extremely difficult, and it rewards patience and logical thinking.
Recently, video games have garnered a bad reputation among a large number of people who claim that the realistic violence seen in these games influences players. This accusation has consequently been false, though many people still regard video games as a waste of time. I personally think that there are games that are solely meant for entertainment purposes, such as your typical first-person shooter, but there are also the kind that make the player actually think and be actively engaged with the game.
Let’s consider one of the most emotionally taxing game I’ve ever played, Papers, Please. In this game, the player is an immigration officer in the fictional world of Arstotzka. Here, the player’s task is to review the documents of immigrants trying to come into the country, and only let in those that are qualified. Of course, this becomes a moral dilemma when you are presented with cases where an immigrant is not qualified, but he is being persecuted by his country, or his wife and kids already reside in Arstotzka. You begin to ask yourself if this is how the current immigration system works, as well as asking yourself how real immigration officers handle the emotional toll. This kind of game truly got to my heart strings, and it reinvigorated my love for video games.
The following quote is the first line you read in the game Pillars of Eternity. I decided to include it because it presents the player with an atmospheric setting and opens their mind to wonder in just a few opening lines.
Five wagons grope blindly for the path on a starless night, their master glancing ever upward to the skies for assurance that he is on the right course, a dim lantern his only protection against the encroaching darkness.
-Pillars of Eternity
While I believe that videogames are not everyone’s cup of tea, I do believe that the notion that they are simply brainless entertainment should be tossed out. There is a lot to be gained from video games aside, and I truly think that if more people gave them the light of day, the taboo culture associated with video games would go away.