Gaming started as a way to, well, play a game. It was all about completing certain objectives, whether that be defeating a boss or just jumping on enough Goombas to be able to reach the end of a level. Many original games did not have stories that made you care, if they had a story at all. “Thank you Mario, but our Princess is in another castle” wouldn’t cut it today for the kind of stories that are being told through the gaming medium.
Video games are an increasingly popular way to tell any kind of story, ranging from deep and emotional to silly and funny. Most games nowadays have some kind of story, and developers are finding new ways to tell these stories. Games like The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite show two very recent examples of how games don’t have to primarily be about gameplay, and, while the gameplay in both games is fun, the story takes the front seat in these games, and they show an evolution happening in the gaming industry that points towards a story-driven future.
The Last of Us won OnlySP’s game of the year for 2013, and it was not for its gameplay. I personally think it deserved to win the award for Game of the Year for many reasons, but gameplay was not one of them. Granted, The Last of Us was a blast to play, with its combination of stealth and shooting, but it does not beat out other gameplay beasts like Grand Theft Auto V and Tomb Raider, whose gameplay beat The Last of Us’ in spades. The reason The Last of Us won Game of the Year was its compelling, emotional, and extremely sad story.
In fact, The Last of Us’ developer Naughty Dog has been a bellwether in the trend towards the deep story in gaming. Their other main franchise Uncharted is also known for its story. These two franchises show how Naughty Dog is leading this change in the industry. They focus more on story, character development, writing, and technological enhancements, and they make incredible gaming experiences that no other developer has been able to match.
Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite show two games that bookend the last console generation. Developer Irrational Games, who unfortunately are not making any more Bioshock games, showed a way to combine story and setting. The setting for each game, Rapture, an underwater city in the 1950s, and Columbia, a floating city in 1912 respectively, add layers to the depth of the story and the possibilities for the game. Bioshock Infinite in particular had an extremely deep and (at points) confusing story, with tears opening dimensions to different world. Without spoiling anything, there were revelations near the end of the game that shocked everyone, and they kept me thinking about it for days after completing it and enticed me to replay the game to see how everything connected. Even the voxophones hidden around the world add new layers to the story, and until you have collected everything, there is still more to learn about the game and the world that it is set in.
Games like Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain, both from developer Quantic Dream and writer David Cage, show that games can be a purely cinematic experience. These games have gameplay that revolve around the story, which center on dialogue choices and exploration of an area to find new ways to interact with the location and eventually progress the story. The reason I love games like these so much, however, is the fact that there are so many different endings. Supposedly, there are 23 different endings to Beyond: Two Souls, which allows for seemingly limitless replay value if you want to see all endings and choose all dialogue options. These games show that games can be 10 hour movies, and they can still have deep and emotional stories that keep you coming back for more.
Additionally, Telltale has made a name for themselves over the past few years with their point and click adventure games, whose main form of gameplay is, as it was with Quantic Dream’s games, dialogue choices and choices of how to progress the story. These games have so many different possibilities in the story, and when you talk to others about their choices and outcomes, almost no two people will have the same experience. These kinds of games show that just because a game doesn’t have conventional gameplay mechanics, they can still be great games because they have fantastic stories.
The gaming industry is in the process of an evolution. Games used to be only about gameplay, with little to no important story that made you care about characters or the outcome. Now, they hook you on the characters and the setting, allowing for deep and emotional storytelling. More and more games are focused on storytelling and are combining that with gameplay to make the ultimate experience. Games like The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, The Walking Dead, and Beyond: Two Souls each show how stories can make a game what it is. This evolution will be enhanced in the new generation of consoles, and I am excited to see how storytelling in games will keep evolving as time passes with these consoles and into the future.