Videogames Tell Amazing Stories

I’m a huge fan of a good story in a videogame. In my mind, they can rival even that of a good book or movie in their excitement. One thing I always seem to wonder, even when I watch old movies that I’ve seen a thousand times is: “What if this happened instead?” In no other medium can I actually see this possibility. I’m stuck having to imagine it in my head, dream about it or write about it. It genuinely takes up a lot of my mind at times, and I’m glad it does. It’s one of the signs that I really enjoy the world that this piece of entertainment is creating, and that I’m invested in it enough to wonder about the “What if?” scenarios.

That’s one of the reasons why games intrigue me so much – especially the RPG genre where your actions can effect the outcome of a scenario.  One such release that has captured most of my attention recently is Star Wars: The Old Republic. Now, I’m the first to admit I never finished Knights of the Old Republic – I hated the combat and I got bored very easily. However, I have played a large amount of this new Bioware MMO for one reason alone: I’m invested in my Sith Juggernaut’s story.

Lord Vakren (yes, I was promoted to the rank of Sith Lord, what of it?) is a pure-blooded Sith Warrior, who has taken the path of Juggernaut to defend his allies in battle (I’m a tank, meaning I’m a rare breed, especially if you play WoW).  He’s a bit of a dick, honestly; he can be sarcastic and sadistic and leans vastly in favour of the Dark Side of the force. This is obvious, not only by his appearance (visible veins, pale face, scars…), but by his bright red lightsaber. He has his own spaceship and companions and has already traveled a good deal of the galaxy. His own apprentice was even a Jedi Padawan that he had turned, ordering her to kill her master, culminating in one of the coolest and most awe-inspiring moments in my gaming life. I felt powerful. I felt evil. It was my choices that had led to this outcome.

No other game this year has made me feel like my character is truly progressing, rising as a member of the Sith Empire, destroying his enemies and doing the bidding (for now…) of his master. Walking into a room full of Sith who are guarding a high-ranking member of a Royal Family, only to have every one of them bow at my presence is something that I have never felt before. It’s something that I just can’t get over. Moments like this have been surrounded by an intriguing and genuinely interesting storyline that just keeps getting better… and it’s in an MMO no less.

While the story in Star Wars progresses with the choices I want, it’s not all I want in a game’s story, and it’s definitely not necessary. Linear games have a large place in my heart too, especially if they’re told well. The Witcher 2 was a great piece of storytelling; a truly adult tale, full of sex and violence that didn’t feel saturated or silly at any point. I ploughed through the game, not only for the great gameplay, but to see the story unfold. The dark fantasy tale grabbed me so much that I’ve already purchased the first two novel translations that the games have been based on. Racial Tensions, regicide, rebellion… it’s all here and done so well that it justifies why I love videogames more than movies. These are experiences you can’t get sitting down and watching a two hour epic. These stories are fleshed-out over ten or more hours, grabbing my attention far easier than films and keeping me entranced for longer.

One of the best pieces of storytelling in a videogame, in my humble opinion, was Half-Life 2. Probably my favourite game of all time, the story is found all over the place, with it not necessarily all told to you through conversation, but in discovery. It even hints at the relationship between that game and the Portal universe, with the Borealis appearing with large Aperture Science logos all over it. It’s a shame that it hasn’t been continued in so long, because there’s a reason so many people are eagerly awaiting any snippet of evidence that Half-Life Episode 3 or Half-Life 3 actually exists (and will prove that Valve really can count past two).

A good story can also be enough to make me power through some truly bad design decisions. Deadly Premonition is the best game with which to prove this fact. Although the shooting mechanics are clunky, the driving is bad and the game isn’t really all that much fun, I still bought and played through it because the story and characters were so interesting. What started with a man on his cell-phone, talking about Tom and Jerry – while driving, typing on a laptop and smoking – ends up with a story full of twists that I can honestly say I never saw coming. It was cheesy, sure, but it was well written if this was its sole intention. You wanted to discover more about this whacky world that had been created and I felt invested enough to watch two full playthroughs of the game, both at 20 hours each.

The last stand out moment for me this year was in Gears of War 3. There is a point in the story (that everyone who has played it will know) that brought a tear to my eye. It wasn’t just the perfect way the scene was laid out, with the music and timing, but one of the characters’ reactions to what had just happened. To see a character you’ve known throughout the whole trilogy in a light you’ve never seen before was handled perfectly by Epic. It made them human.  And it’s what broke me at that moment.

So, I say this: no matter how amazing the Star Wars movies, Lord of the Rings books and the Civil War series of comics are, they can’t all have the same feeling you get from playing a game with an absolutely enthralling story. There can be twists and turns that just can’t happen in pre-written material; there’s a huge amount of interactivity – characters can be more fleshed out and things don’t get missed. You get more bang for your buck, you get fantastic stories and you have fun spread out over a longer period of time. Videogames, I love you so much.




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3 Comments

  1. Keegan says:

    I completely agree. Having said that, games where the emphasis is completely on story, like Heavy Rain or L.A Noire, bore me a little. I want to play my, not watch it. Final Fantasy XIII, I’m looking at you.

    Still, that moment in Gears 3 stood out for me as well, and having played it through more than once, it’s still a heart wrenching moment. Great writing.

    Good article, I enjoyed reading it :)

  2. MarkuzR says:

    They do. Some moreso than others, obviously, and some of them have this knack of telling the story without having to actually spoon-feed it to the audience. It’s those games that I particularly like, such as Fallout 3. We know what the story is, because it’s mentioned several times and you can get the gist of it anyway by looking around at the propaganda posters, but it’s the unsung heroes that tell the greatest stories and only if you’ve taken the time to read every journal you come across, every single note, every computer terminal… the reality of Fallout 3 is that for every nugget of storyline you’re given, another fifty exist beneath the surface.

    The industry is never given enough credit for being able to spin an incredibly yarn, which is a shame, as most people tend to think that all we do is rescue princesses from apes.

  3. Chris-Toffer says:

    I have to agree on the Half Life 2 count certainly. The story is weaved infront of you but you don’t actually realise it at times. Little resistance shacks, graffiti, it’s all signs and nods to their struggle against the Combine. It’s such a fantastic story.

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