You know, video games are really proving to be a lot of fun.
I invested the better part of a year in Mass Effect in 2015, sitting on my ever-increasing backside and playing through multiple times. And I learned some stuff along the way, believe it or not.
Video games can have good stories.
This year, the kids are really taking off with Destiny. I mentioned this yesterday, you recall. Well, one of the things I learned from Mass Effect is, you can really have a solid story in a video game.
I used to think of the video game story as a setup for a larger conflict, but for some reason – lack of experience with the medium, I’d venture, because I don’t play many games – I didn’t think the stories ran through in a meaningful, resolution-oriented way.
My greatest experience with them, for example, was previously the Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog franchises. Those games didn’t seem to have much in the way of stories, but there was a bit. Mostly, they were just setup for why the central character had to do what it does in the game.
The most common storytelling method in the Sonic games, as far as I could tell (which ain’t that far, just so you know) was revelation of past events. Sonic remembers this, Tails tells him about that…and the game’s present is about smash-and-dash.
Then I got my son a couple of games against his wishes.
I know that sounds awful, but let me explain. My boy’s a great kid, and a wonderful son and brother. But he’s also pretty hard to get outside his comfort zone. He balks hard at trying new things. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, he’s one who won’t try something until he feels ready. With some things, “ready” won’t ever arrive. New foods, for instance. How much prep does it take to open your mouth, pop something in it, and chew?
The other thing is preconception, or presupposition. He assumes a position of “I’m not going to like it,” and then lo! and behold, he doesn’t. Doesn’t matter what “it” is, he can convince himself he doesn’t like something without ever trying it. Ever. At all.
(For the record, my beautiful li’l Punkin is the exact same way, only in some cases, even more dead set and difficult.)
So I went out on a limb and I got my son a video game I thought he’d really like, even if he didn’t think he would: The Last of Us. That was in August of 2014. By Christmas of that year, he wasn’t even looking back at the Sonic-style games.
Getting him outside the Sonic universe was tough, but he fell hard and mad for The Last of Us. I don’t know how many times he played it through. And that video game opened his eyes, and mine, to what video games can be.
The goal for these content creators, apparently, has been to make video games into interactive movies. Mission accomplished; that is exactly what The Last of Us is: A gripping story about humanity’s last best hope against a plague ravaging the world, and the man acting as a guardian to deliver her to those claiming to be able to save us all.
The intensity of the story is incredible. There was talk of a movie made from the game, which, of course, won’t be as good. But the game’s story swept me away, made me think about it, linger on it, and immersed me in the world.
Mass Effect did the same thing. I still have to remind myself with a chuckle that those people, those technologies, those places, don’t exist. And I never got bored with it, never lost interest in it. I could fashion the story any way the game permitted, and enjoy all the little nuances of the differences my choices, my actions, may or may not have on the game’s path.
(Note: I’m not delusional. I just really liked the universe Mass Effect created, and am still a bit sad that it’s not the real world.)
Now, along comes Destiny. Right away, my son is swept up in the fun of the game, the excitement of the action. It’s right up his alley. Shoot, shoot a lot, shoot often, shoot everything. Rinse and repeat. Mission after mission, enemy after enemy.
The story, though…well, that got my attention.
It’s more dystopian than Mass Effect, at least initially. We start with a broken, shattered world. We discover we’ve moved beyond our stars. And the game opens with a cut scene showing us why and how we made the leap from our current situation toward the one in the story.
But unlike Mass Effect, humanity’s existence in Destiny is tenuous and teetering. The story doesn’t flow quite as well, either, and requires external reading (they tell the backstory on things called Grimoire Cards, because there is a lot of space magic in this one) to get the full picture. But the story is engaging just the same, and it holds a sci-fi fan captured as well as something like Star Wars might.
The subtext is what’s holding me spellbound, I think. There’s an element of non-disclosure I can’t get enough of in Destiny, and I want to know more, learn the details, get the full picture. My son’s already played the game – and all its expansions to date – through, so there’s no more to tell, but the Grimoire cards…oh, those cards interest me.
They’re discovered throughout the game and on the developer’s website. Some are simple facts laid out, others are presented as tiny slivers of story, fragments of memories from little machines. It’s fascinating.
And so, now, I’m interested in finding out about games like Halo, or Fallout, and the backstories there, or perhaps another game will come along and make me yearn for the story.
The biggest thing I can say about these stories is, they’ve made me consider fan-fiction for the first time since I was in seventh grade. Both reading and writing it.
And that’s quite something.
Do you have a favorite video game because of its story?