236: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

More than three decades after the first videogames, gamers are still waiting for their Citizen Kane. But maybe it's time to realize that games are better suited to a completely different kind of storytelling. Dietrich Stogner examines how games are becoming a vehicle for our own stories rather than a way for developers to tell theirs.

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I will disagree with this article, in that you can't say "a computer game does this, so all computer games does it". Just like movies, books, jokes and all other forms of human storytelling, diffrent games have diffrent goals. Counter-Strike is arguably a game of external storylines, what matters isn't if Seal Team Six disarms the bomb on De_Dust or not, what matters is that you have fun while playing it (and can gloat at your friends because they run into your headshots).

Think about what Heavy Rain promises, a game that explores how far you are willing to go to save those you love. I fully agree with Mr. Cage when he says that computer games should grow up. Games as a medium is a potentially powerful tool for directed storytelling. However, most games today end up on the same level of meaning as your average Wesley Snipes movie. You get some cool action and one-liners, but beyond the tesosterone and adrenaline there isn't much to collect there. There's no message, no moral dilemmas to explore or discourses on human psychology.

Does anyone remember Mafia? That game showed us, in part, how games can tell a story with a message and make the player involved. Is there anyone who played that game that didn't feel a sting of sorrow as Tommy's crimes eventually catches up with him? Was there anyone who missed the message that "Crime doesn't pay"?

The two examples above are games that tries to push the storytelling in games. There are many who doesn't, just as there are hundreds of TV-series' out there that only aim at delivering quick entertainment. Games are a powerful medium, and I think it would be silly to dismiss their potential to one day be just as good narrative devices as books or movies just because they haven't gotten there yet or that they have more uses than that.

Well, that all depends on what you mean by "games having their own Citizen Kane". From my understanding, Citizen Kane's legacy isn't due to the quality of its story, but rather to the fact that the story is told primarily though the language of it's own medium. If that's your criteria, then there have already been a number of video games to reach that level.

This is what I've been saying since I first played San Andreas: games are starting to give us the chance to tell whatever story we want to tell. However given the way I (and everyone else I know) played San Andreas, I probably should've been given control of Catlina rather than CJ.

This notion has been more deeply reinforced with games like Fallout 3 which is different every time I (see it) play(ed). Things in that game altered depending on the skills moral alignment and pivotal decisions made by your custom built character. Fallout 3 is probably the first game that you can enjoy watching just as much as playing.

This is why I'm very curious about Heavy Rain: will it be a revolutionary way of gaming and telling a story that will further reinforce the idea of the gamer writing the story or will it be a pretentious collection of QTEs?
Time will tell.

I think the writer misses a really important point here: that Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made because it has the greatest story, but because it practically invented modern cinema as we know it. As the previous poster says, the story is told through the language of its own medium - a language which modern cinema takes for granted, but which didn't really exist before Citizen Kane.

I would argue that gaming has had plenty of 'Citizen Kane moments', where single games have broken new ground in the language of video game storytelling. Half Life and Half Life 2 are brilliant examples of how videogames can tell stories without using words; the history of the places you visit in both games are revealed simply by exploration, and the fact that the main character never speaks throughout the whole series is telling. Grand Theft Auto 3 showed us how you can tell a compelling story in a sandbox without losing focus. Play any Bioware RPG and tell me they haven't figured out how to create emotionally compelling characters in our stories. Not forgetting The Sims, any Civilisation or Total War game or even Animal Crossing, all of which give the player a framework to create their own stories (even if most of the stories turn out to be very very similar).

The 'language' of videogames isn't even confined to storytelling, and there have been plenty of Citizen Kane moments in other areas. Halo replaced health packs with regenerating shields and turned that into the default behaviour for first-person shooters. The toolbar at the bottom of the screen with spells corresponding to the numbered keys on a keyboard is part of the language of CRPGs now, but someone had to invent it. The idea that interactive objects in an RPG would glow in some way was, arguably, an accidental invention, but has nonetheless become part of the language.

There have been lots and lots of games that have advanced the art of videogames in a similar way to how Citizen Kane advanced film-making. There will never be a single Citizen Kane because games are too diverse, and what works in one genre would make no sense in another.

Oh, and game developers have no control over the pace or 'flow' of their games? Have you played Left 4 Dead? I think you do a disservice to the many talented developers out there by suggesting that a game can't manipulate a player's emotions in the way a film can. Play a Silent Hill game, or Alien vs Predator without being utterly terrified at some point, or Left 4 Dead without feeling any sense of urgency. Anyway you get point. Hopefully.

The problem with the narrative of games is that it cannot dictate character change or death in any meaningful fashion. Take Dead Space: Extraction for example. Multiple times throughout the story, you switch among multiple character perspectives and many of these characters die. If you know anything about Dead Space, read reviews, or even played the first level, this isn't a spoiler. The problem is that you spend every level desperately fighting for your life against wave after wave of aliens, only to have the game kill you off at the end. Imagine if in Mario, you manage to save the princess and go on a picnic. Then, just as your packing up and leaving during a cutscene, the game decides to show you Mario falling down a big hole and dying. If you were playing, you could have easily avoided that hole, but because the game is in storytelling mode, you can't do jack.

Likewise, you can't believably show a main character that changes his mind, falls in love, or is mildly dissatisfied with how things turned out. There are ways around this in games that can engage the player on this ambiguous emotional level, games like Harvest Moon or the latest Silent Hill, but it's still very static. I don't want to start up a huge debate again, but when Ebert said that games couldn't be art (he's still wrong), I think this is what he meant.

I think you're right in some ways but wrong in others. I feel where you going with your analysis of gaming as a story telling medium. While gaming hasn't moved to as high an art form as film or novels, there is a slow evolution happening. There will always be the games where your primary interaction with the world is shooting it, but there are others that are more story driven and interactive than others.

Heavy Rain for the PS3 looks like it could be one of those. (you tube it if you haven't seen anything on it)

Besides.. I don't want my games to be film. I want them to be something more. If I wanted film, I'd go watch one.

zelda2fanboy:
The problem with the narrative of games is that it cannot dictate character change or death in any meaningful fashion. Take Dead Space: Extraction for example. Multiple times throughout the story, you switch among multiple character perspectives and many of these characters die. If you know anything about Dead Space, read reviews, or even played the first level, this isn't a spoiler. The problem is that you spend every level desperately fighting for your life against wave after wave of aliens, only to have the game kill you off at the end. Imagine if in Mario, you manage to save the princess and go on a picnic. Then, just as your packing up and leaving during a cutscene, the game decides to show you Mario falling down a big hole and dying. If you were playing, you could have easily avoided that hole, but because the game is in storytelling mode, you can't do jack.

Likewise, you can't believably show a main character that changes his mind, falls in love, or is mildly dissatisfied with how things turned out. There are ways around this in games that can engage the player on this ambiguous emotional level, games like Harvest Moon or the latest Silent Hill, but it's still very static. I don't want to start up a huge debate again, but when Ebert said that games couldn't be art (he's still wrong), I think this is what he meant.

The difference is that in games you don't show a character changing their minds, etc, you try to manipulate the player into doing those things themselves.

Also, the way you're arguing it character death in Dead Space seems pretty effective actually. I haven't played the game, but I would imagine that since it's a prequel where you know everyone dies the feelings of hopelessness you describe are pretty appropriate.

carelesshx:
I think the writer misses a really important point here: that Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made because it has the greatest story, but because it practically invented modern cinema as we know it. As the previous poster says, the story is told through the language of its own medium - a language which modern cinema takes for granted, but which didn't really exist before Citizen Kane.

I would argue that gaming has had plenty of 'Citizen Kane moments', where single games have broken new ground in the language of video game storytelling. Half Life and Half Life 2 are brilliant examples of how videogames can tell stories without using words; the history of the places you visit in both games are revealed simply by exploration, and the fact that the main character never speaks throughout the whole series is telling.

Excactly! Although I agree with the statement that games haven't reached an apex of storytelling, when it comes to truly original stories. Most of the designs of technology, characters and settings stems from art from other mediums and games before it. Much of the lines and scripted scenes are recreations of popular movies. We as gamers encourage developers to ripoff features and concepts because it would be cool to have. We chuckle at the reference when a certain character in GTA: 3 says "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."

However the impact and immersion cannot be denied. I have experienced truly powerful and profound moments as great or greater as any other medium. The medium of gaming is one of experience. We do not read or watch. Voice overs and scrolling text are insignificant. The story is formed as you play it. There are people who foolhardily dismiss straightforward games like Super-Mario: Bros, Doom, or Half-Life as having no plot or no depth. They have been accustomed to prose and film, and expect the story to be told to them.

We are all protagonists. We all have adversaries, loves, goals, conflicts, and struggles. There aren't scrolling text, a voice over (hopefully), a soundtrack, pop up verse, plot twists and conclusions in life. Yet everyday we live a story.

I don't agree at all. But hell, what the nelly. We all enjoy different ways of storytelling.

boholikeu:

The difference is that in games you don't show a character changing their minds, etc, you try to manipulate the player into doing those things themselves.

Also, the way you're arguing it character death in Dead Space seems pretty effective actually. I haven't played the game, but I would imagine that since it's a prequel where you know everyone dies the feelings of hopelessness you describe are pretty appropriate.

I think the correct term I'm looking for is not hopelessness, just frustration. I'm holding my wii remote, I've got it pointed right at what I'm supposed to shoot, and I'm pulling the trigger. Nothing happens because the game just won't let me play. It's dumb. I figured out who the traitor was WAYYYY before the game outright told me, and many time I could have shot him and avoided catastrophe, but the game just wouldn't let me. Games like Fallout and GTA became popular because they were the first games that let you break the rules or make up your own set. Even GTA feels antiquated because the plot is fairly rigid compared to something like Fallout.

I believe there will be a game one day that will have such a powerful story. Nowadays we sigh when we get to cutscenes and usually skip through them unless it gives us gameplay instructions, the knowledge to pass through the difficult levels when we decide to continue with the game, or we're playing the game for the first time.

I believe there will be a game where we want to watch the cutscenes over and over again despite the many times this possible game would be played through. Someone will make it someday.

I have to wonder if you didn't write this column purely (or almost) just to draw a reaction from the readers: computer/console games have far too much variety to make a blanket statement regarding the future being massively multiplayer, or that single player games are a dying breed (I'm exaggerating, I know).

While I'm sure there are some who play nothing but multiplayer shooters, there are also those who rarely or never play them. I personally enjoy single player RPGs because they _are_ immersive if well crafted, and they certainly can draw an emotional reaction from the player, as much or more so than a film. And the ability to drive your own fate is something no film can do.

As for online shooters and RTSes: what happens when you age, and your reflexes go? I'm guessing the younger kids won't want you on their team. And if you have some disability that hinders your ability to compete online?

Publishers are certainly always on the lookout to maximize profits for the least effort, but gamers are not a community to silently accept whatever trash is thrown our way, and I would also argue that there are plenty of developers who do seek to evolve computer/console gaming into an entertainment art form that is at least the equal of any other medium out there.

Personally, I prefer more linear games with a good internal story. I never play multiplayer (too much hassle and too many idiots) and I hate that 'wtf do I do now' frustration of a poorly designed sandbox. I hope your predictions aren't entirely accurate and that both kinds of games continue to exist. I can finally afford consoles and a halfway decent computer now, it'd be too tragic if there were no games I cared about.

I would actually like to make game(after i get rich I would start game studio) with epic story that brings trancendental aspects (some would call it magic) as a way to tell very human story after all, the problem would be how do you put some gameplay into such a game, when I don't want dialogue trees nor gamovie like Heavy Rain(also huge branches of irrelevant/worse options).

I will jump on the Citizen Kane bandwagon. It was never named greatest for its story, but for its achievement.
I prefer stories with some semblance of a story line, I am not a big multi-player fan. I have yet to find a game that completely drew me into its storyline the way a movie can. Maybe someday soon I will find that game and play it to death.

I must disagree. I have never been a multi-player or "non-linear gameplay" enthusiast, and I doubt I ever will be. The events of a round of counter-strike or a raid in World of Warcraft do not constitute stories by themselves, you can make stories about them in some other medium, but they are not stories in their own right. If I ever want to make my own story, that is why I have Microsoft Word, which lets me be more creative and make stories with less work, if players making their own stories is the main merit of video games, the main merit of video games is pathetic. Grim Fandango drew me into its story on the same level that films and books often draw me in. I don't know if it is our Citizen Kane, but it is a start.

zelda2fanboy:

boholikeu:

The difference is that in games you don't show a character changing their minds, etc, you try to manipulate the player into doing those things themselves.

Also, the way you're arguing it character death in Dead Space seems pretty effective actually. I haven't played the game, but I would imagine that since it's a prequel where you know everyone dies the feelings of hopelessness you describe are pretty appropriate.

I think the correct term I'm looking for is not hopelessness, just frustration. I'm holding my wii remote, I've got it pointed right at what I'm supposed to shoot, and I'm pulling the trigger. Nothing happens because the game just won't let me play. It's dumb. I figured out who the traitor was WAYYYY before the game outright told me, and many time I could have shot him and avoided catastrophe, but the game just wouldn't let me. Games like Fallout and GTA became popular because they were the first games that let you break the rules or make up your own set. Even GTA feels antiquated because the plot is fairly rigid compared to something like Fallout.

Hm, well in my mind what you're describing speaks more to poor storytelling than limitations in the medium. Sounds like they should've switched to a cut-scene for the deaths rather than keep you in first-person and imply that you could still kill the enemies.

Ditto for you figuring out who the traitor was ahead of time. The story would be no better if it had been made into a movie because then you'd just be complaining about the "stupid protagonist that never figures it out".

See the whole problem here is that you are assuming that open-ended games don't also focus/limit the player in some way. Fallout and GTA don't let you break their rules, nor are they particularly open-ended if you really get down to the basics of their stories. The reason they are better storytelling games than Dead Space: Extraction is because they know when and where to trick the player into believing they are in control of the story.

Yes, we have yet to see some truly great storytelling. Of course it's hard not to see game developers as a bunch of people so extremely distracted by the new tools at their disposal, that they ignore basic lessons from other media.

I can't see this sandbox mentality for development of storylines catching on so soon, especially since many people prefer to be told exactly what to think.

In fact developing games is a bit like sitting in a sandbox. All overpowered tools and no motivation to use them to best effect.

Yeah, that's what I've been saying. Games have been trying to follow movies' lead when they should be trailblazing their own. The whole 'external story' is one such way of telling a story that is only available to games. Every time someone watches a movie, reads a book etc., they're looking at the same story. But every time a gamer plays a game, the experience is different. Especially if it's something like Dwarf Fortress, in which a buttload of random stuff come together at different times to make each experience truly unique. Then you tell your experience to other people and they will maybe draw your characters, or maybe build giant statues of them. A similar thing happens with any online game, although I think such an experience is collective and can only be truly meaningful if you are in the same couch/househould/lan house/etc., you know, if at least all of the involved would need to use the same toilet if necessary.

But I don't think external stories are the only way. Internal stories can also be refined, lose some of the strict directing of linear storytelling, and focus on evoking feelings rather than telling tales. I do agree that Bioshock style stories will, in the future, become, if not rarer, at least less relevant.

I would also like to add that, when Yahtzee said that making a game have pretty cutscenes to make it more like a movie is like making a movie having words show up on a blank background to make it more like a book, his analogy actually fall short. Gamers sometimes say that games are the next step after movies, but they are not. Games are interactive media, movies aren't. Movies are on the same branch as books, TV series, radio plays, etc. Games are on the same as RPGs, board games and improv. They are media that changes depending on who is performing and/or acting it, and thus should aim to provide a broader experience, because the narrow ones will not survive the transition. (Theatre is kind of between the two; a play can be the same every time it's performed, or it may allow improvisation so that it differs. If it breaks the fourth wall, all bets are off.) To expect all games to tell a story the way movies do is like expecting to have to draw a card explaining what happens to the poor man in the giant shoe after every round of Monopoly.

The Random One:
I would also like to add that, when Yahtzee said that making a game have pretty cutscenes to make it more like a movie is like making a movie having words show up on a blank background to make it more like a book, his analogy actually fall short. Gamers sometimes say that games are the next step after movies, but they are not. Games are interactive media, movies aren't. Movies are on the same branch as books, TV series, radio plays, etc. Games are on the same as RPGs, board games and improv. They are media that changes depending on who is performing and/or acting it, and thus should aim to provide a broader experience, because the narrow ones will not survive the transition. (Theatre is kind of between the two; a play can be the same every time it's performed, or it may allow improvisation so that it differs. If it breaks the fourth wall, all bets are off.) To expect all games to tell a story the way movies do is like expecting to have to draw a card explaining what happens to the poor man in the giant shoe after every round of Monopoly.

I think games can be thought of as the next step after movies/books because even with the added element of interactivity, there is still a guiding hand behind the work. It's the same mistake Ebert makes when he says that games will never be high art due to interactivity. Even though the player feels like they are making the story into their own, the developer is always in control of what the player can/can't do.

I almost agreed, especially as I empathised with the writer's parents denying him a console - happened to me too, although that instead led me to a life loving computer games instead, from the Amiga to the PC. And besides, all my friends had them, so I still played a hell of a lot of console games!

The main thing I take issue with is this bit:

Where it used to be generally accepted that most games would feature primarily a single-player campaign with the possibility of a multiplayer option tacked on, we're seeing a dramatic role reversal.

Um, no, we're not. It's always been like this, and there is a 'single player games are on their way out' argument every year. Is God of War 3 multiplayer driven? Grand Theft Auto 4? Bioshock 2? Deus Ex 3? Batman: Arkham Asylum? No. Are we suddenly seeing a time where single-player games are ignored for the multiplayer component in them? No. Super Mario Kart. GoldenEye. Quake II. There are always games like this.

Sewblon:
Grim Fandango drew me into its story on the same level that films and books often draw me in. I don't know if it is our Citizen Kane, but it is a start.

Thank you Sewblon, I was going to mention that one too. Play it then revise your opinion, Mr Stogner (great name by the way).

Well, I really don't click with any of what is said in this article. Humans, for as long as we have existed on this planet, have told stories, in a basically linear way, with heavy authoring. There are experiments along the way, theatre that breaks the fourth wall as is mentioned, improv, some performance artists, etc. Yet, storytelling hasn't changed all that much because there are some type of learning and cognitive functions that are really hardwired into our brains. Technology does place us in a very different place than cavemen, but I don't think we've changed that much to forgo internal storytelling in our mediums. Not yet. I'm not saying it will never happen. I just think it's way too soon to be declaring this type of communication dead.

Also, I think that there are games that have taken the language of the medium and told an internal story much better that what has been mentioned so far. I point to all the "artsy" games as evidence that multiplayer does not equal the only way for games to draw the player into a interactive narrative.

Exhibit A: Shadow of the Colossus. Strictly single player. Mute. It uses ample interactive exploration and time spent travelling, loneliness, and some very visceral gaming at the colossi to tell a rather simple, yet strangely epic story. Very similar to myths of old that can be found in a lot literature in all the ages. It makes the player feel a lot of things, even a bond to a digital animal, stronger than any multiplyer experience I have had. I would say it really takes advantege of the "language" available in a game.

Exhibit B: Flower. I think this type of games are in its infancy, but it completely embraces the fact that it's an interactive medium (the literal physical input) to guide the player through the game and convey a message. OK, so a lot of people say there's hardly any game or narrative in there at all, and I can understand that. Good narratives can be subtle too. Plus, I think demostrated that there are still words to add to our the gaming language with which we want to approach interactive narrative.

So far: rather shallow stories, no extremely complex characters, right? I'll concede that. I just think this type of games show that there are still a lof of avenues to take before we declare that external storytelling it the one and only way. I have one more thing to say:

exhibit c: Jordan Mechner's little absolute masterpiece, The Last Express. Single player experience. Pioneered the rewind function that would later be at the core of the Sands of Time trilogy. It's a game you can play many times and always experience it in a different way (dialogues you hadn't heard, alternate endings, different ways of solving a problem, etc). It is heavily scripted and authored, yet it weaves an extremely complex tale and develops multilayered characters (male and female) in a way that distances itself from book and film. If you've never played this game, it's my opinion you have no place talking about innovative narrative techniques in gaming. Plus I think it's one of those examples where style trumps graphics, as the art used is still unique and doesn't look all that aged.

EDIT: Just to add a final thought. What I feel these (and other games) share is that in all of them the gameplay actions you take are the story, and not that the actions you take in the game are way to get to or progress a somewhat removed story. That is what storytelling in game should be.

These "external stories" are no replacement for a good well crafted linear story. The story of the headshot I just got or my friend finally getting that high score is nowhere near as interesting as, say, Grim Fandango's story. These are just life experiences, and maybe very good ones, but they dont' replace story.

Games don't need to all provide you with choice. Games don't all need to be sandboxes. The games that give you choice like Mass Effect just create a large number of branching storylines, but it's limited. Games like the Sims just don't tell very interesting stories, they're interesting for their gameplay.

Furthermore, if you make a game that is just a sandbox for players to create interesting stories, they won't necessarly create interesting stories. They'll do things, but not everything someone does is an interesting story. Writers pick the things that are interesting.

It's not that Mass Effect or Sims or Left 4 Dead are bad games, they just fill a different niche, and linear story based games have their own niche.

Like the article says, games can't just immitate movies, but that's not the same as games shouldn't have linear stories.

- - - - - - - -

To me, games aren't necessarily a better storyteller than movies, they're a different storyteller. A key difference is that in a game you're not just being told the story, you're earning it, and working for something and being rewarded feels good.

The problem that i find (and after doing most of a year in basic level program design) is that computers follow the "Option 1, If not 1, Then 2, If not 2, then 3" and so on, So you get options in current gen games being "good, Neutral, bad". The thing is, I find it to be a completely different experience than reading a book.

A book can entrall you, having you hooked, and something i find is that i then start forgetting im reading, Almost like im watching TV, in my head (i tried to make that sound fancy. I failed, I know.) However, Ive never spent 200 hours reading a single book, And ive never read the same book twice (Cover to Cover) in the same month.

The thing is, You can waste hours or even Days reading books. You dont need electricity to read them ('cept maybe for light) or any internet connection. But unless you're in some kind of book club it can be a rather solitary pursuit.

Gaming on the other hand can be a solitary pursuit, but with technological advances in the last 10 years, Im willing to bet that at sometime or another nearly every gamer has played with someone else, Its basic competition. Single Player games have come on leaps & bounds in the last 5/6 years, just take Oblivion as a case point. That had a rather epic storyline, And sure, It can be fairly linear, But then again, When is a book not linear? Where does it say in harry potter that you can change the ending yourself?

If we pulled someone from the early 80's forward to now, And told him that computer games will have stories more engrossing than films, He'd probably laugh in your face,(and then apply copious amounts of hairspray), But have him play mass effect, oblivion, Or even one of the FF games, and im sure he would have a change of heart. Im quite hopeful that in the future games will become as satisfying and more engrossing than a good book.

This is an interesting idea - the focus on games as tools for collaborative storytelling in particular is fascinating.

To me, the unique narrative power of videogames is the ability to tell stories about the audience - which no other medium can pull off anywhere near as well. I wrote about this recently, and those who find the topic interesting may wish to check it out:
Play Me A Story, Part One: Metal Gear Solid and the Cinematic Game
Play Me A Story, Part Two: What Makes A Metanarrative?

Quote:
"No, game narratives have to be flexible and fluid, which doesn't lead to deep themes and complex plots but instead encourages simplistic tales that can adapt to digital chaos."

OOooohh boy, I wouldn't want to live in his kind of future.....Sure, sounds good the way he presents it, but damn people...look past the pretty words...look at the nasty implications.

We already don't need a valid reason to go kill off a horde of baddies. "They're evil" (look at their eyes ;) usually suffices. We're all on the road to becoming FEATHERBRAINED.

If this guys future sets in, we can look forward to games with no real depth: less than 8h singleplayer with no replay value and a huge focus on multiplayer....what a friggin waste of storytelling potential. This is not evolution...this is degeneration.

I absolutely love strong single player narratives. Bioshock, the Half-Life series, and Shadow of the Colossus are the three games that top my list of all time, and all three are strong single player campaigns with no multiplayer to speak of. That being said, as much as I love the stories of these games, they are relatively simple, I believe necessarily so.

As for the idea that single player games are disappearing, I don't think that they ever will go away entirely, and I would be extremely upset if they did. However, sales figures from last year show fairly clearly that single player focused games are not selling as well as their multiplayer counterparts. Of the single player focused games that released last year (and there were a LOT: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age: Origins, Assassin's Creed 2, Demon's Souls, Brutal Legend, Uncharted 2, forgive me for the countless more I'm forgetting), Assassin's Creed 2 was the only one to break the top 20 sales lists.

I don't want to say that someone who has a strong narrative to tell in a video game shouldn't do so. But I do feel that games have the opportunity to explore a completely new approach to telling stories, and this isn't something to shy away from. It took a while for filmmakers to figure out how to use this new medium to do something that was unique and unprecedented, but they eventually established the cinema as an art form all its own. Games have that same chance. This is virgin territory, and the game makers who craft strong titles that stand apart from comparisons to film or literature are the ones who will define the industry.

The differences today between good video games and good movies are blurring. The main thing that separates the two are the fact that in a good movie, or book for that matter, you have to go where the story takes you, follow it to the end, and can't diverge. We've all been at points in books and movies asking the protagonist "What the heck did you do THAT for?" They did it to serve the story. Video games offer an entirely new realm of interaction; some of today's even look better than movies out just 10 years ago. Games like Dragon Age, Fallout, Oblivion, GTA, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, to name a very few, depend on your decisions to shape the story, and things go the way YOU want them to, even though someone else used the medium to created the world your character is inhabiting.

It seems to me that there is the growing thought that stories = anecdotes. It is true that an anecdote is a type of story, but I don't think anecdotes can replace the level of development and characterizations achieved in books, movies, theater, etc.

In an anecdote, where's the mystery? The intrigue? The development of an overall arch?
Omitting a story and saying "the user develops their own story through their experiences" is like omitting music and sound effects and saying "the user generates their own atmospheric sound though their playing".

Well, it looks like this got us all talking, didn't it? Good stuff.

I personally find it interesting that Citizen Kane was used as the film analogy.

Jesse Schell in his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses has a name for the author's ideal storytelling structure: "The Story Machine." That is, a foundation for a variety of player-influenced stories. It's a legitimate storytelling scheme.

But here we have people advocating the strengths of linear storytelling, and everyone's bringing up their favorite story-driven experiences. Shadow of the Colossus, Bioshock, Half-Life, Grim Fandango - heck, I'm ready to bring up a few of my own.

None of these are Citizen Kane? In what respect? Completely universal recognition as a champion of the medium's storytelling? True, perhaps no one single game is the unchallenged champion of the industry's storytelling skill.

Actually, carelesshx says it better:

carelesshx:
I think the writer misses a really important point here: that Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made because it has the greatest story, but because it practically invented modern cinema as we know it. As the previous poster says, the story is told through the language of its own medium - a language which modern cinema takes for granted, but which didn't really exist before Citizen Kane.

I would argue that gaming has had plenty of 'Citizen Kane moments', where single games have broken new ground in the language of video game storytelling.

In the end, though, I think this has at least gotten us all talking about video game storytelling. In that sense, this article is quite the success.

There are plenty of truly great -- great as in Goethe, Tagore, Brecht, Morrison, Miyazaki -- games out there. Here's the short list of certifiable classics:

Max Payne (2001)
They Hunger (2001)
Metal Gear Solid 3 (2004) [Note that the canonic version is the Subsistence edition, released in 2005]
Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Final Fantasy 12 (2006)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)

But the metrics are different: great games have great *game-play* as well as great sound-tracks, characters, visuals, scripts, voice-acting, set-design, etc. Also, all the great games dig deep into the resources of the digital commons.

If the world of games goes the way this article describes, It's a world I won't want to be a part of. (says as he listens to "Ninth Heaven" from Grim Fandango)

The Citizen Kane of video-games?I found it a few months ago.It probably has the best game-story ever made:-
http://www.crestfallen.us/

It's freeware too.

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