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The Story That Only A Game Could Tell

Can the controller tell the tale that no one else could? An exploration of story telling elements within video games.

Jacob Corum, Blogger

November 15, 2009

5 Min Read

I had a dream last night that was strikingly similar to Left 4 Dead. Essentially it was a first person nightmare. At one point, an ally I was forced to abandon approached me and started asking me why- why I had let him get turned into a zombie. When I woke up I began to think how this would work in the actual video game.

Imagine while playing Left 4 Dead you are faced with a horde of zombies so intense you had to leave one of your allies behind. This happened a while ago and your ally will re-spawn and rejoin the group, but instead, imagine this scenario: you casually approaching the re-spawn closet. You're about to release your trapped teammate from the closet so that they can once again assist you on your journey.

But instead of your able bodied ally walking out, they stumble out and fall to the floor, horribly wounded. Having apparently escaped the horde, they look up at you with glassy eyes and ask- "Why did you leave?". They cry out and hold their vicious gaping injuries. They start to beg you "shoot me". They beg for the mercy you wouldn't give them before.

Has a work of fiction ever shown you what survivors guilt is like? And I don't mean to sympathize with a character, I mean have you ever walked out of a theatre thinking "I could have done something". Or put down a book and thought "That should of been me." This is something no movie, book, play, story or any other media has ever done to me. Perhaps I've felt bad for someone or sympathized with a character- but it would be nothing compared to suddenly see a teammate (even an AI one) before me, dying, asking why I had just let her suffering happen, knowing that that their death was my fault.   

The new heavy rain game apparently has a scene where, while playing as a undercover female character you're forced to strip for a local crime boss. I've seen this female character and despite the dire situation, I don't think it would be all that bad to see her naked. Apparently however, men who have played this segment of the game described it as being awkward, not sexy at all. (http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/112658-the-gleam-of-electric-sex-what-video-games-might-or-might-not-teach-/) They didn't like stripping for the fat greasy mafioso. I believe this is because of role placement- games have a way of forcing a player into the shoes of somebody else.

Games have a significant advantage over other media. Movies, while being one of the most popular methods of conveying an emotional story these days, can only allow you to look into a persons life. Video Games allow you to BE a person and experience their life.

Consider this example as well: In the original Kingdom Hearts while in the first world, your island home, you are able to fight against your allies as an optional tutorial. Most of these fights are rather simple but when fighting the main character's best friend Riku there is an extremely steep difficulty curve.

Even if you were to get good enough to beat him, he keeps track of your wins and losses. It was nearly impossible to have more wins than he did. Veterans to the game have a difficult time beating him so why present this challenge to a beginner? Because they weren't meant to win. The player is meant to start viewing Riku as a rival, someone they would have to work to beat.

The player unknowingly began to sympathize with Sora (the game's playable main character) who also saw Riku as a rival. By the time you were forced to leave the the island you left it with a feeling of regret- most players had to leave without ever evening the score. They were left with a desire just like Sora's- to go out and find Riku once again.

Story telling is an age old form of displacement- a linguistic ability to speak of things and events that are not present. For as long as civilization has existed, stories have been used as a way to bare warning, to inspire bravery, or to give hope. What place could our newly born method of media play in our quest for expression? In what other ways can video games help us tell stories?

One can only imagine the possibilities when an artist would be able to allow a someone to not only see through their eyes but to also act as they act. By establishing boundaries and enabling abilities, video games can reach over barriers and touch people in a way no other media can.

So let's explore this idea. We've all found games to be a more stimulating than other mediums and I think we've finally figured out why. Games allow us to assume emotional and physical roles that would otherwise be unavailable to us. In what other ways have we seen this? More importantly, what other ways can we use this? Could a game inspire compassion as well a competition? Could it create hope as well as hostility? Let's step back and look at games as more than just a recreation and hear what other stories they could tell. 

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