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Video Game Stories? Forget Hollywood!

This is my perspective on where some movies and games can strike well when they have good stories. With many movies going all out with special effects, CGI, and poor plot developments, come and see why I think video game stories are better than movies.

Kyle Smith

April 25, 2009

14 Min Read

Video Game Stories? Forget Hollywood!

Ah ... Nothing like watching a DVD movie on your TV or a Blu-Ray movie with your High Definition TV set. Back in the days of the Roaring '20s, movies have started to become very popular with delivering great characters, a unique plot, and lessons to learn in life. If we take a trip back to the past, we can see many movies that have shown that they are capable to pushing the boundaries of storytelling every moment of the feature presentation. Whether if it was the rise and fall of Tony Montana in Scarface or the quest to destroy evil in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, every story had a meaning on where it counts and how many of us can relate with our own stories to tell. While I'm not much of a film buff, I have to admit that most of the feature films back in the old days were very well done because of the many chapters that it delivered in their tales like saving the world or sacrificing yourself for the one you love. Nowadays, most movies are becoming somewhat mediocre while it may seem obvious that film makers are more interested in going over the top with special effects and hardly any plot or character developments whatsoever. Probably the most beneficial stories that I know of in these modern times are James Cameron's highest grossing film of all time, Titanic, and Christopher Nolan's greatest superhero movie, The Dark Knight. Let us take a minute and look at where they struck gold.


This movie had shown that a story between two people where they are torn apart by their social status in society manage to fall in love on a ship where it become one of God's greatest disasters in history. Jack Dawson is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Rose Dawson Calvert is played by Kate Winslet. These two are from different worlds where Rose is of the upper class and Jack is in the lower class of citizenship. Rose is becoming more and more torn by the fact that she has to abide by the rules of the upper class with being fancy and beautiful, all the time. Rose meets Jack and they begin to become more acquainted with each other. Rose thought that this would be spectacular to try an learn about the social life of the lower class. She enjoys the feeling and she spends most of her time with Jack and they eventually fall in love with each other. As soon as the Titanic crashes into the iceberg and sinks into the ocean, Jack enters death and leaves Rose to live her life to the fullest. She even adopts Jack's surname as her very own in making everyone believe that she died in the ocean. As we can see, Jack was the key to change Rose's life and to become free from her upper class rank. It is very engaging to see how a girl's love for a man can lead her to a happy life. It certainly did for me when I saw it for the first time in 1997.

The Dark Knight

Now let us dive deeper into the number one superhero movie and my most personal favorite of all time; The Dark Knight. As many of you know, this movie is a direct sequel of Christopher Nolan's 2005 hit; Batman Begins. The story of Batman revolves around a rich and powerful businessman named Bruce Wayne, played by Christian Bale, who secretly works as a night watcher who fights against crime in Gotham City. When learning the ways to fight against his own fear and subjecting fear onto the fearful, Bruce's double life takes him in with the help of his butler, Alfred Pennyworth played by Michael Caine, Rachel Dawes played by Katie Holmes and Maggie Glyennhaal in the sequel, Lucius Fox played by Morgan Freeman, and James Gordon played by Gary Oldman. The Dark Knight tells the plot about a violet, clothed vigilante who is rising up to power with bringing Gotham City to his knees and a District Attorney who stands up against corruption which leads him to the path of evil. Of course I am talking about Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent. Bruce Wayne continues his task with fighting against corruption when mobs are using money to secure drugs and weaponry, but he is interrupted when the Joker starts to get the best of him. Dealing with both the loss of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent's good reputation to the city, Batman must fight back against both of them to ensure that the morale of Gotham City is never low. Of course this was done in secrecy and at the end, he vowed to have himself be placed as the main criminal behind some of the deaths of Gotham's people. As you can see, the themes of the movie were based on two simple terms: Escalation and Chance. For escalation, the Joker used all means to go one step ahead of everybody and kill as many people as he wanted to. For Chance, Harvey always had a coin that determines the fate of himself or his enemies.The morals and ethical dilemmas in the plot make the story more interesting.

As you can see, I believe that movies are more of a work in visualization because many movie makers have to use their imagination with what they want to have in the story and to make it strong. It is quite a challenge, but working on a story to make it succeed than others is where it really counts. Now, let us look at some games that have good stories for themselves.

Final Fantasy VII

While this game is considered to be favored and overrated by many, this game has one of the most unique stories with characters that you can care for and plot twists that will devour you in more as time passes. The story is about a Mercenary named Cloud Strife who works with anti-terrorist unit named AVALANCHE. The goal is about stopping a huge, electric-power corporation from destroying the world with taking away its main life force, the Lifestream. The company is called Shin-Ra and their main focus is to rise in power and rule over all in their own dystopia society of Midgar. As the game goes on, people can begin to wonder if Cloud says who he really is based on his actions and the story becomes more radical when they learn that a legendary warrior who defected from Shin-Ra, many years ago, comes back to take revenge on the company and the whole planet. The warrior's name is Sephiroth, and he shows no mercy to those who stand in his way and he continues to harass Cloud with helping him come to terms that he is not the type of person who he considers himself to be. As it is shown, your main objective is about saving the planet from a catastrophe about to be done by one man and finishing off a company that has become even more corrupted than ever. From what is mentioned about this game, the main theme surrounds the term 'life'. Life is something that is precious to all of us where we live to our fullest. With many opportunities in life, it is about how much we can grow as a species and bring it to times of greater good. Not only that, players will learn that Cloud comes to terms of who he really is and why he lies to himself to never mention that he was weak, in the past. With the story as a whole, you can see how much his character grows to make him utilize his own strength and personality without the use of another.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater/Subsistence

From 1987 to this day forth, the Metal Gear franchise is an ever-going phenomenon about a man who fights to escape the chains of his fate. In Metal Gear Solid 3, the main protagonist fights with all of his will to bring peace between two countries who have been manipulated by a legendary hero and a rebel unit in the Soviet Union. This was around the 1960s when the Cold War tension were beginning between the US and the Soviet Union, so the game ties in with a little history lesson and cinematic elements that make it original. Defection has been an tradition that happened in the Cold War and people leave their own countries in order to escape their control. In the game, Naked Snake is sent from the CIA to the Soviet Union on a covert assignment to rescue a Soviet scientist wanting to flee to America, but Snake is stopped by his mentor, The Boss, and a Spetsnaz Colonel named Volgin. The defeat left Snake with a dislocated arm and a full retreat and recovery back in America. One week later after tensions started to grow more between the US and the Soviets, the United States sent Snake back into the Soviet Union to rescue the scientist, stop a nuclear tank called the Shagohad, and assassinate The Boss for her defection. Snake and The Boss meet on different occasions where Snake is always left defeated with The Boss telling him to go back to the United States. Snake was confused on whether The Boss is an enemy to him or not because of their relationship explained further on in the game. The relationship is more like a mother-and-son type of family, and that is where the game's main theme comes into play; maternity.With the troubling past of The Boss and her guidance for Snake, the players can really feel sympathy for her character and sadness for her when she is killed by Snake. It makes a great story about how one boy must surpass his parents into fighting against the chains of fate with many more battles to come. Even in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Solid Snake played that same role but it was the fight against two brothers where Liquid Snake tries to unleash an insurrection against the ones who control everything in the whole world. The areas of where the Patriots control are the Economy, Military, Society, War, Liberty, etc. With MGS3 taking place as the first chronological game in the franchise, we can start seeing how the whole story comes to make sense.

Tales of Symphonia

Okay. I'm not one to brag, but there are some animes that I really enjoy watching, nowadays. Whether if it is Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Death Note, or Code Geass, I just need to find another way to escape from reality than just playing video games. What if those two forms of media combine and create a game series that is original in every way? You get Namco Bandai's Tales of franchise. Probably the one that got me the most interested in was the 2004 Gamecube classic, Tales of Symphonia. The story is about two worlds that compete with one another to save the life force in their own world. It's like a game of capture the flag or Halo 3's own gameplay mode, Grifball. One world has to maintain the powerful presence of Mana to keep their world from extinction and the other goes for it in a game of 'World Regeneration'. How it works is that both worlds worship a goddess who watches over them by the name of Martel. Each world has a main church or temple and they chose who is the one to carry out the task of regenerating their own world. In the main plot, an 18-year old village outsider named Lloyd Irving is an ordinary citizen who comes and visits a small village called Iselia, and the village guards Martel's Temple to the north. One day at school, Lloyd learns about the World Regeneration journey where one of his classmates, Colette Brunel, is clarified as The Chosen for the world of Sylvarant to save it from decline. Some of the opposing forces that stands in Lloyd's way are the enemy, half-elf organization known as the Desians and an assassin who comes from a different world called Tethe'alla. When you thought that the World Regeneration was complete, you begin to suspect that there is something fishy about the Church of Martel where another organization named 'Cruxis' takes The Chosen's body as a sacrifice for Martel without mercy. Lloyd does save Colette in the process and he travels to Tethe'alla with his friends to find a cure and learn about what they will do next. Throughout the rest of the game, you watch and learn the actions about how Lloyd Irving wants to reunite Sylvarant and Tethe'alla as one, unified planet where everyone will live a happy life without competition. There is a strong theme of idealism and paternity where you learn that one of the main characters is Lloyd's long, lost father. Miraculously, the game was very well received for having a great story that made you understand that there are those who are dedicated to an idea. It requires going through hardships, but the dedication must always remain present.

As you can see, those are some of the examples of where games have great stories to tell. Most of them, like the Metal Gear franchise, can push the boundaries of how Hollywood works their movies and give it a sense of adventure through video games. It seems like a great opportunity for gamers to learn about the concepts of literature as an alternative instead of just reading their way through a book.The 2007 Xbox 360/PC hit, Mass Effect, was a prime example of how Bioware managed to make a game where the player controls the protagonist's actions through storytelling. Through the player's actions will give you different results based on the direction of the story and where it ends. That is a great example of how a game can push the boundaries over Hollywood in every right. However, that many not be the case with many people because most of them are focused on wanting to get into the actual gameplay instead of watching through a story; which is alright, but it leaves you wondering what is going on throughout the game. Ironically, its a great way of finding yourself to be lost in the whole thing. I even find myself watch the cutscenes of every Metal Gear game because of its usage of cinematic storytelling, and the cinematic storytelling is what gets me so excited to sit down and relax from the course of action. The Halo franchise is another prime example about a race of aliens known as the Covenant and the humans fight each other because of the Covenant's mission to rule the entire universe. Whether the game is more about gameplay than the plot of a game, the truth must be told that almost each game has a story to be told.

Overall, video games have the potential to surpass Hollywood in every shape or form of their respective tales to tell. From this day, many more people are pushing themselves to the limit to become well-known supporters of the gaming industry and they try so well to come up with their own stories. As the years progress down the road, more games will have cult following that are based off a story where people will cosplay or wear merchandise that will honor many franchises. It is a rewarding experience. Video game stories should not be taken lightly and they should be taken more seriously with not only the developers but for the general public as well. Like I said, no matter if a game is all out with gameplay or graphics, each game will have a story to be told.

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