To some people, video games are the 21st-century equivalent of oil paintings. From 2D platformers like the classic Super Mario Bros or more recent triple-A series like Horizon Zero Dawn, video games are created on a canvas that can please our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. This post is my love letter to video games and the power they have as a storytelling tool.
I’ve played video games for a large portion of my life. It started out because my dad enjoyed using the computer and would put a few games on it to keep me busy. I beat Raptor: Call of the Shadows so many times my parents didn’t know what to do with me.
Raptor was published in 1994 and represents one of the most classic forms of gameplay commonly known as “Shoot ’em ups” or SHMUP. It involves a game where you control a character that moves up vertical in a treadmill-like manner. Given that this game came out decades ago, I can’t remember if it even had a storyline that went beyond “destroy without being destroyed”. Its graphics were simple and the gameplay mechanics were simpler yet.
But I played the heck out of it. Why? Because it gave me the power to be the hero in my own story. I didn’t know why I was destroying enemy ships. If there was any dialogue in the game, I doubt I could read well enough at that age to understand it. But that was the beauty of the game; I didn’t need to know how to read to enjoy it. And I did. I felt connected to a purpose. I felt I needed to survive and take down my enemies because goodness knows they would get to me first if I stood around doing nothing. The game elicited a strange perseverance and determination that was rooted in nothing more than the fact that I was one, and they were many. If I didn’t defend myself, who would?
Raptor marked the beginning of my interest in video games but it didn’t end there. After I finished it, my parents, fearing for my future, got me into more “educational games” such as Freddie Fish, Typing with Timon and Pumba, and the Reader Rabbit series. I was eventually bumped up to a Nintendo 64 and the gaming hasn’t stopped since.
One thing that has been consistent throughout my gaming has been the genres that attract me the most. I love role-playing games (RPG)s, a genre of video games that puts the focuses on dialogue and text that’s meant to present players with a compelling and immersive story (it’s a bit of a misnomer since technically every game involves the player assuming some sort of role).
My draw towards video games is likely related to my love of fiction. I love a good, immersive story. I like getting to know a character who challenges their own flaws and inner demons in order to better themselves and achieve their goals. Video games have just been a more visual storytelling tool complete with music, sound effects, and the illusion of control. Not all video games do this well, but the ones that do make the experience all the more compelling. A really good example of this is the game Divinity: Original Sin 2 (DOS2).
When it comes to video games, it takes more than HD graphics or carefully constructed prose to make a player feel engaged and connected with their character. DOS2 does this well. They have a history of interesting fantasy RPGs and DOS2 is actually an updated reboot of their Divinity series. I’m new to the franchise, having only ever played Divinity: Original Sin, Enhanced Edition prior to DOS2. But I can see the great care and thought that went into making DOS2 so much more compelling: the default storyline is flavoured by the personalities and ambitions of 5 playable characters who bicker and banter and occasionally kill characters they encounter, much to the dismay of the player. There is also the option to create your own original character, though that offers slightly fewer dialogue choices.
Having the option to select from these characters who speak, talk, and act according to their own ambitions makes the story really fun to explore. You start to connect with the characters and to select dialogue options that would suit their personalities. I think stories are more enjoyable when we can experience them through the eyes of a character whose motivations we can understand. We want to see things from their perspective and to feel connected with them as they strive towards their goal. We want to feel immersed in a fluid environment, not a complicated one that is too convoluted or confusing to understand. DOS2 offers all of these needs in a beautiful, extremely well-produced indie game that gives triple-A franchises like Assasin’s Creed a run for their money.
In the end, I love a good story. If you also enjoy stories and have yet to dip your hand into the world of video games, I promise you’ll find plenty of options to choose from.