Medium-Shaped Stories, Part 1 – Games

One of the things I like best about stories are how flexible they are. They’re everywhere, slipping into all the different-shaped cracks or gaps in our lives. Think about it–even when you tell a joke, you’re telling a story with a punchline. A knock-knock joke is a mini story about someone knocking on a door. Whether the person doing the knocking is hilarious or lame… well, that depends.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be comparing how stories are told in three different mediums: Games, movies and TV, and books. I’ve always found it fascinating to see how each medium plays up different strengths of storytelling, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

When I mention games, I’m not talking about the five minute ones where you slingshot birds, direct planes to land or pop bubbles of the same colour. I’m talking games where the main feature of the game is the story itself. Some examples are the Final Fantasy series, the Assassin’s Creed series, Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead, to name just a few.

The most obvious distinction for games is their interactivity. The easiest examples are games where the story is branched, depending on the decisions I make. In this case, I am directly influencing the outcome by what I do, or don’t do. My character is, in essence, an extension of who I am. I wouldn’t call myself the author, as the stories are all based around an existing framework, but it’s certainly more effective than the other mediums in immersing me into the world and its happenings.

Even in the games with linear storylines, I set the pacing. Will I take my time and explore every single nook and cranny? Will I choose to talk to certain characters and learn extraneous yet interesting information about them? Will I return to places I’ve previously been, or leap off a few cliffs for the fun of it? Will I do various sidequests to discover more about the world, or race straight to the finish?

Games have long been derided as entertainment for children or trigger-happy teenage boys. But I doubt the people pointing fingers have tried the games that make you laugh, or cry, or move you so profoundly in a direction you’d never thought of going. They can, at times, be more powerful than film or books, when they hit on that magic combination of visuals, music, and character insights, especially since there’s a part of you that you’ve given over to the character you play. Even a game with the most basic of plots based around the Hero’s Journey can change a life.

This is why there are times I choose to play a game and not watch a movie or read a book. I play games when I want to have the freedom to spend time with the characters I love, or decide the fate of the world–or a town, family or person. It’s when I want to be in control of what happens and challenge my mental or motor skills, yet have a well-scripted, complex plot that can rival those of a lengthy TV or book series.

It’s why gaming will always be a unique, valuable medium for storytelling. It’s why books, movies or TV can never replace it. And it’s why I hope that you will go try it for yourself.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

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