You may not agree, but I firmly believe that video games are an art form equal to movies, books, or any other story-telling medium. They have their disadvantages when it comes to telling a good story, yes, but they also have their own unique advantages. Lately, my mind has been on some examples that excellently demonstrate these advantages.
It begins with some bad dialogue:
“You crawl unwitting, like a blind, writhing worm, towards endless madness and despair!”
If you’ve played World of Warcraft recently, you no doubt recognize this quote from the new dungeon, End Time. Now, this is not a good piece of dialogue by any stretch of the imagination. It is, in fact, almost embarrassingly cheesy.
But the interesting thing is that I never noticed this while running End Time. It only occurred to me while thinking about the dungeon afterward. Why is this?
It’s because I was too busy thinking, “OMG that giant ****ing Dragon is headed right for us! OMG we get to rewind time! OMG this dungeon is so awesome!”
And this is what makes games so interesting as a medium for story-telling. The player is not a passive observer; they’re right in the action. This creates a level of immersion that no other medium can duplicate. It’s easy to ignore minor flaws in the story — like some bad dialogue.
Now, you might say this is a crutch to conceal bad writing. And sometimes, such as in the Murozond example, it is. But when the writing is good and combined with interesting and immersive gameplay, you get something truly special.
And that brings us to our next example.
It ends In Utter Darkness:
In Utter Darkness is a mission in Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. It is supposed to be a vision of the future in which the last survivors of the alien Protoss make their final stand against the Zerg Swarm and their Hybrid masters.
The overall objective is “witness the coming apocalypse.” The mission invariably ends with the Protoss being defeated, but for the sake of challenge, you have to achieve a certain number of enemy kills to move on to the next mission. (As an aside, my record is about 3,400 kills on brutal. Who bad? I’m bad. :D)
But In Utter Darkness has a second objective, and this is where it gets brilliant: “Defend until the last Protoss falls.” In other words, the mission will not end until you are wiped out.
Blizzard could have been predictable about this. They could have just ended with a cinematic showing the end of the universe. But they didn’t. They took full advantage of their medium and made the player an active participant in the end of all things.
Now, you could just let the enemy win to save time, but there are achievements for holding out longer, so most people try to cling on as long as they can.
But the enemy attacks will grow progressively stronger, the light progressively dimmer, the longer the mission lasts. Inevitably, you will be defeated. No matter how hard you fight, no matter how brilliant a player you are, no matter what, you will be forced to watch as your best-laid plans fail and your mighty fortress is ripped apart before your very eyes.
It imparts an amazing sense of hopelessness, of futility. And it hits so much harder than it could if In Utter Darkness was a movie or television program, because it was you who was fighting to hold back the fury of the Hybrid, struggling in vain to preserve some hope for the universe.
All this is further reinforced by how powerful and dramatic the Protoss units are in-game. You can incinerate massive waves of enemies with the thermal lances of your robotic colossi, shatter armies with the psionic storms of the high templar, and bend time and space to your will with the Shield of Aiur mothership.
And yet it’s still not enough, and this hammers home the terrible, unstoppable power of the Hybrids.
It’s a perfect synthesis of gameplay and story-telling that makes for a unique and powerful experience.
And that, my friends, is why video games are awesome.