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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

(F2) Storytelling in Video Games

What? I thought it was all about killing monsters and conquering lands! Wait, let's rewind.

J.F. Jenkins is a mother, fantasy writer, and gamer fan. If you ask me, it’s a good combination as any. When she came to me with the idea for the article, I was pleasantly surprised. If you think that gamers are only into their games and don’t have much time for anything else, you’d be wrong. This lady here has published a book called Legend of the Oceina Dragon (Kindle edition), and she is plotting the rest of the saga as we speak. In addition, she gives sneak peeks from Book 2 on her blog, so go check it out. 

Yet another thing you should know about this minx is that she leads another blog called Team Introversion, which is basically a part of a fictional ‘reality show’ called Escape where the teams have to complete a series of challenges to get ahead. If you’d like to check it out, you can find the breakdown here. And finally, she tweets under her name: @jfjenkinstweets and her team’s: @introv3rsion.  

Now, let's get onto business. Enjoy and tell us what you think!

Storytelling in Video Games
by J.F. Jenkins

An orphaned boy is plagued by nightmares. One day he wakes up to find his home village in the forest attacked by monsters. As he does his part to protect his people he discovers that he is not of the same race as the other people in his village. Embarking on a quest across the kingdom, he finds a princess who enlists his help. After unearthing three precious gems, together they are to summon a great power that will protect the entire kingdom from crumbling.

This sounds like a plot to some kind of epic book series or movie, doesn't it? It doesn't come from either of those places though. It's from a popular video game franchise. Yup, video games. They do have plotlines. Today, I'm going to be telling you how video games are a good example of how to write a good story.

The thing video games and books have in common are that they need to hold the attention span of their audience for long periods of time. Video games can be anywhere from 8-100 hours in length. Yes, that is correct. 100. Hours.

Some people would get fed up by this idea, but how is it different than investing that time to a 900+ page novel like say, Stephen King's “The Stand”?  I'll tell you what's the same: the story keeps me going.

Games follow the same kind of story patterns as novels. There's the protagonist and their antagonist (or several of them). There are secondary characters, and each has their own history, personality traits, and overall goals being explored as you progress through the story. There are subplots, romances, yes ROMANCES in video games (some of my favorite romantic pairings actually come from games). And there's the journey of self discovery, just like in a book.

The key to holding the interest for such a long period of time is pacing. Just like in a novel, the description of the journey needs to be properly laid out. Too much action and the feeling for the characters is lost. Too much emotional character development and the audience begins to feel frustrated by the lack of moving forward. Games are actually starting to become more 50/50 in terms of how they're dividing up their story scenes and the actual amount of time playing the game.

I encourage everyone to analyze the next game they end up playing. For those of you who don't play games, you can find a lot of great material on YouTube. Here are some great examples. Most of them are pretty romantic. ;)

This is from Final Fantasy XIII. Yes, it's cheesy, but I love it anyway. I need a good cheese fest sometimes. But notice how much of the story is told just through their words? This is the first time all of this information is presented to the audience, and it works well.

I'm a Final Fantasy junkie, so naturally most of these are going to come from there. But this is a scene from FFX. What I love about this is the intense amount of creative world building.

Here's a sappy scene from an older game called Grandia. These games couldn't rely so heavily on the visuals obviously, so they did most of it through great dialogue.

And the last one is from Final Fantasy VIII. This game is especially one I would play/YouTube because it does such a great job with character development through dialogue and using effective flashbacks.

I could come up with several more examples and from multiple genres, but I picked these because they are my favorite and they are great models of effective storytelling.

Oh, and the plot mentioned in the opening is from “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”.


Anonymous said...

My kids used to sit and watch each other play video games just FOR the stories. Each of the four of them had a particular ability when it came to gaming so they took turns using the same game just to see the story through.

Michael Offutt said...

Video games can be extremely rich in story as you've pointed out. For example, every character in the Mortal Kombat storyline contributed to this huge back story that involved an invasion from Outland and a tournament run by ancient gods. It was really quite cool. Other examples are with the mmorpg's...World of Warcraft for example. WoW is such a huge universe and the villains (whether they be Kaelthas the Blood Elf, Illidan, Deathwing, Lich King, or Yogg Saron) all have storylines that are woven through the individual dungeons and raids. In fact, by finishing many of the dungeons and raids, you unlock awesome cut scenes that are available to the rest of the realm to enjoy. How exciting that someone realizes the importance of video games and how they really are (in many ways) just an evolved storybook only with pictures instead of words.

Anonymous said...

Video games have evolved since the days of Donkey Kong. I love how many games focus on story. RPGs follow standard hero's journey. I love the Final Fantasy series for that reason.

Metal Gear Solid, part 2 notwithstanding, has one of the greatest stories in video games and cinema.

Heavy Rain for the PS3 has without a doubt one of the deepest stories ever. Also, Red Dead Redemption. Great game and story.

Team Introv3rsion said...

Kay- me and my brother did the same thing! He's got more talent with certain fast paced sequences than me. One of my favorite gaming memories was collaborating with him on mario 3 for 8 hours (back before there were saving abilities). It was a wonderful bonding experience.

Michael: I haven't played WoW but I have heard that! Its great! Mortal kombat is one of my fav franchises because of the story. Have you seen the enw web show? Its aweseome!

Terrellmims: that's why I love ff series too! Haven't play mgs but I will someday. And see my tweets for my thoughts on heavy rain. I adored that game so much.

Anonymous said...

One more thing. I loved every example except Final Fantasy 8. I hate Squall. He was so unlikable. He had Rinoa basically throwing herself at him and he had emotional walls up for no reason. My favorite one is Final Fantasy 6. I LOVE that one.

Team Introv3rsion said...

Terrell: I liked 8, but I agree about squall. I kind of wanted to be like: get over yourself. 6 was amazing :) I also play a lot of wild arms. Great franchise there too. Favorite final fantasy is 9 I think. Not sure why, but I just enjoy it a lot.