Sep 27, 2013
The importance of a great gaming narrative has grown significantly as gaming technology has improved and as the gaming industry has aged. Although many games focus on multiplayer to drive the sales and longevity of their titles, when it comes to single player games, they have to work a lot harder to keep its audience engaged. In single player games, game mechanics can be reworked, polished and recycled to make new titles, but because the gaming industry evolves each year, gamers want to experience something new and exciting from the games they buy.
Although mindlessly shooting, hacking and slashing you way through levels can be fun, and has its place in the gaming world, gamers are increasingly setting their standards higher for games each year. As I previously mentioned in this article, gaming cinematic trailers are becoming more important to injecting hype and excitement for a new game. Gaming trailers are now comparable to film and television trailers in terms of their quality, and the fact in-game graphics are almost equal to CGI in the trailers sparks great enthusiasm for the game, and the power that next gen consoles can provide.
When the game is then released, all the cinematic hype is then fused with the game, and the gaming experience truly begins. In the last generation, we were of course in awe of the increasingly impressive graphics and attention to detail that games could demonstrate. However, as the industry has grown and evolved, we have become accustom to knowing that developers can make fantastic looking games -we know for a fact that next gen will provide some amazing spectacles and impressive video game graphics we haven’t seen before. However, developers need to heed this new technology to help forge gaming narrative worlds rich in specific detail, immersive atmospheres and believable characters (in relation to the story-world) that gamers can relate to. Excellent narrative progression and gaming story worlds could become the core factor to big titles and releases for next gen consoles, and what separates the good from the great.
Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are regarded as some of the best games in the world, and they both excel at world building, generating a brilliant atmosphere and most importantly, hosting some of the best story-telling gaming has seen in a long time. On top of this, the terrific soundtrack just adds the finishing touches to create one of the most immersive and atmospheric games to date. Bioshock Infinite has quite a complex narrative, which can at times be hard to wrap your head around. Although it achieved great ratings, many gamers were frustrated at times that the narrative was hard to understand, but this is not necessarily a bad thing – pushing the boundaries for gaming narratives is what the industry needs, or else next gen games will feel stagnated, glorified re-hashes of previous titles.
Rapture is a treat on the eyes, but it’s the narrative that helps place Bioshock in the top tier of games. The narrative twist was the first time where a game has literally made my jaw drop. The “Would You Kindly” phrase resonates in gamers’ minds, and turned our fondness for Atlas to hatred as you learn his true nature and identity. Additionally, after learning the revelation, when you play through the game a second time, it has a completely different dynamic and you pick up on fragments of dialogue that you once thought insignificant. The narrative is successful in undermining everything you believed to be true about the game, and worst of all, is that it makes you feel helpless about it at the same time.
It’s hard to piece together a gaming narrative that rivals that of great film, TV (here’s looking at you, Breaking Bad) or books, but hopefully the ambitious scope for next generation consoles and PC gaming will push the narrative boundaries further. Video games have many advantages to storytelling that aren’t possible in other mediums. The audience can directly interact with the narrative world and characters, and actively plays through the events of the game. This is such a great tool that can be used to help immerse the audience, and is a great method to make the player become emotionally invested in a narrative and its characters. When a game has the ability to slow down a gamers progression as they are scared or anxious what might happen to particular characters, that is a powerful dynamic for a game to adopt. The player must continue to unveil how the game will pan out, but at the same time don’t want to in case their favourite character meets a bitter end.
The Walking Dead is a great example of how video games can be used to ‘play’ a story. Its mechanics are incredibly simple, but the feeling that your actions having repercussions adds an extra dynamic, intensity and emotional engagement to the game. The zombie genre is predominantly full of FPS or hack and slash games, such as Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, where the main focus is kill everything on sight, and there is little narrative investment required – the enjoyment comes from decimating the zombie horde. However, The Walking Dead successfully pulls at the emotional strings and creates characters you care about. Within the next gaming generation, I hope that developers push gaming narratives to the limit. Everybody knows next gen games will look great, but developers must not let the narrative suffer for the sake of graphical perfection.