What aspects of video games make video games a potentially more effective medium of storytelling than “traditional” mediums?
I wouldn’t use the word “Video Games” for this, because, as I’ve mentioned in previous writing, digital entertainment software is a wider medium than just games, and this medium has unique strengths with regards to storytelling that other mediums don’t.
The most obvious thing is that software can easily deliver different bits of narrative content with regards to context. It can have branching narrative content, which is essentially an excess of narrative that is selected between. So rather than telling just one story, in software it’s easy to tell a lot of different possible stories that the writers prepare in advance, as well as replacing or modifying individual elements of these stories.
With software, you can create associations for performing certain actions, then recontextualize those actions in a thematically relevant way. Probably the most significant example of this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Software can do advanced calculations on the fly for a lot of things that are hard to implement similar functionality for in traditional media, and it can keep those calculations hidden. For example, you can determine which content to present based on prior user input sampled over a long period, and you can keep the factors that control this presentation a secret, or even that there was a calculation to determine this in the first place.
Another advantage is that in software, you can explore multiple narrative threads and leave the other ones hanging to be resolved later. Also, much like a real life haunted house or theme park, you can create a virtual environment that can be walked around and engaged with and examined at your discretion, so narrative elements can be embedded in the presentation of this environment, a technique commonly referred to as, “Environmental Storytelling.”
And of course, you could include a game within a piece of software, this is the most common use of digital entertainment software.
Software excels at creating places to explore and presenting a multiplicity of stories, along with the convenience to examine the story at your leisure and tie together disparate narrative information in a non-preset order, which is uncommon in other media. It’s like having an fictitious encyclopedia rather than a storybook, where things are laid out across entries that bind together to form a coherent whole, rather than a specific telling of specific events.
Software can say something like “He quickly dashed inside and (hid his [keys] in the [dresser]) OR (grabbed his [gun] from the [coffee table]).” where you can swap out which bit of narrative content actually happens, and change some of the objects of interest within the narrative content. Choose your own adventure books can have the OR, but they can’t swap the objects, and they can’t remember a choice from a prior page and bring it down into a later branch, unless you want to make a fuckton more redundant branches for each of these permutations.
Software can’t let you make “your own” story, but it can tell you many stories instead of one, and it can let you pick between which ones you want to hear.
In terms of maybe not narrative potential, but general artistic potential, software can create links between people, such as Nier Automata’s Ending E, in which players need to go through a difficult sequence, but can be offered help from other players in the form of a powerup that makes the sequence easier. The catch is that this powerup comes at the cost of all that person’s save game data, and you’re offered the same choice to offer that powerup to other players who cannot beat the ending when you reach the end at the cost of all your save data. The powerup is marked with a message from that person and their name, so by getting hit in the ending sequence after accepting the powerup, effectively their last will and testament within the game is being deleted after they’ve already given up their save data.
And I heard of another experimental game where there was a shared stock of lives between all players of the game, and in playing the game well you could earn more lives, but also lose them of course, and if you did really poorly, you might earn more lives for other people to play the game, but once all the lives were gone the game was dead.
To encompass this category of digital entertainment software I’ve come up with the word, “Videoware” recently, and I’d like if it that were to become a thing. The idea is that all digital entertainment software is now under the umbrella “videoware” and “video games” are a sub-category of videoware, with other applications falling into the general category instead, with subcategories for interactive fiction or maybe digital pets or software toys. Under this grouping, we can look at Steam as say a videoware distributor rather than strictly a games distributor. The term might sound a little silly, but I think it would be better for describing our current ecosystem than our current terminology, and it would acknowledge the link between digital entertainment software in general, and games software specifically.
Here’s some examples of stories told through software:
Does a video game need to be a good game to be a good video game? why?
Y’know, I’d take it as a given, but not everyone does, so I think I’m not really going to elaborate on this one.
Can you say why you think it’s a given? like what do you say to people who say video games are their own thing sort of separate from games? they use that to justify the idea that games dont need good gameplay, and that gone home is a good video game even if its not good as a strict game
Currently my position is that entertainment software, which I’m thinking of calling “Videoware” (somewhere between video game and software), is a whole medium, and video games are a subset of that larger medium. Gone home (or Dear Esther really) might be a good “videoware”, but it’s not a video game, the same way Mario or Interactive Buddy aren’t Interactive Fiction, and the latter isn’t a game either.
I like this semantic because I don’t want to say video games are their own separate thing from games. I think the categories should be unified and we understand games, videoware or not, as being the same across mediums. I think we should unify tabletop games and sports and understand them in similar terms too.
I’d say that there are artistic forms that are possible in software that don’t exist elsewhere and perhaps deserve their own exploration, but I’d personally hold that a video game needs to be a good game