There are so many good stories out there. My oldest told me a revision of the boy who cried wolf in the car on the way to school this morning, and by the time she was done she had bits of Hansel and Gretel in there, and even what I think was a Frozen (c) reference. I could tell what she understood and had learned. It was absolutely fantastic, and told audio-only as we waiting in the dropoff line.
There is such a tendency to look at the medium of a story without taking into account the story itself. The written word is truly accessible, but nowadays there are so many people that get their stories elsewhere. Whether it’s person to person interactions at work or in social circles, television and streaming services that offer us anything from a short, 5-minute commitment, all the way to massive, years long investments of time with the larger franchises, one thing is obvious-stories are evolving. The clearest example of this incredible evolution of storytelling is found in games.
Even the name doesn’t truly do the medium justice. The term games has a frivolous context associated with it in today’s lexicon. Someone asks a prospective love interest, “Are you playing games or are you serious?” A coach yells at the team to, “Quit playin’ around! This isn’t a game!” My question back would be why can’t it be both? Serious play sounds a little like an impossibility if you take it at face value, but there’s some real substance to the concept, and research to support it. Using games to engage parts of our brain we wouldn’t otherwise use is a fantastic way to deliberately unlock things that we, as a society, are only just now beginning to value. Creativity, as an example. It’s not some mystery box that only opens to the chosen few-it’s an aspect to every single one of our personalities, and we can get to it if we want to. The only question most have is, “How?” Modern video games can engage us in anything from training and education, all the way up to and including understanding deep truths about our self and the world we live in. I’ve written previously about a game called Advent Rising. Now there was a fantastic piece of storytelling, but it is somewhat old. Let’s take a more modern example of the art, in the form of a game called Control.
Control is set in an alternate history where shadowy forces act in a sort of paranormal underbelly to the normal world. The fantastic element of this speculative fiction is asking the reader to believe in certain paranormal capabilities and phenomenon. This is easy enough to ask, as unexplained mysteries and phenomenon are a common part of most cultural webs. From Stonehenge and the fae folk to sea creatures and the Loch Ness monster, paranormal activity is an incredibly popular mythos. But the truth of the story lies in the characters that you meet, and indeed that you inhabit.
Because it is designed as an episodic video game, Control puts you in the drivers seat of the main character. There’s no clunky dialogue or ham-handed exposition either-because it’s an action game as well as a mystery, you get right down to the business of killing bads. But why are you killing bads? Here’s where the story comes in.
Cloaked in the guise of paranormal FBI mythos is a story about a woman who is trying to find her brother. It’s the oldest face of the one true story, love. And throughout, with each tantalizing glimpse deeper into the world that the writers and developers have built, you feel a closer connection to “your” brother. I haven’t finished playing it through yet and I can already tell that I’m going to be heavily invested in saving this guy, because I’ve put a lot of my own personal time and effort into it. And that’s the power of immersive storytelling. You give control to the audience, you open the gate and show them the way, but they are the ones that dive through it and they choose how the story plays out.
The history behind this phenomenon is well documented if not well understood. I remember the first choose your own adventure story I found in the library. It was incredible. The writing was kind of garbage and the plots weren’t even that good but I could CHOOSE what to do. I could tell the story along with the author. And I could explore every bit of the world they’d built as I saw fit and that sort of experience was life-changing.
So yes, games are fun. Reading is fun. Movies are fun. But what makes them fun? A good story, a fantastic element and a core of truth.