Those of you who have been fortunate enough to not know me personally may not know the extent of my nerdness (nerdosity? nerdity?—only a super-nerd would debate the proper noun form of the quality of a nerd.) The branches of my nerd interests range from Star Wars and Star Trek, to Lord of the Rings, to video games. I know—quite the impressive list. I’m very open minded when it comes to the realm of geekdom.
There is a common thread among all of these—fiction. While many of the stories are well-worn tropes, and several feel a little derivative at times, the genres continue to do well, spawning movies, toys, and video games.
The latter of which is what my post will concern this week. I don’t spend much time or money on video games, but I do keep up with the industry where I can. And while there will always be games that focus on action over story (really, how much story do you need to know to shoot the aliens?), I can sense a shift in the media. From Bioshock (and its subsequent sequel), to Mass Effect (and subsequent sequels), to Fable (and its requisite sequel), and, most recently, Alan Wake, a growing number of studios are focusing on story and character over simple shoot-em-up action platformers. True, each of these games incorporates some element of basic video-game action (shooting aliens, cutting up bandits with a too-large sword), but fans play them as much for the story as for the action.
The listed titles have an additional commonality—the idea of choice. While not revolutionary to video games (remember Choose Your Own Adventure, anyone?), the concept has found a favorite home in digital media. Imagine scripting a movie. Now, imagine scripting the same movie with multiple endings. Now, imagine scripting several different variations of the same movie, each with their own dramatic conclusion. Video game writers face a task that, some might argue, is even more complex and taxing than writing a novel. They’re writing several novels, allowing for different players to choose their own paths, to be good or evil, to be loved or feared or hated.
I have no connection to the video game industry, but I would love to work on a project of that caliber—to flesh out an entire world, entire races of people and characters, and to make a story that is interactive. To work with a group of other writers on a common project that becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.
Unfortunately, video games still face an uphill battle when it comes to “art.” Other critics and artists are quick to dismiss the medium as trivial trash (and why not? There’s plenty of it out there, but there’s an equal amount of terrible movies and novels, paintings and albums). Just because the medium is still in it’s toddler years does not disqualify it from being art. For video games, the road ahead is long and well-lit. And I, for one, would love to be a part of it.
Yeah, I’m a nerd. I own it. I wear it well. So I created my own role playing game as a teenager. I’m proud of it (just don’t tell my wife). The fact of the matter is that many video games are art. Some are not. The same can be said for any “art,” either visual, performance, or otherwise. The trash will always outweigh the masterpieces, but it shouldn’t prevent us from searching out the enduring pieces that will withstand the test of time.