Storytelling in Video Games

Continuing on Corene’s idea of expanding your reading horizon, how about introducing book readers to stories in other media formats?

At the heart of any good book, regardless of what genre it is, is a story that resonates with readers, and it is no different in the video game format. First I must confess: I am not a gamer. My husband does enough gaming around the house for the two of us. As a spectator though, I have learned to appreciate the great storytelling found in video games. And if something has a good story, why wouldn’t we want to tell readers about it?
(Yes, there are certainly video games that are just fun for no reason. I can, for example, watch the ridiculousness in Saints Row all day long, but that’s another story for another day.)

Fantasy + Political Intrigue = Witcher
The first time I was captivated by a narrative in a video game was watching The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Witchers are genetically modified, given magical powers, and trained to become monster slayers from a young age. The story in this video game series follows one particular witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Accused of murdering the King of Temeria, Geralt is caught in the middle of political unrest and imminent rebellion, and a few key decisions you make as a gamer will lead Geralt and the story on to completely different paths.

This role-playing game was adapted from a Polish fantasy novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski (English translation available!), and it is perfect for anyone who enjoy more mature and intricately plotted fantasy tales with politics taking a centre stage, such as The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham, or The Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker.

Witcher 3 is scheduled to come out next February and is one of the most anticipated games in 2015.

Red Dead Redemption: “Folks Talk About Morality Like It’s Black and White”
If you like your protagonists flawed, your stories with blurry morality, your characters caught between a rock and a hard place, give Red Dead Redemption a try. This game is probably my husband’s favourite, and is an ideal introduction to video games for any gritty western fan. The story will appeal to readers of Charles Portis’ True Grit, Michael McGarrity’s Hard Country, or the Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy.

Set in 1911, when Old West meets New West, people embrace, reconcile or fight the new changes civilization and technology brings to their town. John Marston is trying to leave his outlaw life behind, but with his family’s lives at the mercy of the government, he will not be allowed to settle down until he travels across the Wild West and captures all his old fellow gang members. There are no clear cut answers to anything in this story, and Marston realizes that he can never escape his past.

Now For Something Completely Different: Portal
“The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Companion Cube will never threaten to stab you and, in fact, cannot speak. In the event that the Companion Cube does speak, the Enrichment Center urges you to disregard its advice.”

If you have readers who enjoy British humour and books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and authors like Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt, recommend the puzzle-solving game Portal to them.

You find yourself in a research facility that used to manufacture shower curtains for the military. You are some sort of test subject, and are promised cake (and grief counseling), if you manage to create portals to safely teleport yourself from place in place in different test chambers. You are only guided by GlaDOS, an artificial intelligence and the darling of the game. GlaDOS may sound like the usual helpful tutorial guide at first, but she is no Microsoft Clippy. More of a passive aggressive type that provides dubious advice that will lead to your demise.

The Last Of Us: I Will Survive
Zombies and other infected types are featured in a lot of books, and you bet they show up in a lot of video games too. I prefer my zombie novels to have as much feeding and gnawing action as possible, but for those who like more character-driven apocalyptic fiction, The Last of Us may just fit the bill. This game has won over many gamers (and many game awards) because of the emotional engagement players experience with the story and their attachment to the characters, which make this game superior to others.

Joel, who lost her daughter years ago when the outbreak started, now works as a smuggler in the quarantine zones. He and his partner agree to take on a job to get Ellie, a teenage girl whose body may provide a clue to a cure, to a rebel group. When his partner sacrifices herself to save Joel, he is stuck with the 14-year-old, and the two must learn to rely on each other to survive in a world full of the infected I have renamed the Barnacle Men.

Speaking of zombies, I need to give a shout out to Telltale’s Walking Dead games, one I have actually played. Having experienced the different formats of the franchise, I enjoyed the comics and novels, I desperately want to and pretend to like the show, but the games are something else. They are intense. The game is structured a way that every single choice you make, whom you choose to talk to, what you say, which way you run when the walkers comes knocking on the door, all have consequences. No, there are no such thing as the right choice, and as you play the games, you will fully experience the desperation, the danger, and the dire situations in the Walking Dead universe.

Assassin’s Creed: What a View!
Imagine being able to perch atop the tallest structure in Florence so you can survey the city. You can with the Made in Canada Assassin’s Creed series, with its breathtaking, richly detailed and hyper-realistic recreations of Italian cities.

For any historical fiction fans, this game will give you the chance meet key historical figures and immerse yourself in the culture of Renaissance Italy.  The free running and the parkour-like moves you can do to explore the streets are probably the best part of the game, but let’s talk about the story.

Ezio Auditore knows that a betrayal has led to the death of his father and brothers, and he vows to avenge their deaths and becomes an Assassin. As he travels through Italy to find the culprits, he gets just a little too close to a bigger conspiracy that puts his life in grave danger.  This game is all about stealth (you are an assassin afterall), and the people on the street will let you know if you are not discreet enough, which is quite fun to watch.

But wait, there is more! The story is also about Desmond, a descendent of Ezio, who has been captured by the modern day Templars. They hope to tap into Desmond’s memories in order to locate secret artifacts, and Desmond is trying to escape their clutches.

After visiting Italy, travel to the Holy Land, Rome, Constantinople and Colonial Boston and New York in the other Assassin’s Creed games.

There are many more stories waiting to be shared in video games, so next time you have a chance, pick up that controller, sit back and enjoy the storytelling.

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