The Narrative and Story in Video Games

I have a secret I think it’s time to admit: I like video games. I haven’t played in a few years to focus on school, but, since I’ve graduated, I’ve already started to amass a few games to play while I’m in between degrees.

I never really thought of video games as a reading-heavy activity, but one of my English major friends on Facebook noted that she reads an awful lot in the games she plays. And that got me thinking – I do too. In fact, a lot of the English majors I know from my honor society, and other bloggers here like Nicole, are all huge video game fans.

Some games are now being developed purely as a story and narrative delivery device, like Heavy Rain for PS3 that came out in 2009. The new Walking Dead video games also rely heavily on story telling rather than button mashing and gore to get the story across. These games are not exceptions either – games like Portal, Bioshock, Oblivion: Elder Scrolls, and so much more are all video games with exceptionally crafted stories that drive a player’s quest for completion with the desire to complete the story.

MMORPG like World of Warcraft extensively develop stories around every aspect of the game – from the characters themselves to the zones they play in to the armor the avatars wear. Old school RPGs, like the ones I used to play in high school like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate all had extensive lore as well. In fact, in these games you could pick up books and read even more history related to the game’s world.

Adventure RPGs like Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda have always been story-driven games and these franchises have lasted well over 20 years because consumers of video games enjoy the way these stories are delivered.

Although, when video games cross into other media it doesn’t always work so well. While Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda are two successful video game franchises, the Final Fantasy movie was no one’s favorite and the 1989 The Legend of Zelda T.V. show was not just sexist (thanks horrible television writers) but didn’t last past a handful of episodes.

And, let’s not forget the Super Mario Bros movie that came out in 1993. While Mario games are extremely popular, that movie is a notable flop.

None of this is to say that video games narratives and stories cannot be adapted into other media, but that there hasn’t been a very successful attempt thus far within film. While video game stories are becoming more advanced and games create lore and legends of their own, players are becoming enveloped in the play-to-progress in the story dynamic.

Video games might have started with Pong, but the text-driven variety is really what made games take off. I remember my favorite series from childhood, Monkey Island created by Lucas Arts. The game was text-based and hilarious. It wasn’t about solving the puzzles of the game for me; playing the game was about moving forward with the story. And there are still games out there of the Pong variety that are about hand-eye coordination, and games out there like the old school arcade button-mashing Mortal Combat (also another notable horrible video game movie).

But the games I love to play, the games that are story-driven with strong narrative, are out there and are abundant. It takes a lot of work to craft these stories as well as create the lore of these worlds, and I do appreciate the work that goes into that. Is play a video game like reading a book? Yes, but more like the Choose Your Own Adventure variety.


  1. Jason Murk

    It does take a lot of work to create these beautiful stories in video games. Unfortunately their are a lot of games now a days that are rushed with incomplete stories. But man! When video game publishers connect with a phenomenal story – it’s remembered for years. (The Last of Us)

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