Friday, March 18, 2016

Choosing a Canvas: Video Games

The mark of a true artist is to be able to make people feel exactly how the artist wants them to feel. As civilizations advances and technology progresses, more and more tools appear for artists to use, expanding and pushing the limits of true art. For the storyteller, the most recent major leap forward has been the invention of the computer, which has led to an entirely new medium for storytelling: the video game.

Final Fantasy VII, widely acclaimed for its innovation and fantastic story.

The story of a video game is not entirely written by the developer. Instead, the developer lays a framework, and the player writes the details. Video games have the potential for much stronger immersion than any other medium of story, since the player usually controls—gets to be—one or more of the characters. In role-playing games (RPGs) like Final Fantasy, the player must invest time and energy in making the characters grow, drastically increasing the sense of accomplishment the player feels with the characters, and creating a sense of magnitude about the feats they perform.

This writing dynamic between developer and player opens doors to new kinds of stories, which would either not work well or be dull in book or movie form. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the character is forced Groundhog Day-style to relive the three days leading up to the moon crashing into the world. The different choices the player makes each time around lead to stories playing out in different ways. In the Metroid Prime series, the player explores the ruins of ancient alien civilizations, discovering their cultures, values, and causes of destruction.

There's history and culture to be found in this floating city in Metroid Prime 3.

Perhaps the most defining feature of video games is that the players are required to overcome a challenge in order for the story to progress. The classic science fiction shooter Halo is an archetype of balancing challenge with story, continually challenging the player to the maximum of their abilities, and then making the next challenge just a little more difficult. The challenge can be made even more exciting by adding music; when Halo’s Rock Anthem starts playing as the player enters a battle, it feels that much more like they are fighting to save the galaxy.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that, of all the storytelling media, video games bring the most variety to the table. From the mysterious ambiance of Myst to the Lovecraftian horror of The Last Door, from the courtroom drama of Phoenix Wright to the heroic adventures in The Legend of Zelda, from the tactics and adrenaline of Halo to the epic sagas of Final Fantasy, video games embody many artistic modes that can be mixed and mashed to create an untold variety of experiences and stories. Though they may one day be usurped by holodecks, I am glad to have been born in a time when video games are on the scene.

Choosing a Canvas:
Video Games

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