Stories are central to the human experience, and no part is more human than composing your own. We’ve all known this since we were kids, when the fun you had wasn’t in reading books and watching movies, but playing with action figures or on a playground. With a simple tube and some elevated platforms, you made your own story. If you were lucky, you got to do it with friends. Or you took your dolls and action figures and built your own narrative, fueled by a few figures and your imagination. Or maybe you preferred to craft your stories in images and words, and you spent your time doodling your escapism or plotting it in your journal. The point is the same, that we best express ourselves in the stories we tell ourselves for ourselves. And our stories are best expressed through a physical toy, a visual or literary or audio or technical mechanism for sharing your ideas.
What makes books and movies easy to consume is that the audience doesn’t have to do very much work. For people looking to escape, but wearied by the world, a prefabricated story is its own pleasure. But that is where video games introduce themselves as a unique medium. Writing, the wordy medium, conveys story to the audience through what it tells the audience. Film, the visual medium, conveys story to the audience through it shows the audience. Vidya, the interactive medium, covney story to the audience through the actions the audience chooses. The audiences now writes the story. We’re right back at our playgrounds, with more potential than ever.
Even in our playgrounds, we were limited by what we could imagine, which is itself limited by our faculties and knowledge, and playing with a stable toolbox and stable rules generally leads all stories to run the same. When you mature, your imagination outstrips your ability to fulfill your fantasies, so you write or draw it, or look for it in someone else’s writings or drawings. We could picture ourselves being pirates or superheroes or soldiers or astronauts or wizards, and picture ourselves sailing and flying and shooting and floating and magicking, fueled by the simple cues of our colorful playlets, but that isn going to bore you if you can’t find something new to reignite that imaginative passion. New images and new actions give us even more tools to play with, and rules that limit what you can do force new ideas. Video games are the ultimate expression of this, with each new release shifting the rules and the tools and giving new fuel to the audience, the players, the storytellers.
And then we share our stories. Screen recording technology has made this easier, and overlaying audio tracts lets commentary recorded before, after, and/or during be introduced, creating some sort of hybridized storytelling medium.
At least that’s what video games can be. Puzzles and tests of skill, of course. A more fluid Choose Your Own Adventure novel, a more responsive movie, naturally. It goes without saying that part of working in a medium that gives so much power to the audience gives untold freedom to the creators. But if you’re drawn to open worlds and decision making and the power you find in your video games, you’re indulging in the same game you always played as a kid.
So get to your playgrounds, and tell me a story.