Interactive Storytelling

Recently, I was discussing comic books in a group, and the term "graphic novel" was brought up.  We generally agreed that a Graphic Novel just sounds more sofisticated than a comic book.  Jokingly, I brought up the idea that video games aren't games, they are "Interactive Storytelling".  I got a few agreements, though one person said that the term Interactive Storytelling only applies to some games, not all of them.

I disagree.

For games like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain (which calls itself Interactive Storytelling), it's easy to imagine.  After all, these games are telling their own stories, and you get to be a part of them.  Even more cinematic games like Uncharted or Call of Duty get to put the player in an active role, playing out the action scenes just like they're Indiana Jones or Rambo.  But supposedly this terms falls apart when you're talking about less story-driven games.  Tetris may not be "cinematic", so does that mean it doesn't tell a story?

Tetris may not be an emotionally moving game, and at a first glance, it doesn't seem like there's much to the game.  Falling blocks, put them in place.  But when you play Tetris, it works just like any well-paced movie would.  You start the game out, and the pieces are falling slowly.  The player gets used to the controls and the pace of the game, learning the ropes.  As the game continues, the pieces drop faster, increasing the difficulty in the process.  The player is forced to adapt and think on the fly.  Over time the tension of the game increases more and more, up to the point where the player can no longer place pieces on the board in time, and the screen fills up.  Game Over.

Isn't that what we call a story?  It has an introduction, rising action, and a climax.  It still instilled emotion in the player, even if only on a mathematical, problem-solving level.  Besides, to not call games stories, we're excluding all the non-video games in the process.  Watching two top-level chess players go at it is intense.  What about a baseball game between two rivals?  Someone's attempt to break a world record?  Those are all stories, and carry just as much weight as any "serious" novel.

Many gamers have stories to share of things that happened when they were playing online, whether it's their quest to acquire a rare sword in World of Warcraft, or how some guy managed to repeatedly backstab them in Call of Duty.  It seems like these stories may share the same weight as the tale of the fisherman, and the "one that got away".  Sure they weren't expertly crafted by someone well-versed in the literary arts, but they are stories nonetheless.  But the key difference between video games and other forms of media is that it is interactive, which is a whole different kind of storytelling.

1 Comments
1 Comments
Posted by BigBob

Recently, I was discussing comic books in a group, and the term "graphic novel" was brought up.  We generally agreed that a Graphic Novel just sounds more sofisticated than a comic book.  Jokingly, I brought up the idea that video games aren't games, they are "Interactive Storytelling".  I got a few agreements, though one person said that the term Interactive Storytelling only applies to some games, not all of them.

I disagree.

For games like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain (which calls itself Interactive Storytelling), it's easy to imagine.  After all, these games are telling their own stories, and you get to be a part of them.  Even more cinematic games like Uncharted or Call of Duty get to put the player in an active role, playing out the action scenes just like they're Indiana Jones or Rambo.  But supposedly this terms falls apart when you're talking about less story-driven games.  Tetris may not be "cinematic", so does that mean it doesn't tell a story?

Tetris may not be an emotionally moving game, and at a first glance, it doesn't seem like there's much to the game.  Falling blocks, put them in place.  But when you play Tetris, it works just like any well-paced movie would.  You start the game out, and the pieces are falling slowly.  The player gets used to the controls and the pace of the game, learning the ropes.  As the game continues, the pieces drop faster, increasing the difficulty in the process.  The player is forced to adapt and think on the fly.  Over time the tension of the game increases more and more, up to the point where the player can no longer place pieces on the board in time, and the screen fills up.  Game Over.

Isn't that what we call a story?  It has an introduction, rising action, and a climax.  It still instilled emotion in the player, even if only on a mathematical, problem-solving level.  Besides, to not call games stories, we're excluding all the non-video games in the process.  Watching two top-level chess players go at it is intense.  What about a baseball game between two rivals?  Someone's attempt to break a world record?  Those are all stories, and carry just as much weight as any "serious" novel.

Many gamers have stories to share of things that happened when they were playing online, whether it's their quest to acquire a rare sword in World of Warcraft, or how some guy managed to repeatedly backstab them in Call of Duty.  It seems like these stories may share the same weight as the tale of the fisherman, and the "one that got away".  Sure they weren't expertly crafted by someone well-versed in the literary arts, but they are stories nonetheless.  But the key difference between video games and other forms of media is that it is interactive, which is a whole different kind of storytelling.