Video Games as Interactive Stories

When deciding to purchase a game, I often find myself thinking about the length of the game and the actual "play time" and if it meets the price of the game. Is a 6 hour campaign worth $60? Is a 2 hour game worth $15? How much of my time will be spent playing compared to watching cut scenes? Sometimes I really feel like I over think all these things when instead I should just be focusing on whether I will enjoy the entire experience of the game itself. Lately I have been playing a lot of games where the gameplay itself is lacking or close to none existent, but the characters, atmosphere, and story are all amazing. I know a lot of people can be opposed to games such as Journey because "its not really a game so its not worth $15" but I have been finding myself having some of my best gaming experiences in recent memory with games that have the gameplay take a backseat. Rather than being games they are more like interactive stories.

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First is Alan Wake, a game filled with great characters, writing, and atmosphere. Walking through the environments and seeing the attention to detail really gives you a good feeling of the world of Bright Falls and the characters that inhabit it. The times walking through the trails or visiting areas of the town was extremely enjoyable. Piecing together the story of Alan through his own manuscript was a very engaging and memorable experience. Finding Night Springs TV show episodes throughout the various areas was entertaining but also added to the thrill of the game and this idea of alternate realities where evil happens. The story, though at times confusing, was creative and written in such a way that I at times felt like this game would have made for an excellent novel. The gameplay of Alan Wake was just a way to break up the parts of exploration, and were really just secondary to the rest of the game. I actually wished there was less shooting in Alan Wake and more exploration.

To The Moon I believe is the finest example of recent "interactive storytelling" in games (and is what inspired me to write this blog post). There really isn't any gameplay in To The Moon and I still loved every second of it. The story was written so well, the dialogue brought you from laughter to sadness withing minutes and the old time RPG look and feel surprisingly allowed the game to tell its story in a very unique way. While the plot could be seen as cheesy (and maybe not that original) it was so much fun to sit down and just have an emotional story where I could just interact with the environment and not have to worry about dying, solving really hard puzzles, or beating high scores. While I may have had more fun playing other games, most of them are pretty forgettable compared to To The Moon.

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Other games I have recently played where the story trumps the gameplay are Spec Ops: The Line and Journey. I already ranted about how amazing Journey is here and although Spec Ops: The Line isn't really in an "interactive story" category I personally felt like that games characters, dialogue, environments all were what made that game a great experience for me, so much so that I didn't even mind the generic shooter formula. Other games in the past such as Indigo prophecy and Hevay Rain also fit the "less gameplay more story" format. All of these games I thoroughly enjoyed and they each stand out in my mind.

My question is, does anyone think that in the future we will see even more games like Journey and To The Moon, or games Like Alan Wake and Spec Ops where the core of the experience isn't in the actual "game" part? Would it be cool to have an "interactive story" genre for games in the future, where you spend most of the game just walking around, talking to characters or just interacting with the world?

Also, I'm looking for more games like this to play. I have Limbo and Lone Survivor and I should definitely play Dear Esther as well. Any other recommendations?