Published Nov. 23, 2020
By MICHAEL LAKIND
While battling his way through gunfights, car chases and his own tormented relationships, a young man descended from a great explorer is driven by an obsessive pursuit of treasure to seek out historical artifacts. No, this isn’t “Indiana Jones.” This is Uncharted, a franchise that is a glowing example of how video games are the future of storytelling.
What began as 8-bit animations of an Italian plumber jumping around has turned into blockbuster pieces that truly do rival Hollywood productions. Motion-capture technology has been involved in gaming for well over a decade, bringing hyper-realistic facial animations and raw performances onto consoles. Triple-A developer Naughty Dog has put out many exceptional titles using this medium, such as Uncharted and The Last of Us.
“They don’t understand how amazing this technology is, and it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but if it keeps making the money it makes you’re going to see more and more people converted,” said Nolan North, who played Uncharted’s protagonist Nathan Drake, in an interview with Eurogamer. “I mean, Gary Oldman, one of the greatest actors on the planet, did Call of Duty. He wouldn’t have done it ten years ago. It’s a new age dawning, and I’m just really proud to be part of it.”
Within the realm of a story arc’s structure, the player controls more than they might think. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2 offer separate paths depending on the nobility of a player’s actions, changing based on whether they decide to be a selfless or reckless outlaw. The player arrives at the same major plot milestones, but the ways they reach them are night and day. One of the most common archetypes in popular media is the hero’s journey, and video games offer the widest variety of heroes. Ranging from intergalactic space commanders to tiny insects in a forgotten city of tears, the contemporary era of gaming is filled with unique approaches to character development.
Lore is another way games have exceeded film’s and TV’s levels of engagement in storytelling. The inner workings of a plot and secret details that are easily missed on a first playthrough are aspects of a game that fans will hold near and dear. For example, Toby Fox’s Undertale is only about five hours long, but is designed to be played multiple times so that a player can witness multiple distinct endings and several varying interactions with key characters. Hidden encounters and optional areas, such as Dr. Gaster’s laboratory, encourage players to experience everything Undertale has to offer in one of the most compact and compelling RPGs I have ever played.
While it might not be something I enjoy personally, the Dark Souls franchise features another massive leap forward in narrative immersion. Living a story through the perspective of a character is one thing, but these games introduce environmental storytelling, taking it even further. There are no cutscenes or directly explained plot lines. Every piece of context and information is absorbed by the player as they explore the games’ evocatively detailed worlds. This freedom to take in the world around you is something unattainable by other types of media because they lack this sense of interactivity.
In addition to atmosphere, emotion is one of the most captivating elements of gaming, and I’m not just talking about sadness. Yes, there are heartbreakingly beautiful games such as Ori and the Blind Forest that made me cry real tears. But what about the heart-pounding intensity of Doom Eternal? Or the chest-tensing suspense of the Resident Evil series? Or the unmistakable power one feels behind the controls of Spider-Man or Batman? Raw emotions are so effectively captured by games because the player holds the actions in their hands.
Across the board, gaming has advanced the way stories are told in many forms. Between conveying the human experience to imagining fantasy worlds, video games truly are a portal to another time and place. In times like these we all wish to escape, and in that way, games have brought us together.