Arkham City, Batman, Batman: Arkham City, Books, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy X, Hero, Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell, Lord of the Rings, Movies, Novels, Pippin, Playstation, Shawshank Redemption, Squall, Square Enix, Stephen King, Tolkien, Video game, Writing
Many in the snobby writing community pooh-pooh it as frivolous and don’t consider it real storytelling, and I might be shunned for this in the future… Sigh… I’ve got to take a deep breath and say it… I think some of the best new stories I have experienced in the last few years have been in video games.
See, for me as a lover of stories, it was never about the medium someone is writing in (plays, books, movies, radio, etc.), but the story being told. So I really have a problem comparing the mediums like some do. I don’t, per se, think novels are better than movies all of the time. There are adaptations of books for the silver screen that I think are better than the book (Obviously, The Shawshank Redemption is an easy example).
Of course, I must admit, there is nothing as bad as a bad movie. They can reach levels nothing else can.
Anyway, I don’t want you to think of this as a blanket pat on the back of video game stories. So let me paint my perspective better by introducing you to the 12-year old version of me.
This is Scott at 12 and there is nothing he likes more than reading a good book. I read so much that my mother would, now and then, kick me out of the house to go play with friends because all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and read… Of course, it must be noted that typically I would sneak the book out under my shirt and head to our local park and finish there.
When I am reading a good story, I can forget to eat and sleep.
When I am reading a good story, I lose time.
When I am reading a good story, I can forget my name.
What I loved about stories was (and still is) a good hero’s journey. I, of course, had no idea who Joseph Campbell was yet, but that concept (or awareness) by him was exactly what I was latching on to. There was the hero (or heroine) starting out new, fresh, learning about how they are special and then going on a great adventure. I think I read Tolkien each summer up until I was 18 because of this. And since i was on the cusp of my own life and becoming an adult I could relate to the hero’s journey in a major way, wondering what I was going to become or do.
That pure escapism in a story escaped me as I entered my teens (I began analyzing things too much is my guess), but returned, strangely, when I was 25…. and that was thanks to a video game.
Ok, so there I was at 25 and I had just gotten out of a relationship with a semi-crazy person (I won’t mention names but she was emotionally distant with identity and father issues, and she would use religion to compensate for those problems… Did I mention I grew in West Michigan? ). I was also preparing a major life change with a move to Los Angeles. I was about to start a new life, but at the time I was living at home, saving money and counting down the days until I packed my car and went. I needed an escape to pass the time and someone recommended Final Fantasy VIII.
I had heard of the Final Fantasy games and made jokes like many did of how many finals can a series really have. Final Fantasy VII was major news in the gaming community a few years back for it use of story in the game, but I had never played it. So I was not prepared at all for the journey in Final Fantasy VIII.
That game opened up to me the possibility of how powerful this new medium can be for storytelling. In the game you follow the growth of Squall, a young mercenary as he finds his destiny as a hero and the story reeked of Joseph Campbell twists and steps. I was completely immersed in the world that they created and the characters began to feel like friends. I was immediately reminded of reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time and wondering if I closed my eyes just right and wished if I could become Pippin (I was 8 at the time so don’t judge me too much). It all felt that real to me.
A good video game story can capture an attention more than any other medium, because, honestly, the characters you care about need you as much as you need them.
Their story won’t end without you. I can walk away from a movie or book, but in a video game the characters wait… and will wait until your return. It may sound spooky, but it is true and there something magicial about that.
Now granted, Final Fantasy has had some hits and misses since then. I found Final Fantasy IX lame, X was amazing (They freaking killed the hero!), but XII and XIII had great worlds but the stories needed a little more work. Don’t get me started on Final Fantasy X-2 either, that was just painfully bad after the brillance of X (It is like comparing The Empire Strikes Back to The Phantom Menance).
But the fact is the potential is there, the potential is there in all video games. I just finished Batman: Arkham City and it was easily one of the best I have ever played. I’m not that big a comic fan, but the story and characters… well, it was genius, and like a good book I was sad when I finished the game yesterday.
All writers need to take video games seriously and consider what potential the medium has for storytelling. Personally, I find the world of this medium to be filled with possibility. The grass is green, the sky is blue, there are few others around; its a bright new world filled with chances and adventures to experience.
And if anyone from Square Ennix is reading this, I would drop everything to write the script for one of your games. Just give me a time and place.
Could the place be on the planet Spira?