Being a writer and literature enthusiast, I’m obsessed with narrative. Through words, we can transport ourselves into other peoples’ lives and experience their worlds. We can visit the abstract and experience impossible things to reach deeper understanding. Because I love stories, I’ve always gravitated towards video games with powerful—or at the very least, central—narratives. Games like Zelda, Legend of Dragoon, and Final Fantasy top my list of favorite games, not because their gameplay is the best or they have the best design or the best graphics, but because I like the stories.
In the past six or seven years, the gaming industry has evolved. Gamers have always heard about the success of game developers creating something awesome in a basement and it exploding in popularity, but the ease of which that can happen today is astounding. There are hundreds of game development tools that are easily accessible. Some programs don’t even need coding or knowledge of complex computing languages. In the past, game design was more of a labor of love, but now it’s more of a love of labor. All one really needs for game design is to have an idea and time to bring it to life.
I’ve always been a console gamer. Sure, I had a few PC games that my poor Dell could barely run, like Mech Warrior and Black and White, but none of those games really stood out or held my attention for long. The story wasn’t as important on the PC, so I gravitated to the PlayStation and Nintendo systems.
Last year, my laptop finally went kaput, even after I had pulled a Frankenstein and truly performed repair miracles. After that, I set out to build my own PC: for me, made by me. After all was said and done, I had a computer capable of all my creative outlets: writing, video editing, etc., but I also ended up with a gaming machine. I was pumped to play games like Skyrim, using mods. Instead, my Steam account slowly filled up with indie games. Now, I scour the internet in search of these brave and new ideas. My machine can play things with superb graphics, but I always end up playing simple indie games, mainly because they often explore new ideas.
The gaming market is now filled to the brim with exciting new ways to tell a story and for others to experience it. Plus, most of these games are much cheaper than a new game for consoles. Luckily, services like the Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, and the E-Shop are bringing these games to life on each console. Those without a decent PC can enjoy many of these fantastic games. With these games being easily presented to a hungry consumer base, better games are making more money. That kicks off the chain reaction of the right designers having creative freedom and in turn making more games.
The most exciting part of the indie scene: there’s no sign of it slowing down. Development kits are becoming easier to acquire. Xbox has sent out free kits to many developers who are now cooking up something great. Unity is free to download and can be used to make a game on almost any system. RenPy lets people design visual novels with very little coding. RPG Maker makes it simple to make great RPGs. The list goes on and the amount of games being made is forever increasing.
Aside from just the ease of which games can be made, the way we play games has also changed. Even though I’ll never fully support motion controlled gaming, I will say that the possibilities that have opened because of it is amazing. Think about someone who can’t or has difficulty using a controller. Think about an older person who didn’t play Nintendo or Atari. The concept of a controller probably goes as far as a remote for the TV. What if people could play the same game or a different game in a way that’s accessible and fun for them? Do you know what we have now? A broader pool of people playing games.
Unfortunately, through the majority of my life, gaming has always been frowned upon by society as a whole, especially with stories that connected specific games to terrible tragedies. The industry was crippled when Doom was blamed for the deaths of innocents. Its a shame that such an impressive medium can be set back by simple media connections. Although, coupled with the negativity is the joy video games can bring. The popular charity Child’s Play has raised over seven million dollars this year. Minecraft is being used in classrooms by educators around the world, myself included at one point.
In twenty years, I’ve been hundreds of heroes, slain thousands of monsters, and saved millions of worlds. What other medium connects the experience with the one experiencing it? Gaming has for a while now.
As a medium, let’s explore what’s never been considered. Let’s see what’s never been seen. Let’s play what’s never been played.
For more on these thoughts, check out the Future of Storytelling’s Video Series.