Many people dismiss video games as meaningless time wasters at best and malicious, addictive afflictions at worst. Too often these assumptions are made about the medium as a whole, when in reality some of the best stories can be told just as—if not more effectively—through a video game than a novel or movie. The reason for this is because of the format of video games and the degree of choice that the art form affords the audience when compared to other forms of media such as novels or movies.
At their best, video games can combine three mediums of storytelling: writing/dialogue, visual arts, and audio seamlessly. Now, these qualities are also shared by another medium, which is that of videos and movies. The difference between the two lies in one thing: choice. This alone makes video games the single most interactive form of mass media save for perhaps tabletop games.
For example: in a movie, the audience can only watch as the hero saves the day or Batman kicks the Joker in the chin again. The audience cannot make anyone in the movie act or do anything that hasn’t already been scripted by the writers and directors of the film, whereas in video games the audience is the hero, they are the character that the story revolves around, and they can make choices. They can be the one to condemn or save the world, and they can choose to do either one, or a combination of both. Good or evil? Light or dark? Hero or villain? These are all questions that the player has to ask themselves when playing a well-written video game.
In addition, video games allow the player to interact with the environment as if they were in the setting the game takes place in. In movies and novels, the main character will only take one choice, perhaps they only go down one road or open one door, whereas in video games the player can down into any of the roads they like and experience everything that route has to offer. For example: if the main character of a movie happens across a forbidden temple and they choose to go in alone, that path is set in stone. In video games, the developer of the game could add in allies for the player to choose from before going into the temple, perhaps giving them dialogue when certain events happen to help characterize them.
Finally, as a direct result of the freedom and choice players have, video games excel in the field of environmental storytelling. Environmental storytelling revolves around letting the audience figure out what has happened or will happen in a story based on the world around them. For example: if there was a murderer at large, a novel or movie would have to emphasize and name clues that the hero has. This works, but it can make the reveal seem a bit shallow, as the audience wasn’t the one that figured it out, and the clues were already laid out. Few mediums can recreate the feeling of success when, by their own exploration of the world and intuitive thought, a mystery is solved or a culprit is caught.
Overall, perhaps video games aren’t the future of stories, but they should not be discounted as mere time wasters that cannot tell a meaningful tale. After all, aren’t the best stories the ones people make themselves?