Press X to Join: The importance of video games going forward

In Arts & Entertainment, Columns
Courtesy of Heart Machine

An unlikely crew of adventurers wandered through the decrepit ruins of a church. Reynauld, the lead crusader, welcomed the bounty hunter, grave robber and arbalest as they sought to strike the fortuitous necromancer attacking their estate. Little did he know that he would crawl out alone, attempting to cope with the horror of fleeing his undead comrades.

This story is one of many created by a procedurally-generated formula in “Darkest Dungeon,” an independently-developed strategy game made by a team of eight hard-working individuals. It only represents a sliver of emerging storytelling and gameplay today.

Video games are arguably the most versatile and rapidly growing form of entertainment around, and it would be nearly impossible to adequately summarize the extensive list of the wonderful medium’s merits. Instead, I’m going to delve into what makes them unique and important going forward in the world of media.

In a saturated market of superhero blockbusters and dragon-driven soap operas, it’s easy to sink into a state of sedentary viewing in which audiences are simply being spoon fed their stories and action of choice. The most active thing a viewer can do in these scenarios is speculate.

Conversely, many video games allow players to have almost absolute control. Even with the inherent limitations within a given game, players still have infinitely more agency than a movie or television audience does. Plot points in games like “Mass Effect” can branch off and change as a player makes decisions for the avatar they created, cultivating a stronger, more empathetic attachment to characters in the fiction.

The flexible nature of video game narratives is paramount to their role in shaping future entertainment experiences. A story of struggle and heartbreak is told in the indie darling “Hyper Light Drifter” through difficulties, combat and absolutely no dialogue, as a lone swordsman wanders a pixelated, neon wasteland searching for a cure for what seems like a terminal illness.

New and innovative ways of telling stories like this are abundant throughout the industry, some even leave the storytelling to algorithms or randomly generated scenarios that create tales on par with or better than the standard crime or sci-fi drama.

I’ve found that as I experience more varied deliveries of otherwise standard stories, it becomes increasingly more difficult to return to traditional mediums like television and cinema. With virtual reality rapidly becoming more accessible to consumers and lucrative to developers, I’m thrilled to see what’s to come.

Beyond that, games of all genres often facilitate long-lasting relationships among avid fans. Competitive arena, fighting and first-person shooter games have given hard-working, experienced players a chance to make a profitable career out of countless hours of practice.

As esports makes their way further into the mainstream, amassing communities and fans of teams as passionate as those in long-standing sports, it’s important to keep in mind that competition isn’t the only thing that thrives in the video game industry.

Single-player action games often lead to a thriving community of players called speedrunners who try to complete the game as fast as possible. Speedrunners share strategies and bugs they’ve uncovered to exploit to improve their times.

After similar quantities of practice, speedrunners and spectators come together a few times a year for livestreamed charity events like Games Done Quick.

That’s not to say that cinema and television lack similar communities. Cult classics and long-running shows are often treated like gospel by zealous fans, but it feels like video games are on their way to overtaking the entertainment industry.

All things considered, maybe it’s time that we stop comparing video games to movies and television. Instead, let’s talk about them like the interactive powerhouse they are.

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