If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an article I wrote for RelevantMagazine.com. It’s about the potential that video games have to be an incredible storytelling medium, one that Christians can use to influence our culture.
“Stories create readiness, they nudge people toward receptive insight. Peter Hitchens once said of his brother, famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, “It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.” He mentioned poetry, but the same is true of stories.
“The reason stories matter to me is because I see a new medium rising, one with the potential to convey meaning in a more affecting way than ever before: video games. Authors try to describe how characters feel, films show you what they feel—but a good game can actually make you feel what they feel by not only drawing you into a characters perspective but making you personally responsible for their well-being.”
But I also mentioned something very important,
“Currently, in the world of games journalism, the conversation is ongoing over whether or not games should even be used to tell stories. “After all,” some say, “games at their core are nothing more than sets of rules.”
To bring some nuance to the discussion about games and stories, let me link to this week’s “When Games Matter” post from Drew Dixon at Christ and Pop Culture. Obviously I can’t say I agree entirely with his premise that “If you have a story to tell, videogames might not be the best medium for you.” Nevertheless, he has some illuminating things to say about the types of stories that games are capable of creating.
“So if a game is going to attempt to tell a story, it must do so in a way that significantly involves the player in its telling. This is why most game stories are terrible–because the mechanics (namely what you spend most of your time doing in game) do not add anything to the story itself–they are mere tack-ons or fillers to transition us from one piece of expositional narrative to another.
“When Will Wright says that “games are not the right medium to tell stories” and that games are more about “story possibilities,” I think the Sim City creator highlights what makes games special. The best games give us a sense that we are making our own story and our place in that story is absolutely essential. Games engage us most when we assume a key role in that story’s telling.”
For those of you who don’t play games, or for those who do only casually, let me fill you in on something. For the past several years, there have been two debates raging. The first is over whether or not video games can be a form of Art. The second is whether or not games should be used to tell stories. In both topics, the discussion has sort of calmed down into an uneasy tension of “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” What Drew highlights though is an important part of the discussion; that if games are going to tell stories well, they’re going to need to incorporate the gameplay itself to make the story truly resonant.
What does this mean for Christians? First and foremost I think it’s imperative for believers to be aware of what’s going on in our culture. (Hence, this site) Knowing that there are games that are exploring new storytelling possibilities (Like the upcoming Dear Esther) will help us make informed purchases. Modern Warfare and Uncharted aren’t the only series trying to tell immersive stories with games. Second, for any Christians interested in making great new games, it’s good to know about the current climate of the gaming industry so you don’t just charge in blindly with your latest, greatest idea.
Stay tuned this week for a couple more posts introducing the subject of game theory. Also, go like F&E on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all the latest Christian gaming insights.
Image above is concept art by Ben Andrews for the game Dear Esther