I was sitting, thinking about what to write for my blog post, and watching some friends play video games when it hits me. Video games. Why not video games? Are video games really that far off from digital stories and literature?
Video Games as Narratives
I’ll just go ahead and get one thing out in the open now. I am not an avid gamer, but I am a lover of stories. The video games that draw me in and keep me playing are centered on stories that I love. Let’s take a look at the latest Zelda trailer, one of my favorites.
In the trailer we are introduced to a relationship between characters including Link and Zelda. We can infer their friendship from how they interact. The trailer reveals Link’s call to adventure to rescue the fair maiden Zelda and some of the hardships he will encounter along the way. In short, the trailer is telling us about the story we will enter as we play the game. The trailer is even focusing more on the story than actual game play.
I already feel rather convinced that some (although admittedly not all, such as my much played Tetris) games center around rich stories, so let’s take a look at their characters and storyworlds, both components of literature.
Many video games, not unlike literature, center on their characters. Strong video game characters have unique physical traits, personalities and relationships that help shape the story within the game. Characters can be organized into heroes and villains. We can question their motives in good and evil and interactions with each other. We can choose to like or dislike these characters through our analyses. Some games even allow for the player to choose who they will play on allowing the player to analyze the character and choose who best suits their personal needs as a player. Often times, players are directly placed into the role of managing one or more specific characters. Players must have properly analyzed the characters strengths, weaknesses and relationships to succeed in their roles and even survive within the game.
One important part of experiencing literature is the ability to enter the storyworld. Successful video game narratives require rich storyworlds to function. Rich maps are a key feature I look for when considering playing a video game. In “reading” the story setting of a game, the player is not only learning how the new world operates and is laid out but also how he/she must interact within that world to survive and succeed. Video games can be a full immersion experience.
Creating the Narrative While Gaming
What really takes video games a step beyond literature is the interactive component. As previously stated, a player must have sufficient knowledge of the characters and storyworld to succeed and survive.
However, video games also provide options to shape the narratives in various ways. A player may become involved in various subplots, choose one path or decision over another as they steer their way through the narrative. Jason Ohler briefly addresses games in the chapter “Other Kinds of Stories” in the section “Gaming and New Narrative Possibilities” (Ohler 167-168). Ohler focuses on how video games interact as narratives and provides a link to help define the different types of narratives in games. If you are not already familiar with various video game narrative forms, I recommend viewing the Prezi provided on the link. There are a myriad of unique ways a game narrative can unfold and engage players with the story.
Ohler, Jason B. Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning, and Creativity. Second ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2013. Print.
Literature Reimagined as Video Games
Fans of the Walking Dead comics and television series can put themselves in the Walking Dead storyworld through the video game series. In the Walking Dead video games, “players are forced to confront tough moral choices. Players have to decide, for instance, whether a former history professor named Lee Everett should abandon a character named Lilly to die” (source). Players aren’t only analyzing the games characters, but their own morals and how the particular story world complicates them.
Walking Dead isn’t the only literature to cross over into interactive game play. Video game Dante’s Inferno is based off of course The Divine Comedy. In fact, “when the Dante’s Inferno video game was released in 2010, it caused several editions of The Divine Comedy to shoot up Amazon’s sales charts” (source).
Direct interaction within storyworlds and experiencing the roles of characters directly can change how readers interact with the literature the game was spawned from.
In the English Classroom
Video games are a rapidly consumed and popular form of media among both adults and young students. As a form of story, I can see a place in the English classroom for analysis of video game characters and storyworlds that already interest students. Game narratives can be broken down into story maps and story boards and students can locate the calls to adventure, conflicts and tensions, and possible resolution for the games. Literature and the video games they inspire can be compared and contrasted. Students can live out the complications of decision making and morals in worlds varying from their own.
Here is a website that offers various suggestions for using video games as an instructional tool in the classroom. I appreciate the suggestion of video games as entry points and the example on tone provided.
Another website provides more ideas. I am particularly drawn to suggestion number five in which students can reimagine video games as literature of film.
Can you see the possibility of video games in your English classroom?
As previously mentioned, I am not a gamer but a lover of stories. Please, share with me the video games you love and how they relate to storytelling and literature.
– Sarah Lambach