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From the early days of Pong on the Atari 2600 to now, playing games such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice have come a long way. In the beginning, video games had a few simple dots and lines and a basic goal of trying to get the most points. These days games are a bit more complex, with full 3D renderings of complete worlds, deeply immersive storylines, and complex puzzles and goals. As the technology of video games has evolved the way that we interact with media has also changed and grown. With the advent of being able to interact with and become a part of the stories we consume, video games have changed how stories are told. The first video game was invented by physicist William Higinbotham in October of 1958. He wanted a way to capture guest’s interest during a visitor day at the lab he worked at during an open house. Using an oscilloscope with a tiny display and some simple wiring he created a very simple tennis game called Tennis for Two that featured two lines one for the ground and one for the side view of a tennis net with simple timing commands to hit the tennis ball back to the other side (Tretkoff). Not knowing what he had started, he a few years later, abandoned the project and moved onto other things. In the early ‘70s, Pong was released on the Atari and is generally recognized as the first commercially successful video game and began the in-home video game trend. From there the gaming industry grew slowly over the next few decades before exploding into one of the biggest tech industries worldwide.
One of the first, most memorable examples of complex storytelling in video games was a game called Zork. Zork was created by a team of computer scientists out of MIT as a fun programming exercise. It played much like a choose your own adventure novel in which players started out in a dark room and could input simple logic commands to move your character and progress the story. In the early days of video games, it seemed like you could have either story or graphics. The processing power of early computers was so small that programs like Zork took up all the available memory and left little room for anything else. So in the early days of video games, you would have either very simple graphics and little to no story like Jumpman, which later became Donkey Kong; Pac-Man; or Tetris or you would have text-based adventures that were just walls of text in which you input commands to move the story along to another wall of text. Today the machine power of in-home game devices is staggering and only seems to be getting better as time goes by. Whether you are a PC gamer or choose a console, like PlayStation or Xbox there are so many different games to choose from. No longer do you have to choose between beautiful graphics or a detailed and complex story. In 2015 Supermassive Games released a game called Until Dawn, a game which utilizes character choices to change and influence how the game will end. Players take control of several teenagers as they try to survive a night of horror on a secluded mountain. You are forced to make quick life or death decisions for these teens and one wrong choice or one slow reaction and it could create a rippling butterfly effect that can cause one playthrough to be completely different than the last. In an article written by Robin Burks in Tech Times, Dave Gilbert, the founder of Wadjet Eye Games, was quoted saying “Video games achieve something that other forms of storytelling just can’t, they put you IN the experience. You are making the events happen, or the events are happening to you. It’s not easy to pull off, but when it’s done right there is no experience like it. ” Which sums up well the current climate of video games.
These days video games do more than just tell a story or have a fun puzzle to solve. Video games can make you feel complex emotions or allow you to escape and live another life for a few hours out of the day. Video games also come with a unique set of problems and creative solutions for telling a story that is entirely different than film or books. Jon Ingold, creative director at inkle Studios says For me, games are the most fascinating medium for storytelling available right now, We know that interactivity can immerse a player into a story in a powerful way, and we know that games can evoke strong feelings – and not just excitement and fear, but humour and passion and sadness, too. But the rules are still being written, and we’re discovering new tools and problems every day. If you’re writing for film, there are a hundred examples of for any scene you might want to write – but for games, we’re still inventing everything. So when you find something that works, that connects with your players, that’s an exhilarating experience for both you and your audience I agree that with new and emerging technology every day looks brighter for the video game industry. However, not everyone agrees in his article Video games are better without stories Ian Bogost he argues that since you are just collecting pieces to a puzzle and putting together a story you’re not really interacting. He references a 2007 game developed by 2K games called Bioshock: In between bouts of combat in BioShock, for instance, the recordings players discover have no influence on the action of the game, except to color the interpretation of that action.
The payoff, if that’s the right word for it, is a tepid reprimand against blind compliance, the very conceit the BioShock player would have to embrace to play the game in the first place. He goes on to describe other games where he feels like the gameplay has a way of getting in the way of telling a story and that video games are just a way to show off our 3D rendering technology and these stories could be just as well told as a movie with little to no loss of visual impact with today’s animated film and green screen technologies. However, I say that since this article was written in 2014 that there have been games that have filled some of the shortcomings that Ian Bogost talks about. Developers such as: the now-closed developer Telltale Games, Dontnod Entertainment, Quantic Dream, and Ninja Theory have, in recent years, released amazing games where in the actions of the player are more than just simply following a railroad track of puzzles and story pieces but are able to influence the story and change the outcome where one playthrough is completely different from any other. To conclude I believe that video games have come so far in such a short amount of time and they have the whole of the future ahead of them to grow and expand. There’s no telling what lays ahead in the industry or how video games will influence the next generations of creators and consumers but I can’t wait to find out.
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