If you are reading this writing, there’s a good chance you have played video games. There is also a good chance that you might have heard some words from adults about how video games do nothing to build character in a person. It’s hard to blame them. After all, as much as you may enjoy them, many well-known games do not actively create complicated and interesting messages the same way other art forms do. Yet more and more games have started to break mold and ask difficult questions facing humanity.
If we were to compare video games to other well-known media in terms of their ability to invoke human thought and emotions, then nothing seems to imply that video games are inferior at getting the audience interested in a fictional world. Much like how novels are often a mirror into the human condition and prevalent beliefs of the era, video games can also tell story using many of the same basic techniques: narration, dialog, inner monologue and world-building elements. Not to mention, video games also have an advantage over other forms of art: it provides interaction. The ability to interact directly with the fictional universe gives players a deeper connection to the world and the story, even if you do not truly influence the story on a macro scale. With the ability to further your own knowledge of the world as well as the ability to make your own choices, players are much more empowered and invested in the world, and can be driven to attempt to change it. This heightened level of involvement works to the games advantage.
If you want a good example, look no further than Nier Automata. Beneath all of the exalting combat lies a more philosophical discussion on the nature of life, and thoughts on what makes our life fulfilling. The characters, despite being robotic in nature, either exhibit human consciousness or attempts to reach it, which should suggest that the story isn’t so much about robots as it is about our struggles to find the meaning in our existence. Consider our protagonists.Though their journey at first imparts a sense of grandeur and of a crusade of good against evil, the story soon takes an unexpected turn and reveals that you are not fighting a war for humanity, but rather a war which justifies your own existence. Neither are your enemies, alien robots, without their own philosophical symbolism. Their final goal is to become human in thought, and the many robot societies you meet throughout the game are proof of their gradual development towards such goal. Many bosses also feel much less like mindless mechanical constructs out for blood, and more like grieving or lost humans, who act violently out of desperation. As unrealistic as anthropomorphic robots maybe, there’s no doubt that such character help flesh out the developers own thought on what existence entails for us, and how do we ultimately find meaning in an inherently meaningless world. I would recommend everyone to play it once and experience the convoluted yet beautiful storytelling.
Another game that raises interesting, albeit less relevant questions to the average Joe is The Stanley Parable. The entire game, with all its references and details, is the author’s view on modern gaming, both on its players and its creators. The creators are represented by the narrator, a voice that guides the player in their path to understand what happened. Do not take it as a selfless entity who will gently nudge the player towards the right path, as it can be downright patronizing and is willing to punish the player for their deviation from the given path. The players, who are represented by Stanley, the main character, aren’t free from criticism. Described as easily pleased people who simply follow orders and mashes buttons, the player is only rewarded the “true” ending for precisely following the instructions given, ironic for a supposedly “free” ending. Moreover, many descriptions and objects are also allusions to the world of video games, which further constructs a sense of self-awareness about the game’s own existence as a game, and how it allows for criticism about gaming. While not necessarily a particularly exciting game, the many criticisms it lays out regarding video games, delivered through the very same medium that it is criticizing, is an fascinating message that would have an impact on much of future game design.
In conclusion, we can see that a new generation of games is rising, one that is tackling the same abstract world as previous mediums of art have done. Gaming is no longer just a mindless form of entertainment, it is as legitimate a medium for social commentary, philosophical undertones and thought-provoking ideas as any other.