What do you think of when you hear the term, “video game?” For some people, video games could be seen as a simple, mindless form of entertainment that doesn’t have much value outside of pressing buttons and a few hours of distraction. If you would have asked me what value they had outside of entertainment a few years ago, even though I spent a lot of time gaming, I would have probably agreed. Nowadays, however, I have come to realize that video games have potential to possess as much value as literature. Video Games are more than button-pressing time wasters. They can be filled with great stories, complex and relatable characters, and thought provoking themes. Before I continue, I should give a potential spoiler warning for some games.
In literature, a good character is going to be one who is three dimensional, one who can be analyzed beyond what is represented in the pages, or presents a commentary on an issue. When talking about character analysis, I think a good example to present my point is Kratos from the God of War franchise. At first glance, Kratos seems to be a one-dimensional savage who kills everything in his path due to rage issues, but, after analysis, Kratos is also a Spartan who was tricked into killing his family, betrayed by his god and manipulated by every other person he trusted.
Such rage becomes more understandable once the reasons are made clear. He also has more humanity than most gamers give him credit for. He still has a caring side, primarily toward children, showing love to his daughter in the underworld and protecting Pandora (who is a young girl in the game). At the end of the third main game, he sacrifices himself to save the rest of humanity, releasing the hope that was inside Pandora’s Box. It is interesting that some people who have played the game miss the sympathetic aspects of Kratos’ character, to the point where I feel like I am the only one who holds this point of view. Much like a book may have aspects that are totally missed by readers, video games can divide opinions based on whether or not information is obtained. Stuff like this can make “mindless” beat-em-up games much more interesting and valuable.
Video game characters and events can stay in the minds of players much like in literature. I will never forget the ending to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, because I periodically think back to the final act (well, minus the secret final mission). The events in the last mission stay with me years after I have played it. Night in the Woods, an indie game that I played in late February and completed in early March, has a cast of characters that continuously find their way back into my mind almost every day due to them being so relatable, interesting, and fun. The end of the game left me wanting to hang out with them one more time. It doesn’t hurt that the game acts basically like an interactive story.
Infamous 2 has one of the best endings in media that I have seen and I still think back to it, getting the same chills that I had upon the initial experience. Not only did that game have a character that made me feel like I lost a close friend upon his death, Infamous 2’s story was a video game with commentary on what is humanity/what is good or evil. Near the endgame, there is a situation that presents the difficult decision as to what is the greater good, giving two courses of action that includes mass sacrifice.
Such themes and commentary, like in novels, are in quite a few video games. The Metal Gear Solid series is filled with commentary on war, ethics, science, and so on. It also holds a confusing yet interesting story that most likely requires multiple times playing to connect all the dots much like a book or short story may need to have a second or even third read. Shadow of the Colossus, a game with little dialogue, presents a story of desire that ends up being self-destructive.
The Wolf Among Us is another game that presents questions of what is good and commentary on justice, asking if necessary “evil” should be punished, and addresses negative consequences of stopping that “evil.” Also, its ending has potential to give rise to discussion as to what it is implying and what exactly does the ending entail. Literature often creates discussion and the fact that video games have that potential gives them greater potential value.
The best example of this that I know of resulted from the game, Bloodborne. The story is almost nonexistent at first glance, but upon digging deeper the story can be found in pieces due to item descriptions and other small bits of lore. This creates room for discussion, theories, and analysis due to nothing being clear-cut. What is extremely impressive is that a player wrote a 90 page analysis of the lore of the game called “The Paleblood Hunt,” presenting his theories and interpretations of the deeply hidden story. This, interestingly enough, reflects the underlying premise of Bloodborne which is finding the truth that is hidden to the rest of mankind.
The fact that there can be so much woven within the code of a game, much more than on the surface, makes me believe that video games certainly have potential for being similar to literature. Now, not all video games can be considered masterpieces in this regard much like not all literature is good or successful. However, when enough care and thought is put into a game, it can definitely be equivalent to literature in value.
Grub Street Fiction Team Member
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.