Comparing Storytelling in Video Games and Literature

When it comes to storytelling, everyone has a different perception about it. Different books, movies, and video games use storytelling to capture their reader or viewer’s attention. However, is it the same thing? This article will examine the similarities and differences of storytelling between video games and literature.

Storytelling is interactive :

If we think about storytelling in video games and literature, we tend to separate the two based on a key feature, interactivity. While it is true, games are indeed interactive and engaging, that is what makes them unique. But to say the opposite for storytelling in literature is highly misleading.
Hence, there is no one way to tell a story. Once a story is told, it is open for interpretation and analysis by the reader or the player, whether it comes in the form of a novel, a movie, or in this case a video game. To put it simply, storytelling is interactive in its different forms. Language is one form of storytelling, but digital fiction relies on visual narrative that opens the door for the player’s active participation to advance the narrative’s progression.

In literary storytelling, this is not quite possible since everything has already been written and the reader’s engagement lays in his or her criticism.

From the Interactive Media & Games Seminar Series; Tain Barzso, Lecturer in the Department of English at Stanford University examines the Role of Story in Interactive Media.

Shared Thematic Genres :

Different storytelling mediums have a common thematic genre such as Fantasy, Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Action Thriller, Horror, and War. For instance, action thriller and war games focus on combat and weapon equipment while science fiction and cyberpunk introduce the player or reader to unusual electronic devices and interfaces along with a heavy emphasis on exploration. Nevertheless, some genres are only included in literature or just rarely found in the gaming industry, Comedy, literary fiction, and romance. These genres are found in most literature books or movies but very scarcely represented in video games. Sure, some AAA games may have few tick-the-box quests that include choices about romance, or sub genres of adventure and heavy narrative games that highlight the presence of romance. It is nonetheless underrepresented in the gaming world.

However, It Is Not All About Story

Video games have been evolving and became a new medium for storytelling. But sometimes, even in literature, it is not always about the story. Therefore, not all video games emphasize the story but rather shift their focus on “character, dialogue, setting, and theme”. All of these elements constitute a big part of literature and are equally important as the story. That is why some games are better off without a heavy emphasis on the narrative. In this respect, Astrid Ensslin talks about the “literary-ludic spectrum” in her book Literary Gaming; she contends that games who are heavy on storytelling and narrative should be put on one side and games who privilege gameplay should be on the other side. But that’s not to say to exclude one from the equation.

In fact, there is plenty of room for both thanks to the new digital age and the technology that facilitated this process. Now you can enjoy some good literature in a screen-based digital form.