Are Video Games The Next Great Frontier For Storytelling?


In a short answer, yes, I believe they are.

The study of “ludology” refers to video games. This was news to me before we talked about it in class this week. I say this, because I know basically nothing about video games. I have never owned a gaming console, I haven’t played video games since I was about 14, and even then it was once every blue moon when I went to my cousin’s house and we did two-player Need For Speed racing on his PS2. What tiny bit I know about video games at all is from commercials, my 15 year old brother, or my friend who is a media studies grad student that occasionally talks about games, though she doesn’t play them much either.

My experience with video games is pretty much restricted to Sims and Nancy Drew PC games. Why? Because Sims isn’t really a ‘video game’ as much as a simulator game, and I read Nancy Drew books as a child to the point I almost managed to read every single one in existence. I read about 3 of them PER DAY in middle school. So, when I was 11 and discovered the PC games, I went crazy for them. I’m 26 years old and I’m still an avid fan of those games. (WHEN WILL THE NEXT GAME COME OUT?!?! CURSE YOU HER INTERACTIVE!!!)

However, when it comes to ludology, there’s a lot I don’t know and even more I didn’t get in the class discussion regarding it. However, there is one thing that I found very fascinating and absolutely agreed with, and that was an article by Naomi Alderman in The Guardian entitled, “The First Great Works of Digital Literature Are Already Being Written“. In this article, she discusses the reason that literary minds and game creators don’t come to an understanding regarding the fact that video games are the future of digital literature. As you may remember, I discussed the idea of ‘digital literature’ in a post a while back about “How Literature Impacted The Internet As We Know It.” In that post, I discussed the idea of hypertext literature, which is something that Alderman talks about in her article.

“[more] aggravating even than this are the forums, summits, breakout sessions and seminars on “digital literature” run by exceedingly well-meaning arts people who can talk for hours about what the future might be for storytelling in this new technological age – whether we might produce hyperlinked or interactive or multi-stranded novels and poems – without apparently noticing that video games exist. And they don’t just exist! They’re the most lucrative, fastest-growing medium of our age.”

What she says here is true, in my experience. There is so much I don’t know about video games, but what I do know is that there are a plethora of games that have absolutely incredible stories behind them. I’ve witnessed a few such games, whether it be by watching YouTubers play “Undertale”, or by having watched some friends at college play “Journey“, which Alderman calls, “Sublime”. (She isn’t wrong, I managed to catch someone at the ‘end’ and the sheer concept of how it ends/begins is mindbogglingly creative!)

There are tons of games that have no amazing storytelling going on, for sure, but I’ve witnessed the creativity in some video games, and it honestly makes me sad that less people recognize the literary value and potential of video games as an extremely interesting interactive narrative.

However, the truth is simple, as Alderman states very clearly at the end of her article.

“The problem is that people who like science and technology, and people who like storytelling and the arts have typically been placed in different buildings since about the age of 16. We haven’t been taught how to admire each others’ work, to recognise excellence, or even to know that there is excellence in “the other culture”. There’s a kind of sullen arrogance on both sides, with some people in both camps simply denying that the other knows anything worth listening to. There is a kind of “worthy” arts professional who thinks that knowing nothing about games – like saying “I don’t even own a television!” – is a marker of intellectual superiority.”

Until we all get off our high-horses and learn to appreciate and interact with creators of different media, then this digital age we’re all in is going to be an annoying experience for everyone.