Video Games Are Better WITH Stories

I don’t know if I have ever read something that managed to simultaneously be so arrogantly intellectual and completely idiotic.

I’m talking about the article The Atlantic posted yesterday written by Ian Bogost, titled, “Video Games Are Better Without Stories.”  Just reading that title made me want to throw up.

Seriously?

Sure, games without stories can be fun, but if there was no value to story-based games, why would anyone buy them?

The article was written, in part, to praise the innovation of the new game, What Remains of Edith Finch.  The author’s point was that Edith Finch breaks the mold of conventional storytelling, instead focusing on an interactive environment.

Bogost likes this so much, he goes on to conclude that games should just do away with stories all together, claiming, “Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?”

Who says that film, television, and literature are better at telling stories?  They are different mediums with different methods of telling stories, and I think they all have their strengths.  That’s why I love television, movies, books, and video games.  They all have story-telling strengths.

But, apparently, games are on trial here, so I have to defend them.

I have already written about games as an art form, but here are the strengths that only games have in narrative specifically:

Choices

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Television, movies, and books all fail to give the viewer the element of choice.  Bogost’s bogus article begins by basically saying real choices can never be made in games, because there will always be limitations.

What is wrong with limited choice, though?  Too much choice, and a story stops becoming a story and just becomes a flat, simulation.  Games like The Walking Dead or the Mass Effect series use limited choice amazingly well.  The story is still being driven to a limited number of directions, but the fact that the player had a bit of input into the narrative, makes it so much more relatable.

Having to make fast decisions, but still having people die made The Walking Dead powerful.  I really felt the losses and felt the hopelessness of the situation, instead of watching a show or reading a book where you can yell at people for making the wrong choice.

In a game, it was you that made the wrong choice, or sometimes, there was no other choice, and that makes the loss feel that much worse.

There are many ways that limited choice makes the narrative more impactful, and this is something only video games can do.

Timing

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When watching a movie, a mood or location is established with a couple shots that do not change in length no matter who watches the movie.

In games, when a setting needs to be established, players have all the time they want to explore, talk to people (in some cases), and get the sense of mood and where exactly they are.

This is done exceptionally well in The Last of Us, where setting is crucial to the mood of the story.  When playing, I could control how quickly I moved through the settings, so that I got a better sense of the mood.

You do not have that control in other media.

Environmental Storytelling

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There are other things I could praise video game stories for, like being able to interact with characters, seeing the story play out from different perspectives, immersion, but what I want to focus on is the particular type of video game story-telling that Bogost also focused on.

That is environmental story-telling as done by games like Bioshock and Gone Home.  These games place characters in an environment where the player can piece together a story by finding evidence or voice recordings that are lying about.

Bogost seems to think that this does not count as a form of story-telling.

“Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts? Are they really stories, when they are really environments?”

“Are they really stories”??? Merriam Webster defines stories as “an account of incidents or events.”

So when you find an audio recording that has an account of incidents or events, how is that not a story?  Seriously?

I’m sorry, but this is so ridiculous.

Environmental Storytelling is beautiful because it forces a player to sift through information until the story finally comes together, and the truth dawns on them.

This is a beautiful moment, and it is different with every player.

I am sure that Bogost is a very intelligent man, but I am not sure he has ever played a narrative-based game before.

Stories are beautiful things, and I will take a good story in any form.  Books are beautiful, long works of fiction.  Movies are short, succinct tales.  TV shows are long, drawn-out journeys with many twists and turns.  None of these can give you the immersion of a well crafted narrative-focused game, though.  The choices, the time invested, the challenges overcome, all make the pay-off of the narrative so much more real.

Stories make games so much better, and I hope they never leave the gaming world.

Here’s another link to The Atlantic’s article so that you can read this insanity for yourself: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/video-games-stories/524148/

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

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Star Fox 64: A Video Gaming Story

Gaming is about the experiences we have, and the memories we make when playing games. I love video games, and I always have. They were a huge part of my life growing up. Here’s a story from my childhood that will hopefully resonate with some of you why we love games:

I grew up 7 years younger than my three older sisters. It really was like having four moms.  I admit it, I was spoiled.  When each of my sisters left left for college one by one, though, I realized I had a responsibility over my own life. I was suddenly unsure of my future.  I had my parents still, but I could not help but think that things were different. I suddenly had to help my mother clean more, and take out the trash.  These things might seem small, but to me they were drastic changes. I began to feel unsure of whether or not I could make it on my own.

The thing that renewed me, gave me hope again, was something that the world will never deem significant.  No other person besides me was helped or encouraged by the event, but it mattered to me.  It was the day I beat my sister’s high score on Star Fox 64.

You see, video games played a huge role in my life growing up. I recall watching my sisters play Super Mario on our grey plastic NES.

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I would lean back on our flat, green carpet and watch the small square TV screen flicker to life. There, on that screen, I would watch as my sisters were transformed into turtle-battling, princess-rescuing heroes.  I marveled at the secret areas they found, and the many dark castles they battled through unscathed.  They were heroes to me. I remember how happy I felt when my small hands had the chance to hold the hard, awkward-feeling controller and orchestrate the brave Italian plumber. The first time I saw the words, “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” I almost felt like I was one of the great warriors I saw my sisters as.

Time went on, and my two oldest sisters left for college.  My last sister, Andrea, and I had a Nintendo 64 now.  She finished Super Mario 64, and I never did.  She beat Donkey Kong 64, and I got stuck halfway through.  She almost always beat me at Super Smash Brothers, and she had all of the high scores on Star Fox 64.  Then the day came when my sister moved miles away from me and our little black N64.  I might have felt lonely, but at least I now had the opportunity to play Star Fox without taking turns with my sister.

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I turned on the system and I was greeted by the blocky forms of Star Fox and his crew posing valiantly on the screen.  I pressed “start” and, once again, war broke out across the Lilat system. I piloted my ship through battle after battle. My hands sweat and I pressed my thumb harder into the joystick to get a better grip. The Arwing on the screen flew through asteroids and canyons, shooting every enemy possible.  “Do a barrel roll!” I said in unison with Peppy.  I knew all of the quotes. As the end of the game drew nearer, I realized that to beat Andrea’s score I needed more than just my raw skill.  I needed a new plan.  At the last minute, I decided to veer off of the normally high scoring “hard” path and hit one of the “medium” planets. Sector Z was the level Andrea and I would have normally played, but I decided to go down to the planet Macbeth instead, because there were more enemies to shoot there.

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The decision paid off. I reached the end of the game, and after I blew up Andros’ brain and got pinned with medals, I saw my score.  “Congratulations rank 1st” the screen read.  I was so excited I ran to the phone and called my sister almost before I had put in my initials.  The phone rang, and I heard Andrea’s voice echo through the line.

“Hello?” Her voice crackled in the earpiece.

“Guess what,” I began excitedly, “I beat your high score on Star Fox!” She might not have been that excited or interested in my successes within a video game, but I felt great. To me, I had proven that I could live my life on my own, without my sisters taking care of me. I was eleven years old, and I was my own man.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Resting by Playing Video Games

Photo Credit: Red vs. Blue

The Bible has a lot to say about resting. God set the precedent for rest after he created the world, when he chose to rest on the seventh day, giving us an example to follow. It is only through rest that we can be recharged to work again effectively.

This is where video games can be helpful. Video Games can be a relaxing activity that calms the mind and recharges the soul.

This is not always the case, though. Sometimes, games can be stressful. It depends a lot on the person playing the games and on mood that they are in, but sometimes, gaming can be exhausting.

This is often true when playing competitive multiplayer. Any activity that is extremely competitive is usually also stressful. It is certainly hard to relax when in the middle of fierce competition.

Resting is also difficult when playing games on hard difficulties. Playing Dark Souls or any game on the hardest difficulty requires a great deal of focus, and is far from relaxing.

The problem with only playing games that are difficult, or maintaining a constant, laser focus while playing, is that we miss out on the opportunity to rest.

Video games can be a great way for us to recharge from the rigors of day-to-day life.

Rest is a Biblical concept. God wants us to rest, so that we can appreciate life and be rejuvenated to work for him more effectively.

This is an important idea, because some Christians see no purpose for playing video games, and they are right if we treat video games like work constantly.

My point is that video games should be fun, and if we are stressed constantly when we play, gaming becomes just another task for us to accomplish. We need to get that one more achievement, beat this one more game, climb one more rank in competitive multiplayer. Games should not be work, they should be fun, and sometimes just relaxing.

I am not saying that there is no place for taking the game seriously. Us gamers need to take the game seriously sometimes, because there are things that we need to accomplish, and playing games at a high level is fun.

What I am saying is that we also need to take some time to rest. We need to be mindful with how much stress we are dealing with, and if we are in a time of our life where we have a lot on our plate, adding video game stress to the list won’t help.

Put in a game you are good at, or just casually enjoy the experience of a narrative-focused game. Lay back, and don’t worry about it; just enjoy the beautiful experience that games are.

God wants us to rest.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Missing the Days of Split-Screen

We all have the memories.

Sitting huddled together with our friends with our legs bent under us on the floor of our living room. Our eyes are fixated on the TV screen above us, leaning in as we hammer away at our controller buttons.

We don’t even realize the sun setting as the room turns from light to dark. The only thing we are aware of is what is happening on the TV screen.

Then we cheer, and our friends groan. We playfully push our best friend who we just beat in a game of Smash Bros or Call of Duty. We’re bonding over the competition and forming memories that will last the rest of our lives.

I remember when “multiplayer” was synonymous with “local multiplayer.” Even when games started going online, if they had online multiplayer they were also going to have local multiplayer as well. That’s just how it was on consoles.

Sadly, we live in an age where local multiplayer is hard to find. The biggest recent multiplayer titles like Overwatch, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, or any other, major AAA title where multiplayer is a major selling point do not have local multiplayer as an available feature.

There’s many reasons for this.

One reason is that is that developers and publishers care about graphic fidelity and frame-rate and consider these to be major selling points. Running two or more separate screens in an environment makes frame-rate drop and makes it harder for them to make the games look as nice as they would like.

Another likely reason is that publishers are greedy, and they want everyone to buy their own console and their own copy of the game, instead of playing at their friends house.

Even a franchise like Halo, that has stood as the last bastion of AAA split-screen multiplayer went away from local multiplayer with Halo 5: Guardians.

Many feel like this is driving gamers apart and into isolation. Sure, online multiplayer is fun, but it is not the same as playing in the same room as friends.

There is hope, however.

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Local multiplayer exists if you look for it.

Couch co-op is becoming popular recently, being able to work with your friends in the same room to accomplish an objective is fun. The best cooperative games I have played (Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends, Divinity: Original Sin) have come out in recent years.

As far as competitive multiplayer goes, it’s a safe bet that we will always have Smash Bros and Mario Cart games on Nintendo consoles, and 343 industries recently made the promise that every future Halo game will have split-screen again.

So, for those who look, there are great experiences out there for competitive multiplayer, but we will probably never see a golden age of local multiplayer again.

And that makes me sad.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Rumors of A Knights of the Old Republic Reboot

Many people, including me, consider Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to be the best Star Wars game ever made. It had great characters, dramatic plot twists, interesting locations, and fun RPG elements.

Recently, game journalist Liam Robertson revealed that he had learned that game developer BioWare’s Austin team was working on Star Wars games, and aparently one of these games is a remake of KOTOR.

Here’s the quote:

“I’ve learned now that (BioWare Austin is) pretty much now exclusively working on Star Wars games and they’re going to be doing that for the indefinite future. What they’re currently working on right now, and I have this on good authority, is a sort of remake/revival of Knights of the Old Republic. I don’t know when this is set to come out, but it has been in development for a little while now. I don’t really know how that game’ll end up. I’ve heard that it isn’t exactly a remake anymore, but it started as a remake/revival. Now it’s kind of going from that blueprint in sort of its own original thing. I guess we’ll see what that turns out to be, but they are prototyping it right now.”

Well, I leave it to you if you believe it or not. Either way, we know that there are always going to be Star Wars games (at least, for the foreseeable future), and we never know how good any of the games will be when they come out.

Still, we can’t help but hope that this game will make a comeback!

Thank you for reading, and God bless.

Growing up in a Christian Home and Playing Video Games

Photo credit: Daily Mail

There’s a lot of young people out there who love playing video games. Many Christian parents are okay with that. Some don’t let their kids play at all.  Others are strict on what they expose their kids to. As a child or teenager growing up in a Christian home with parents who limit what games they are allowed to play, it can be frustrating and hard, especially if you have friends that play games you are not allowed to.

To share some insight into what growing up in that environment is like is my friend, Josh. Josh grew up homeschooled with conservative Christian parents. He has always loved video games since he was a child, and considers himself a gamer to this day.

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I asked him a few questions about his life growing up.

Q: What’s your favorite game?

A: The Halo franchise is my favorite, and I am partial to the first one, Halo: Combat Evolved.

Q: What rules did your parents have when you were growing up?

A: My parents were conservative, traditionalist Christians. They did not want to expose me or my siblings to anything with sexual content or too much language.  When I was younger, I was not allowed to play overly violent games either.  The first shooter I could play was Halo, that’s probably part of the reason it is my favorite game.

Q: Was it hard for you growing up without being able to play the games you wanted?

A: Not so much as a child, but when I went into Junior High, things were a little tougher, especially because I had friends who were able to play games that I was not allowed to. It was good for me to learn obedience though. That’s why we have parents. Learning to obey them helps us obey God in the future.

Q: When did your parents become more lenient with their rules?

A: Once I got into high school, my parents stopped really caring what I exposed myself to. I had gained their trust, and was able to make more decisions for myself because I had shown that I could handle it. Once we reach a certain age, it is our responsibility to make decisions on what God expects from us, and I was able to make my own choice about what sort of games I could play without being tempted to sin.

Q: Do you think you will do anything different than your parents when you raise your kids?

A: Not really. I love my parents, and I know that they love me. Their rules were there because they loved me, just like God has rules for us because he loves us. They wanted to make sure that I had a good life, and that I would not have unnecessary temptations. I’m definitely no expert in parenting (I don’t have any kids yet), but I think kids who grow up with no rules and no limitations on their media consumption have it worse off. If a parent does not have rules for their kids, it sends the message that they don’t love or care about them. Childhood years are when we are forming the person we are going to be for the rest of our lives.  If parents want their children to grow up with integrity they should limit what they watch, read, listen to, or play.

Josh is currently in college, and is engaged, so he may have the opportunity to parent kids pretty soon!

I personally grew up in a strict home, and just like Josh, I knew I was loved. The games I was allowed to play, I loved, and I do not have any regrets from my childhood at all!

Thank you for reading, and God bless!

Mass Effect Andromeda: Two Weeks After Release

Andromeda has received pretty low reviews for a AAA title, getting a total 71% Metacritic score which includes a really low, 6/10 rating from GameSpot.

Many are furious of the game, and it has gotten plenty of hate from fans.

Is Andromeda the worst game ever? No.

Are the facial animations messy, the dialogue stilted, the writing shaky, and the characters dull? Yes, but not as bad as some are saying.

Every game that has a lot of anticipation around it is going to end up getting a lot of hate, especially if the game is disappointing.

Honestly, Andromeda is extremely disappointing as a Mass Effect fan.  Mass Effect fans expect the greatest writing, most interesting characters, and the absolute best stories to exist in the gaming world. These are high expectations to live up to, but they are expectations that have been set by the quality of the Mass Effect trilogy.

So, when a game has such high expectations, it is really easy to come up short.

The game may not be that good, but I have enjoyed playing it. The exploration and combat are really fun, and although the story is not on par with previous Mass Effect games, I have gotten invested into the fate of the Andromeda Initiative and the characters.

There is some gold there, if you care to look.

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The Ryder family is interesting, and something we never got from Sheppard in Mass Effect.  The atmosphere of exploring and finding new worlds is also different than the trilogy, and it is a nice, fresh new twist.

Another important thing to note is that as a fan of the Mass Effect games Andromeda is disappointing, but as a fan of Mass Effect lore the game is quite fun to explore.

The visuals all feel Mass Effect, and everything besides character faces look beautiful on the Frostbite engine.

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I think that the key here is that this is still a fun game that can be really enjoyed.  It is definitely not game of the year material, but if you like big open worlds, action RPGs, or Mass Effect, this is a good game.

I do not regret purchasing Mass Effect Andromeda, and neither should you.

Thank you for reading, and God bless!