ENGL 255: Video Games and/as Literature
February 17, 2017
Storytelling and Immersion in Video Games
In Eddo Stern’s article, “A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer Computer RolePlaying Games”, he explains in detail the workings of MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Computer Role-Playing Games. Despite focusing solely on this genre of game, Stern also discusses the issues related to backstory, which are common to video games in general and affect the player’s sense of immersion in the games they are playing.
In the article, Stern states that backstory nowadays has little to do with “artistic vision” and a more to do with tradition (6). This point of view refers to the now more prominent idea that less is more, or the idea in storytelling that says showing action is more important than telling the reader/viewer/player exactly what is going on. An example of “telling” in video games can be found in Gods Will Be Watching. At the very beginning of said game, there is a long text shown to the players describing the situation they find themselves in, which is that they are stranded in the forest with four other people and a dog, and that they must survive and keep everyone sane for 40 days. According to the “less is more” ideology, this long text is unnecessary to gameplay and simply entering the game and interacting with the other characters and the environment should help immerse players more into the game. On the other hand, an example of “showing” can be seen in The Graveyard. In this game, the players are dropped into the action directly without context and must open a menu if they wish to get hints on how to play the game. There is no dialogue and very little text in the game to tell players what is happening, other than in a poetic song that plays when the players have the character sit on a bench. Players are more intrigued by the meaning of the game, unlike in Gods Will Be Watching, where players are more focused on keeping characters alive.
There are also game series such as The Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy, whose games are very lore-heavy and filled with culture unique to each of their respective franchises. For such games, backstory would refer to events that had occurred in previous games. In this case, including backstory will help players learn more about the world they are in. However, figuring out this backstory tends to be optional for players, and if not it starts to feel like “excess skin, completely redundant, and deemed to be shed” (Stern 7), especially to people who have played the previous games. If backstory is completely omitted from these types of games, on the other hand, then new players might not find it as easy to immerse themselves in this new culture with new rules. Hence, like in any other form of literature, there needs to be a balance between the amount of information given to the players and the information they must find for themselves in order for them to feel comfortable in the world they are being transported to.
- Final Fantasy. Square Enix. 1987-2017. Video game series.
- Gods Will Be Watching. Deconstructeam. 2014. Video game.
- Stern, Eddo. “A Touch of Medieval: Narrative, Magic and Computer Technology in Massively Multiplayer Computer RolePlaying Games.” In Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings, ed. Frans Mayra. Tampre University Press, 2002.
- The Elder Scrolls. Bethesda Game Studios. 1994-2017. Video game series.
- The Graveyard. Tale of Tales. 2008. Video game.