By Samantha Anteau
When I first started playing video games in earnest, my mother was completely perplexed. Her perplexity grew as I continued to spend hours and hours of my life on one game, Mass Effect.
“I don’t know how you can sit around just shooting people for hours,” she’d say. This is a fairly typical response for me when people who don’t play video games hear that I do.
I’m pretty comfortable with this reaction. I don’t often feel the need to defend myself or other gamers from the stereotype that pervades: the overweight dude in his mom’s basement, sitting in the dark while surrounded by Doritos and Mountain Dew.
Video games have become so wide-spread and popular in recent years that they have moved beyond that stereotype.
However, what does frustrate me is the lack of acknowledgement of video games as a storytelling platform. For a long time, people outside of the gaming world have really undervalued the narrative potential of video games.
Frankly, I can’t pretend like I wasn’t one of those people for a long time; aside from my love affair with FIFA and the occasional Batman game, I thought pretty much every video game was just about shooting and beating people up. I had watched plenty of videos of people playing Grand Theft Auto to cultivate such an opinion.
At least, that was the case until I played my first story/character-heavy game, Bioware’s Mass Effect 2. It took me that game to realize that I had been missing something.
Mass Effect offered a wonderful story with lovable side characters, endearing romance, and compelling villains. It made me feel as much as any great book, television show, or movie ever has.
Were there still a bunch of bad guys to shoot? Yes, of course, but there was also a valuable story with a lot of heart. I still maintain that it is one of the best sci-fi properties to be released in the last fifty years.
All that gushing aside, Mass Effect isn’t the only game with an interesting story, nor is sci-fi the only genre to explore. There are compelling horror games, like Silent Hill 2 and The Walking Dead, and fantasy games, like Dragon Age and The Witcher. But if science fiction is your thing, Bioshock and Half-Life both offer a really interesting plot alongside their action.
The point is that, just like movies and television, video games offer something to everyone. Whether it be action or suspense, fantasy or romance, there is a video game that plays to those desires.
While gaming is so often boxed in as simply mind-numbing violence to those who aren’t in the community, games offer so much more than that.
I’m not saying that all video games offer compelling stories along with their action. There are plenty of games simply about causing chaos and shooting as many people as possible. This is fine; not every game need be a deep narrative experience.
But video games shouldn’t be written off as mindless entertainment. They offer an interactive platform in which players can immerse themselves in a story where their decisions could impact the ending.
Video games are the current height of immersive storytelling in a way that movies and television can’t capture.
Even if you don’t end up playing video games, or only have one or two that you stick to, at least acknowledging the fact that they offer something unique and special is definitely a step in the right direction.