We're all pretty used to video games telling stories by now. I've gone at length about the topic before. But one aspect of game storytelling I didn't cover in that lecture is how games are equipped to tell stories in a completely unique way.
Games have told their stories using several methods: cutscenes, scripted events, texts scattered across the world, NPC dialogue and others. Our medium has taken narrative conventions from literature, cinema and theater and used them to great effect.
But games are more than just a combination of other media. What makes games a truly unique medium is interactivity, and games rarely take advantage of that feature when telling a story.
I should qualify that statement: a certain level of interactivity is usually present. You aren't just sitting there watching a story being told from beginning to end. You are fighting the battles, navigating the world and interacting with the characters. You are accomplishing the goals necessary to keep the story moving forward. But outside of this common system, interactivity is rarely taken advantage of. And I think that's a shame.
Enter Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame. Now, I won't deny that Kojima has his flaws. He direly needs an editor to trim down his dialogue, but I am perfectly happy to overlook that shortcoming because of what Kojima does right. Though his games tell stories in an almost purely cinematic fashion, he uses interactivity at key moments to tell stories in a way no other game does.
Let me give you an example. I'm about to go deep into spoiler territory, so if you haven't played Metal Gear Solid 3 yet, beware. Also, shame on you.
At the end of Metal Gear Solid 3, there is a scene immediately after the final boss fight where Snake stands over his defeated enemy, a woman who is very dear to him: The Boss. Though Snake cares very much for this woman, he is duty-bound to end her life. After they exchange some parting words, Snake lifts his gun and prepares to fire. We cut to an overhead camera shot, looking down on the tragic scene and we wait as Snake hesitates to fire. And we keep waiting.
And then we realize: I have to do it. I have to pull the trigger.
Suddenly, the already somber event is even more painful. Snake doesn't want to shoot and neither do we. But neither of us has a choice. We can't complete his mission or the game until the act is done. With just a small measure of interactivity, a merely saddening cutscene becomes heartbreaking.
That is a glimpse of the potential this medium has. That is something games can do that no other storytelling medium can. If game designers and storytellers can learn to harness that potential, video games could become something amazing.
I enjoy games as they are now, but seeing glimpses of true potential like this makes me very excited for the future.