by Angela Faustino
As someone who has dedicated her life to studying writing, I think a lot about what makes literature effective. There are the essentials of course, the rising and falling actions, a solid plot, conflict, a climax, and an end all resolution that concludes the story. I feel the most important thing that a story can give is a sense of other worldliness. When a piece is that good, it harnesses all of these elements, and leaves the reader with a sense of awe after its resolution.
As an avid gamer, and someone who enjoys watching playthroughs of games, I often wonder: Why aren’t video games considered valid pieces of literature?
I primarily read short stories and novels in the fiction genre, but I’m also an avid gamer, and I realized that when I look for a game, I find myself wanting the same things that short stories and novels give me. I want an interesting plot, a well developed setting, and that sense of awe after I finish it. So if I find that literature and video games are achieving the same outcomes, why aren’t video games considered valid pieces of literature?
Obviously, games are not for everyone, but, neither is reading. In the gaming community, there is a mixed bag of responses when it comes to reading and writing. I find that some people are similar to me and enjoy both reading and writing (and playing video games, of course), and some people strictly play video games, saying things along the lines of, “I can’t stand reading,” or, “I’d rather be able to see what I’m supposed to be engaged in. It’s harder for me to picture it if it’s not visual."
One game comes to mind when I think about an amazing plot line. Until Dawn, developed by Supermassive Games, and released by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PS4, delves into a survival scenario where the choices you make in gameplay affect the outcome of the story. To draw back to the elements of a typical story, this game follows them to a T. In Until Dawn, you play as a character who embarks on a trip with a few of his friends for the first time in a few years. There is some foreshadowing included in the first few minutes of gameplay which makes the reader aware that something bad happened, causing them to skip the annual trip in the years prior, and that something bad will likely happen again. The story follows a mostly linear plot, aside from some flashbacks to the trip a few years prior.
The game play has important qualities included in a short story: character development, a cohesive plot, conflict between individual characters and outside forces, and of course, a resolution. Without giving too much of the story away, I wanted to highlight two of the most important things that this game does that literature does not tend to do. There are examples of books and stories breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience, but in this game, it functions as an important role. The main character speaks with a therapist intermittently during gameplay. They ask you, the player, what your biggest fears are, what characters you like, and what characters you don’t like. All of these choices made by you, the player, influence gameplay, changing interactions with certain characters, and the visuals meant to give you a good scare.
The second thing this story does which I have not seen in literature, is offering multiple endings based on choices the individual makes. I would argue that this alone forces the player to become more invested in the game, whether they know it or not. When someone is given control over an outcome, the likelihood of them finishing the game or story rises.
Another great example of a game that changes based on your choices, is Depression Quest. This game was developed by Zoë Quinn in 2013 as an educational tool for those who know friends or family members or are suffering with depression themselves. This type of game, which is an interactive story, allows the player to read through a situation that the main character is experiencing, and make a choice (usually between 1 to 5 options) that will affect the plot. I would argue that this game does just what Until Dawn does, except in a more traditional story structure. While there are very few visuals, the player becomes immersed in a story line where the life of the main character rests in their hands. Not only do I feel that this is a great educational tool for those who want to know more about depression and how to help those around them suffering from it, but it draws back to as close as a game can get to literature.
I always appreciate picking up a book or scrolling through my kindle to find that perfect story, but sometimes, I want to let imagination take a back seat and let someone else's creativity fill my mind. I think this is a really important point to consider before excluding video games from being considered valid pieces of literature.
I also think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. Game writers spend the majority of their pre-game making career reading, the way most of us do. This has prepared them to create meaningful plots with likeable and hateable characters, conflicts, creative hints to symbolism, well crafted foreshadowing, and the list goes on. Next time you pick up the controller or power up Steam, consider the elements that have been ingrained into our brains in regard to what a good story is. I think you’ll be surprised to see that these elements are present in most any plot-driven video game.