Video Games as Interactive Narratives
I made a piece a while ago about the game Heavy Rain, and its interactive story. Heavy Rain is not the only game that lets you do this, but it is the only one to that level of interactivity within story definition.
More games these days are steering away from the clean cut narrative present in many of the games of the last decade and are moving towards more interactivity. But does that mean that the story will be an interactive narrative?
Games that feature an open world, a la GTA, often allow you to pick your missions at your leisure. Usually there is a main story line of missions that you have to complete, and once you complete one of them, a flurry of other missions will be available to you. Only one of these missions will progress you to the next stage of the story, and the others may not necessarily be essential, but you are given the choice as to which order to do them in. Looking at some of those maps of an interactive narrative, you can see how a game like GTA would fit in.
Games that play with interativity in their narratives base it around morality. Games like Mass Effect and Deus Ex allow you to pick dialogue options which help define your character as well as build relationships with other characters in the game. Say you are consistently rude to a character; later in the game he might be able to help you out in a mission but he will decline because you were mean to him. But what often happens with these games is they promise your decisions will effect how the game will end. In terms of both Mass Effect (3) and Deus Ex (Human Revolution), your choices don’t matter to the games ending. You are put in a room and given the option of one of 3-4 endings. All your work to build your character to your liking is for nothing.
A game with much less choice is Infamous. Your moral choices are specifically black and white. You can do good or bad. If you do good things, you will be respected by NPCs and will have blue lightning powers. If you do bad things, NPCs will run from you and you will have red lightning abilities. In Infamous 1, your moral position determined how the city ended up in the end. In InFamous 2, the endings were so polarized that for the next game in the series, they had to choose the most popular ending to develop their story by. Although you have really two choices, it does allow you to go back and play it all again with the opposite moral compass.
In relation to the question asked at the symposium, Yes. Video Games can definately be interactive narratives. Not all games are trying to achieve this, which is fine. The Uncharted Series, Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us are recent games that have kept their stories tightly packed to create very cinematic experiences that you are likely to find in film. Some games like you to be able to choose which missions you do when you want to. GTA 5 comes out in two days and I might talk a bit more about it once I’ve played it, but I know that their will be choices like this in the game.