May 23, 2024

Video games are the new way to experience stories

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Christian Yeung in Connecticut, United States | Hong Kong

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May 10, 2024. Children from Capitolo, Northern Liberties, and Heitzman Recreation centers in Philadelphia visit Localhost Gaming for an afternoon of video games.

Picture by: Julian Moore-Griffin | Flickr

Video games have been around for decades, with one of the earliestbeing the humble Pong: two sticks and a ball bouncing across a tiny screen.

Now more than 50 years later, the industry is worth billions, making over $340bnworldwide in 2022 alone. Yet, video games continue to be disregarded by the general public as an unhealthy hobby and a waste of time, and, more seriously, have even been accusedof causing violence.

The competitive aspect of video games such as Call of Duty or Fortnite reflects their rather negative image, as studies show a correlation between shooter games and a loss of grey matter. Scenes of children or immature adults screaming and raging over lost matches help to enforce the toxic notion of video games, but there is so much more to them.

Video games are also an untapped source of entertainment and stories. Fallout, Bethesda’s 1997 game, was recently made into an Amazon Prime TV show, scoring high marks from both viewers and critics.

 

The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s 2013 survival game, was made into an HBO Max TV show in 2023, earning multiple nominations at the Emmys and the Golden Globes. In 2021, Arcane, a show adapted from Riot Games’ League of Legends, again swept the Emmys and the Annie awards, with season two to be released sometime in 2024.

With the popularity of TV show adaptations, fans have also flocked to the original games, with The Last of Us sales going as high as 322% post-launch of the TV show, which is incredible given the game had already been out for 10 years.

Are video games a form of media?

Games aren’t media, says Frank Lantz, game designer and Director of NYU’s Game Center. Lantz argues that a medium has to carry “information from a source to a destination”.

If we look at board games or card games, it is true that they don’t convey much of a message to the players. Not many people would argue that Monopoly is a medium, as even though it carries the underlying message of the dangers of capitalism, it’s not directly presented to the audience nor is its purpose to bring information from point A to point B.

Yet, video games can do so. Experts in the field, such as Tale of Tales developer Michaël Samyn, believe video games are a special type of media. In a movie, you have a passive role. It does not require you to move the character across the screen: that part is done for you.

A video game requires a much more active role. In a sense, it is a playable movie; something that you are both watching and controlling at the same time.

Video games can communicate with the player through visuals and audio and, more importantly, through their rules, and compared to traditional media, like movies and TV shows, they may have more success through the element of interaction between the player and the media that video games provide.

It’s the world-building and complex narrative that allows a game to transcend the role of a simple game, but that may come at a cost. Samyn claims that, “video games that are not media are better games. Video games that are not games are better media.”

One example is God of War (2018), made by Santa Monica Studios. It follows the journey of a grieving father and son and showcases their bond throughout their quest to spread the mother’s ashes. The twist is that the father is the Norse god of war, Kratos, and the son is a demigod, Atreus.

It is nothing short of a spectacle in both visuals and gameplay. Also, the game is completely voiced, including actors Christopher Judge as Kratos and Jeremy Davis as Baldur. But most important is the story told throughout the game, which has captivated audiences worldwide and is currently being adapted to a TV show by Amazon.

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  • 'God of War', an action-adventure game created by David Jaffe and developed by Sony's Santa Monica Studio | Picture by: SobControllers | Flickr

  • Hollywood’s adaptation

    Successful games don’t necessarily mean successful adaptations. The World of Warcraft movie and the Prince of Persia movie never reached the successes of The Last of Us, Arcane, and Fallout.

    Geoff Keighley, video game journalist and CEO of the Game Awards (the Oscars for video games), credits this newfound success to the closer relationship developers and Hollywood are now establishing. This has allowed Hollywood to create “authenticity for the game fans” and also “a very rich, detailed world for folks that may not even have played the games”.

    Furthermore, actors have realised the importance of staying true to the source material. Take Henry Cavill, who played Geralt of Rivia in Netflix’s The Witcher. He reportedly played the entire third game two and a half times, which helped him stay true to the character portrayed in the game.

    Similarly, many credit Arcane’s success with its unique decision to be made in-house by the creators of the game rather than licensed to an external studio, leading to a more authentic version of the TV show.

     

    The rise of interactive media

    But there’s more to video games than a nice story. Often referred to as ‘interactive media’, they are able to convey social awareness in a way traditional media cannot.

    For instance, Detroit: Become Human, a game about the rise of AI, lets you play as three androids who have gained consciousness. According to technology company Rekt Studios, this ‘prompts players to reflect on the ethical implications of technological advancements and their potential impact on our lives’.

    Video games have also begun to increase in use in classrooms, such as at the University of Connecticut, where students use games to learn Latin. According to the American Physiological Association, games, even violent ones, ‘may boost children’s learning, health, and social skills’ and can also strengthen the cognitive abilities of children.

    The recent flood of video game adaptations could lead to a future where these are recognized as just another kind of media, and that is a promising future for both for fans of video games and entertainment as a whole.

    Written by:

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    Christian Yeung

    Society editor

    Hong Kong | United States

    Born in 2006 in Hong Kong, Christian Yeung studies at the Taft School in the US. His academic interests are in History and English, especially in literature.

    His hobbies include playing squash, the violin, and the drums, as well as cooking.  He also enjoys writing stories and articles, as well as participating in community service both in and out of school.

    He speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.

    Edited by:

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    Justin Sau

    Culture editor

    Hong Kong, SAR

    opinion

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