Regardless of who was reading, what they were reading, or how they were reading, Story Time was always a standout moment during my childhood. Full of kooky characters and jaw-dropping adventures, there was rarely a dull moment when an adult picked up a picture book and sat at the head of the class. From my best friend’s mom reading Seuss’ The Lorax, to our classroom aide retelling The Giving Tree with wild, elaborate gestures, Story Time had a certain captivating magic. Even now, 15 odd years later, I find reading aloud to be equally entertaining. Sure, the audience has grown up, and the subjects are a little more mature, but there’s an odd sense of wonder that accompanies the act of storytelling that just never gets old.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we, as readers, crave a good story—a great narrative, complex characters, and pinches of conflict just do a soul good.
And if the story is all that matters, why should the medium make such a difference?
Perhaps, it doesn't.
Last week, I mentioned that I’d like to help break the barrier between books and video games as mortal—er, material?—enemies. By taking a look at the way storytelling functions in video games today, I think we might just build some common ground.
Like an adult who reads to a classroom or a parent reading to their own child before bed, video games—specifically those appropriate for children—can captivate a young mind with an adventurous plot, fun characters, and relatable themes. Sly Cooper and Journey provide two great examples of how storytelling through video games can function along the very same lines as reading aloud.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time recounts the adventures of a clever raccoon named Sly. Alongside his nerdy sidekick Bentley and a half-ton-hippo friend named Murray, the unlikely trio foils a plot to steal priceless artifacts from unique historical periods by traveling through time. By controlling Sly and his friends, the player journeys through feudal Japan, ancient Greece, the timeless Old West, and other adventurous time frames in an effort to stop the thieving baddies from controlling the world’s most priceless treasures. In this game, the storytelling comes alive through the animated cut scenes and dialogue exchanged between the cast of quirky characters. By progressing from checkpoint to checkpoint, the player is effectively being read to through animated scenes and the press of a button.
While this may sound much more movie-esque than book-based, the dialogue between the characters of this video game is largely provided through text. This allows the player/reader to experience the story in a way that is unique to them, at their own pace, and in their own way—much like reading aloud!
A different form of storytelling in video games comes from GameSpot’s 2012 Game of the Year: Journey. Hailed as a first rate spiritual experience by Gabe Habash of Publishers Weekly, Journey is simply that. It’s a journey. There’s no dialogue, no combat, and just one solitary objective: to get to the top of a shining, distant mountain. And while these characteristics certainly set it apart from the games of today, what’s truly revolutionary about Journey is the way it tells its story.
Without any dialogue, and little-to-no back story, the storytelling aspect to this Playstation 3 masterpiece is completely in the hands of the player. In essence, you become the author of your own experience. For children and adults alike, this is a profound sentiment. You are given the power to create, interpret, and enjoy the experience in a way that is specific to you and your unique adventure.
In a way, the reader is the storyteller. And that is what makes this video game so powerfully literary.
Video games are likely to be the target of the book-lover’s wrath until time has stopped. But with a little insight, I think the line between the two mediums can be a little less rigid, maybe even find some common ground. Storytelling is a powerful tool, one that’s not exclusive to books. Take some time to find an adventure elsewhere—like a video game! You might be surprised what sort of space they share.
Bonus! For Reference, Gabe Habash's article on Journey: