As I wrote in March, I’ve always preferred video games to films. The latter present a plot which can’t be changed but with the former, there’s always that feeling of being able to affect the outcome even if it’s just an illusion of choice. We may ultimately arrive at set-points determined by the developer but those choices we’re presented with along the way change it into our own story.
Narrative in gaming has come on a long way since the days of rescuing princesses from castles. And we now have access to a wide range of protagonists which aren’t always the stereotypical white male hero, and it’s far easier to find one we can relate to and admire. Each character is fully developed with their own backstories, intentions, strengths and weaknesses, and the conflict they encounter drives the story forward in a way which makes the player care about their journey.
Think of all the protagonists you’ve stepped into the shoes of in all your years of gaming; how many have there been? I’ve broken all the rules and battled mechanical beasts throughout Mother’s Heart as Aloy. Taken on zombie-ghost-pirates with nothing more than a bottle of root beer as Guybrush Threepwood. Struggled with depression and been helped by good friends (as well as getting up to mischief with them) as Mae Borowski. And that’s just the start of a very long list.
I’ve been on adventures both big and small with so many digital people and although their story has become my own, it’s also become that for so many other gamers around the world. Thousands of other players have taken on the role of the same character and walked those same steps. Each of us may have experienced their tale in a different way, been affected by different elements or learnt different lessons from the encounter, but we’ve all felt what it’s like to be that protagonist and live in their world.
Video games give us the chance to live multiple lives in hundreds of ways. One day you can be a Dragonborn, going up against Alduin and an army of flying beasts raised from the dead; the next you can inherit your grandfather’s old farm and spend your time peacefully tending to crops and livestock. You might vow to end the Reaper threat, sailing through the stars and visiting distant planets. Or you might decide to go home after being away from your family for a time and find out what’s happened to your sister.
You could almost say that games can grant us a certain kind of ‘immortality’ when you think about it in this way. Although our time here is limited, the characters we’ve played as throughout our years never really die and their influence is felt in future releases and narratives, and even in the lessons they’ve taught each player. A protagonist’s tale becomes our own during those hours we spend alongside them; and as soon as another person picks up a controller, it becomes their story too.
Of course, it’s possible that at some point a game may be forgotten or the servers might be switched off once popularity wanes. But each character is never truly gone. They will always remain a digital possibility somewhere, waiting for someone to relive their tale – and ours – once again.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.