Video Games vs. Traditional Story Mediums

I was talking to a friend this week about the upcoming Star Wars movies, and the news that Disney was taking a hack-saw to the Expanded Universe content in order to wipe the slate clean (or nearly) and start rebuilding the universe based on only the six movies. We started talking about the different Star Wars stories we’d enjoyed, and I brought up that one of the best Star Wars stories I’d experienced was in the old original xbox game: Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic. The pivotal moment when you find out that you are the missing Sith Lord, with your memory having been wiped by the Jedi Order, was not only an emotionally surprising reveal, but it added a twist to the ethical considerations. For the latter half of the game, you had the choice to rebel against the Jedi who would presume to take your memories and violate your self to remake you in their image, or to redeem yourself and embrace the light side of the force, taking the opportunity they gave to divorce yourself from the corrupting dark side of the force.

That game really highlighted, for me, that the story telling potential in a video game is just as great, if not more so, than traditional mediums, such as books, theater and movies. Video games actively involve the viewer, and are just as much a multimedia experience (dialogue, film, sound effects, musical composition, and visual art) as any major motion picture.

Of course, that’s all old news. We’re roughly ten years beyond Knights of the Old Republic now, and the presentation and complexity of story telling in the video gaming industry has only gotten better (the crown jewel at this time, in my opinion, being Bioshock: Infinite).

But what hit me this time was this: in talking to her, I realized the likelihood of her ever being able to experience that Star Wars story was slim to none. In fact, the likelihood that I will ever go back and try to play that again is also slim to none.

And I guess this is what makes me a little sad about outstanding video game stories: they have a shorter shelf life than books. The Xbox-One is not backwards compatible to the x360. There will be a time when I can’t (or have to make efforts on new computers to find emulators) go back and play Infinite again. Technology moves forward, graphics become dated. Fifty years from now, I suspect many games won’t have been maintained in order to be able to run (and the enthusiasts hunting for them will be tech geeks capable of tweaking systems to play old stuff.) And, with graphics advances, games start to feel dated even more quickly than movies. Why play old stuff when there’s better new content out there… but I can still go back and watch the original Star Wars movies and have a great time.

Granted, video games have a plus side: we’ll get even more immersive, engaging experiences as technology progresses. I just get a little sad that the stories told in that medium have a shorter shelf life than those in books and movies.

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