I am a truly obsessive gamer, but I am first and foremost a writer (and a fictional writer at that). Storytelling is extremely important to me, and when I find a game whose story is on par with the level of detail as a novel, it becomes sacred and easily wedges itself into my Top 10. Good graphics are wonderful, but pretty things without good meaty plots can only keep my attention for so long. When The Speaker in Bungie’s current rolling title Destiny tells the player “I could tell you why all this crap happened and why it was totally epic but sort of sucked for humanity because you may have noticed that most of them are gone . . . . buuuttt I won’t because I look really good staring out of this big bay window in my swirly, book-filled room that makes me look like a mixture of important and smart,” I wanted to scream (but I’ll get to that later). A lot of games have really stellar potential, but often fail to deliver something compelling.
The other night I was emailing back and forth with one of my old critique buddies from undergrad, and she asked what sort of video games I like to play. She, like myself, is a total literature harpy (a personally coined term for someone that takes storytelling, writing, and all that good stuff very seriously, irregardless of medium). She never really had the opportunity to game growing up, and attributed most of it Call of Duty and World of Warcraft thanks to the marketing machine. She wanted to give it a good try and asked what games I would recommend for someone like her: a literature harpy. It turned into a massive back-and-forth, and she walked away with a bucket list of things that she’s excited to play. I, however, walked away with a personally curated list of games that I’d recommend to someone looking to play out a great story, and I thought I’d share some of it here:
If you’re into Folklore . . .
Okami is beautiful in every possible regard. It is truly like nothing else that I’ve played before. The whole game is styled like a traditional Japanese painting, sumi-e, which is contextually appropriate as the whole game is based on and inspired by Japanese history, folklore, and mythology. It was also the first game that I totally binged on. My mom got it for me for Christmas the year it was released, and I sat down for over 48 hours straight and played it all the way through. I was completely enamored.
Of course, The Legend of Zelda will make many of these lists (especially mine). If you sit down and take the time to get to know the lore of Hyrule, you’ll easily become engrossed with it. Although the games are fairly simplistic in nature, since they were initially aimed at a younger demographic, so much heart has gone into the overall timeline and premise. You’ll find yourself mapping out all of the possibilities and reading through pages upon pages of speculation. It is a world driven by it’s fans, but definitely a worthy one.
If Science Fiction is your forte . . .
I’d recommend that you try Bungie’s Destiny. Yes, I know I had little rant about it in my introduction, but hear me out. Destiny needs a lot of work, but the potential is so great and what they’ve started is so thoughtful. Think big, epic, unlimited space odyssey: worlds and creatures we have never seen before. It could be classic. But now add high fantasy motifs from 1980’s pulp novels and literary fiction. Stellar. Destiny requires you to work hard for her love, but I have had a ton of fun reading through the Grimoire, a separate collection of short written pieces to accompany the game that are unlocked as you play. The Grimoire alone is proof of how thoroughly thought out this new world is, and one of my biggest complaints is that not enough the content found in the Grimoire in included in the actual game. They rely too heavily on it to tell the vast majority of the game’s story. Without it, the game would be pretty boring and a little empty. Destiny is running in realtime (sort of), with new DLC and content being released in serial. This means that they are constantly adding on to the story, gameplay, etc., and this also means that they have the ability to dish us up something wonderful as time goes on.
If you don’t want the commitment that Destiny requires in order to be successful, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a casual alternative (and actually has a superior story to many of the titles that make up this list, in my opinion). All you do is walk through the small, fictitious English town of Yaughton post a mysterious event that has caused all of it’s inhabitants to go missing. You follow trails of bloody tissues, wafting echoes, and dancing lights across the span of what feels like actual miles in an attempt to discover the truth. I found myself taking notes on a spare legal pad, making sure I didn’t forget a moment of it. Now, I won’t elaborate on the plot in detail, since it’s best played ignorant, but I can assure you that it is good. Scary good.
If you love adventure . . .
I’d highly recommend the whole Bioshock series, which does include reading the supplementary novel if you need a break from the controller (Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley and Ken Levine). All three of the games are coveted as some of my favorites, and I’m pretty picky with shooters. The setting is brilliant and steampunky, inspired and driven by history, philosophy, and everything nice. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re all gorgeous, too. The villainous Sofia Lamb is one of my favorite antagonists (I wrote a tiny blip about her for GeekGirlCon’s blog), and Elizabeth is actual love. Bioshock Infinite is my favorite of the three, although a lot of people would put more money on the first. Infinite is really deep, so long as you read between the lines and pay attention.
If High Fantasy makes you swoon . . .
Many people would agree that The Witcher 3 is by far one of the better games out there to date, and I totally concur. It is truly an epic, on par with Game of Thrones or Sarah J Maas, yada yada. Although I have yet to read them, the games are even based on a series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, which are supposedly brilliant by themselves. The Witcher 3 as a game is practically a book: it is so chop full of good content that it’s possible to roll through the whole thing and miss over half of what it has to offer. You really do need to play all three to get the bigger picture, and I’ve been told that the books further that depth even more (so we have the ability to reach a Tolkien status, maybe). There’s action, horror, mystery, romance, drama, betrayal, everything you’d want in a story. You have the ability to make your own decisions, so the number of possible outcomes is so expansive. You are Geralt of Rivia.
If you like short stories . . .
If you just want to sit down and play something in an evening or less, Gone Home has a quick, humbling, and effective story. The mechanics are similar to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: you simply walk through the family’s house in the middle of the night after the eldest daughter has returned home from a study abroad. Mysteriously, no one is home, and you slowly discover why that is. The house is so familiar, I often found myself shutting doors and cleaning up — picking up cans and pieces of paper, tossing them into the trash or into a drawer. It very much reminded me of any one of the houses that I lived in growing up. There’s nothing to run from, but the ambiance of the story coupled with the haunting environment keeps you going, but also on edge. You know that you’re alone in the house, but still find yourself leaving on an extra light or two to illuminate your path. Just in case.
There are a lot of games that I did not mention that have stories that are just as good as any, but these are some of my absolute favorites. Video games are a great way to tell a story, and make it interactive in a way that other forms of media simply can not. You have the ability become their characters, a piece of the story, and that can be magical if well done.