I used to babysit for two boys who were really into video games. They were both also very creative and liked making up stories, which I think is one reason they enjoyed some of the more mature video games so much–for the storytelling elements.
One night when I was putting the younger brother to bed, he wouldn’t close his eyes, so I said, “Close your eyes or you won’t fall asleep!” He turned to me and said, “I can’t close my eyes, because when I do, I go to other worlds….and bad things happen there.”
I couldn’t help remembering that statement this past week after I played Gone Home and Year Walk. I played both games right before going to sleep, and had weird nightmares both times. Basically I went to other worlds…and bad things happened there (yikes).
Modern video games feel so immersive to me because 1) the graphics are amazing, 2) I’m often playing on a large(ish) screen in a dark room, sometimes by myself, and 3) the stories are extremely real. It’s the third reason that’s really been sticking in my mind lately.
There’s something about video games that sticks with people, because they keep coming back for more. Yes, they appeal to competition, they’re entertaining, and they look amazing, but I think one of the bottom lines is that we get swept up in the story. These stories are so immersive that we even dream about the worlds after the fact.
Because video games go beyond books in that players have (some) choices and get to inhabit a character and live out the story, instead of just being a spectator, it sometimes feels like you’ve actually experienced the story. After I played Gone Home, I felt like I had actually lived what happened. I found myself making up what would happen when the parents returned home, and wondering when I would get to see Sam again. In Year Walk, I kept thinking about ways to save Stina once the game had finished. The game provided entertainment for its duration, but the story is what sticks.
Humans seek quests, and the stories that speak to this are important because they help us discover who we are while simultaneously experiencing life from another perspective. Stories persuade, provide examples, and ultimately shape experience and change people’s minds about things. Abraham Lincoln, an amazingly effective leader, often used storytelling to reinforce a point and guide people’s minds to line up with his visions. Video games are another medium to do this, and I think it’s interesting to see how immersive they can become in creating other worlds. The downside? Maybe a nightmare now and then. I might stick to games with happier worlds for a little bit…