In the year 2020, gaming is one of the largest, and fastest-growing, industries in the world, in 2019 the industry generated $143 billion of consumer spend and with the global pandemic we are living through, this is expected to increase exponentially
I always feel as though gaming is the forgotten cousin to film and TV. Whilst film and TV are well known for their development timelines and are usually consumed by the majority of the population, the development of games always feels slightly forgotten and there are still far too many stereotypes of the classic ‘gamer’. Yet, in spite of this, gaming over the last 20 years has grown from just flying a dragon around or jumping on to different platforms, into an incredibly wide variety of game styles, tactic models, storylines and visualisations. The PS4/Xbox One generation has taken this to new levels, with this current generation hardware (soon to be eclipsed by PS5 and Xbox Series X) bringing us some of the most successful games and storylines ever seen. From the incredible visuals and fun that is racing games such as Forza Horizon, to the deeply emotional and surprising character-driven tales such as The Last of Us and God of War, this generation has really shown us some startling ways to spend upwards of 20+ hours.
Whilst everyone knows films take years of writing, re-writing, visual effects etc, games seem to be somewhat forgotten in the sheer scale of their development. For instance, PlayStation blockbuster and legendary treasure hunter Nathan Drake had to wait five years between the third and fourth instalment, with almost every day between that spent perfecting Uncharted 4. That’s five years of development to make one follow up game. Put that in film terms, and that is a huge gap! For perspective, within five years between 2015-2020 Marvel had taken back the Spider-Man property and made two direct films for the character, and also used in him a further three MCU films. Uncharted is just one game, with thousands of hours of employee time spent creating it. It was a similar site for God of War 4/reboot/whatever you deem it to be. That same game also took five years to make, including mo-cap, animation, combat enhancement, initial scripting etc etc etc . it is crazy the time it takes to make a full-on AAA game in the modern age!
Now that’s just the development. For me, this on its own is a key reason why games have earnt being considered possibly the best storytelling medium. However, there is so much more to this. Another reason why gaming brings such a unique take to storytelling is that instead of just watching characters on screen, you literally become them. You fight as that character, whether it’s Master Chief, Kratos or Aloy, you make decisions for them, you protect and heal them and you may protect others. It is incredibly unique and builds in such an appreciation and love for each character that you cannot help but be sucked in by their story and is the reason why we are happy to spend 60 hours trawling an open world to put together clues and missions. No matter what, you build in an inherent value to each character, even more so than any film can do. Add layers of customisation, choice options or side mission development and you create something quite special. All those characters mentioned above, plus countless others from Lara Croft to Cortana, have pushed what is possible in a game and have shown the importance of games and the stories that they tell.
This idea that gaming is the best storytelling medium is something that became even clearer when I watched The Witcher Netflix series. In 2015 I played Witcher 3 and fell in love with it, from its unique protagonist to its rich world and incredible visual presentation. In 2020 I watched the TV series, and I fell in love again. I LOVED the Netflix series, it was unique and stuck to the source material and books well. But for me, when comparing the two, I couldn’t help but prefer the ability to play as Geralt and learn these stories via the game. You saw a world and fully understood how Geralt developed pasts and futures with other characters. The series was a solid 9/10 for me, but the game, 10/10. You just cannot match the pure amount of time and stories that a game provides you with, and the rich background that comes with. This is something that only seasons and seasons of a TV show could ever hope to match. Of course, it isn’t always perfect. No matter how much money you throw at a game that doesn’t mean it will be the best story, something seen with Jedi: Fallen Order. I was hyped to play this game, and whilst stunning visually, it couldn’t touch the magic that the films could provide. Which is odd, because you would think playing as a Jedi would be even better than just watching one, but the story wasn’t developed enough to create that bond or emotion (Only the original Battlefront 2 can match that). I suppose that is a lesson in limits and patience.
So back to the original question, is gaming the best storytelling medium? Personally I believe yes, yes it is. From the ability to play through a character for hundreds of hours to the genuinely astounding quality of some of the games we know to get to play, gaming is just special when done right and often quite perfectly. I adore films, and always will, they make me who I am in many respects, but gaming really does present a very unique proposition to storytelling that should be taken up by more people.