The death of a favorite character in a video game brings a feeling of sadness, followed by feelings of anger, and sometimes even something like sadness. Video games in 2021 have evolved far beyond the times when the ultimate goal of the game was to beat the high score or chase the elusive princess.
Today, the story of video games has evolved to the point where its writing, structure, and nuances are comparable to more traditional ones like movies and television. For decades, video games have established themselves as a powerful medium for storytelling and viewer engagement.
Storytelling media, such as theaters, movies, and television, are always aimed at building relationships with viewers. Through his writing, character, art design and crafting, he aims to draw the audience into the world in the most internal way possible.
In that respect, perhaps other media haven’t achieved that as much as video games.
Note: Next spoiler:
Why are video game character deaths usually more influential than movies and television?
The goal of video games is, to be honest, to blur the line between the character and the player. The controller is the conduit for players to immerse themselves in the game world, essentially the character they play.
As an interactive medium, video games remove the barriers between players and stories and keep them away as spectators. Players are more active in video games and their stories than spectators.
When it comes to high-impact storytelling in video games, the name of the game comes from the player’s agency, rather than television or movies. It depends on the game whether it means that the player controls the events of the story through his choice as a character, or that he experiences the story internally.
The goal of the story-telling game is to build empathy between the player and his character. There are many methods, tricks, and gameplay devices that games use to develop it, but we’ll look at two of them from a broader perspective.
Case 1: Last of Us Part II
In both The Last of Us and its 2020 sequel, players are mostly unattended as spectators. Apart from combat sequences where players make different choices and have agencies that approach each area the way they like. The characters remain characters and the players say nothing about their decisions.
It’s clear enough that the player is only exploring the world of The Last of Us as Erie or Joel and is not representing the player. There are subtle differences between the two, but I’m using other devices to deepen my empathy with the player.
Throughout the game journey, players feel the sacrifices that game events bring to Erie, and players have to sympathize with her. Watching her journey from the first game, the player is investing too much in Erie and doesn’t sympathize with her, as she literally helped her get over it.
Therefore, each time the character is killed or endangered, the player nervously clasps the controller. Similarly, the player has been with Joel since the first game and has seen his journey.
The game deepens empathy through gameplay and character creation, but players do not have an agency in the course of the event taking place.
Case 2: Cyberpunk 2077
The Last of Us Part II is a nearly linear third-person action game that is very different from the open-world RPG called Cyberpunk 2077. By name alone, RPG means role-playing. In other words, players don’t just step into the shoes of other players. Characters, but essentially they become in the process.
The goal is for V and the player to be the same or for Cyberpunk 2077 to achieve. The player decides the v decision. The ultimate goal of game design is for players to fully empathize with the characters and do their best for them.
In many respects, V is a proxy for Cyberpunk 2077’s players, but as players will notice, V has its own personality. Players can choose what nature V’s interpretation has in a particular situation, but in many cases it is up to the character itself and its design.
However, the agency is the name of the RPG game, as the events in the game are coordinated by the player’s choice. The fate of the character is of utmost importance to the player, not just the main character.
Balance the two to provide something compelling
The protagonist is usually the easiest to sell to a player, but it’s the character that the player spends most of his time on. Whether the game can resonate the player with other characters in the game is a true sign that the video game has succeeded in its design.
One of the best examples of powerful storytelling, it shows the potential for a built-in, high-impact video game to be Red Dead Redemption II. In this game, the player is in the position of Arthur Morgan, but the line between Arthur and the player is effectively broken at some point in the game.
Each gang member is important to the player, as it is important to Arthur when choosing a prestigious option in the game. Therefore, the death of each character encounters a powerful reaction from the player.
Therefore, the kind of approach Rockstar Games employs in video game storytelling and empathy is a blend of the two, and is particularly powerful. The time a player spends with Arthur is, in effect, a thought of the time a player spends with an old friend.
Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t the only game that can run it, but it’s one of the most popular games and is a great example.
Published February 10, 2021 17:54 IST
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