Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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New England Gamer
November 2009

To Tell a Tale of Gaming

I am a big fan of storytelling, but then who isn't. There's a reason certain books, films and yes, video games, remain in our memories longer then others. There's a reason why after decades people still quote The Godfather, or read books like Ender's Game. They are built on the foundation of exceptionally memorable stories. Similarly, gamers remember titles like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, and Shadow of the Colossus amongst others because they managed to touch us in a way more substantial then just the shallow thrills of a gory action game. They managed as narrative packages to incite the feelings, emotion and critical thought of the people playing them. They, in short, managed to achieve the status of art.

Uncharted 2 may not be remembered as a work of art, but it is certainly a dramatic step forward for gaming as a medium for storytelling. Uncharted 2 manages to bring to an interactive experience all the trappings of a summer blockbuster, and in fact pulls off a lot of what it does better then the movies it's emulating. Its writing is witty and well performed. Its action sequences are over the top while remaining grounded in the realm of physical possibility. Most importantly of all, it manages to integrate its storytelling elements almost seamlessly with its gameplay.

It isn't the first game to do that. Shooters like The Darkness and Call of Duty 4 both presented well integrated stories that didn't negatively interrupt the act of playing the game. 2008's Dead Space, while not gifted with the best narrative to ever come out of the industry, competently immersed players in a narrative presented entirely within its gameplay. It never once fell into the trap that is the cutscene.

Because as any gamer knows, there is nothing more annoying then a cutscene. You can't play them and as many might argue, what's the point of a video game you can't play? Such was the biggest criticism of Metal Gear Solid 4. The last chapter in the decades long saga of super soldier Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid 4 from the get go faced the ample challenge of tying up one of the most complicated and convoluted narratives in video games. To its credit, the game managed to do this and ably so, presenting gamers with a narrative that not only wound up making sense, but was also poignant and meaningful. I would even dare to argue that Metal Gear Solid 4 stands as a triumph of what video games can do if a developer has the guts to really try for something great.

If only there hadn't been so many cutscenes The game was brilliant to play, offering up some of the best stealth styled action gamers have ever seen, but as many reviewers (myself included at the time) noted, for every bit of gameplay you were almost guaranteed four or five lengthy cutscenes to sit through. As a rule I am not opposed to cutscenes if they are necessary. While I love playing a story, I do believe that there are occasions where things can be experienced better by watching than experiencing.

Even Uncharted 2 which has been praised up and down the critical aisle for its story integration has moments where you are relegated to the passenger's seat. The problem with Metal Gear Solid 4, and for that matter, the Metal Gear Solid games as a whole, is that the developers generally insisted on showing us everything and then some, whether or not we needed to see it. It is telling to me that the entries in the franchise that are considered to be the best by many, the first and third, are those where the story-to-gameplay ratio was most balanced. You had to watch stuff sure, but you got to play too when the time was right.

What it comes down to essentially is that video games as an entertainment medium have reached the point where they can compete with things like film toe to toe. Some, myself included, would argue that they've been there for awhile. Video games have become mainstream. They make more money on a yearly basis than film and music put together, and their position in our collective culture is only growing larger with time. That said, it's still nice to have something like Uncharted 2 to point out when detractors (here's looking at you Mr. Ebert) come along with their naysaying. Video games are a storytelling medium. Whether they're telling us about mushroom powered plumbers, aging super soldiers or treasure hunters with perpetually perfect hair is irrelevant.

Read more by Stewart Shearer

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