Matt’s Top 5 Video Game Narratives of the Current Gaming Generation
I just started re-playing Bioshock: Infinite yet again and began pondering what is it that keeps me returning to the game and wanting to discover every banal detail within it. It pretty much sums up to I really love the game’s narrative (gameplay as well, but narrative more). So I started thinking which games from this now closing gaming generation impressed me the most with their strong narrative not taking gameplay faults into consideration. Since it has been a while since I’ve rambled on about video games or made some kind of list, here’s my un-numbered top 5 game narratives of the current gaming generation.
“Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt” turns into one of the biggest mindfucks of a story I’ve ever played and not only does the game dabble in some really weighty science-fiction but also bluntly investigates topics like racism, sensationalism, and violence. What makes this narrative much stronger in my opinion is how it works many juxtapositions such as preaching anti-violence by having you play as a rather violent son of a bitch or the splatter of blood and bigotry against a graphical aesthetic that really resembles a wholesome Disney animated film from the 50s (though, truth be told they were also filled with bigotry, but didn’t wear it on their sleeve).
I don’t even know where to start with the genius of the narrative in Portal 2. It first lures you in with some of the wittiest and funniest dialog I’ve heard in any story telling medium and then as you start to delve deeper into the game you can either just enjoy it for the humor and clever puzzles, or break out the magnifying glass and explore the insane amounts of symbolism and historical references in the game world and narrative to get a really clever insight into capitalism and sexism. There is also the lemonade rant from Cave Johnson which is quite possibly the most sublime and stark bit of dialog I’ve ever heard ever.
Red Dead Redemption
While nothing close to subtle on its anti-industrialization themes this Wild West game really knows how to make the most out of rather one-dimensional characters and have them feed into the more complex ones to really make them shine. Knowing which characters to use to highlight others end up making a seemingly simple narrative of betrayal and revenge into a complex beast that warrants many playthroughs just to absorb the complexity of it all and really build a stark portrait of turn of the century USA.
Starting out as an on-the-beat cop things slowly but surely turn darker and darker in this tale of an ex-WW1 veterans climb up the ranks in the LAPD. While things start of rather cut and dry and impersonal for Cole Phelps (your character) you start to get a peeping tom’s look into his private life and inner-psyche leading to one of the most sobering tales ever told in video game format. And beyond the personal story of Cole, the conspiracy that you unravel while you witness him coming to terms for his past actions is wonderfully written and realized in a beautiful recreation of 1940s L.A.
Spec-Ops: The Line
In a gaming culture utterly obsessed with military games (don’t even get me started on that subject) it’s a breath of fresh air when a game moves to really tackle the subject of just how horrifying modern war (and all war/combat is for that matter) really is. While using really surreal moments the narrative of this game will straight up disturb you and force you to reflect on just how atrocious war and even more, the glorification of war really is for all involved. Pair the rather depressing story line with gameplay that really isn’t fun (mechanically it plays just fine, but contextually you won’t have fun carrying out your missions) you can see how powerful a medium games can be for tackling hefty themes and can be more powerful than any other narrative delivery device.
I really have to commend the publisher for giving Spec-Ops the greenlight and the creators for probably coming up with what I can only imagine is the best sales pitch ever for getting this game on the shelves.
Bonus Game: The Walking Dead
I didn’t want to include my oh, so beloved adventure games in this list because in essence pure adventure games are basically nothing but narrative and all of my list would have been filled with obscure adventure games that no one has played or would actually take an interest in. However, the narrative in Telltale’s The Walking Dead was so damn strong it ended up winning numerous game of the year awards and acclaim from many people who would normally shun ‘boring’ adventure games. I think it was the fact that the story simply was pretty much nothing but grey areas and having players take the role of director and battle with difficult decisions under a timer really helped the narrative impact their feels more than they care to admit. Genius storytelling and a welcome return for the once near-dead adventure genre.
On a side note- given how great Telltale has proven they can be translating other peoples IP into video game form, I’d really love to see what they could do with Breaking Bad. Just dreaming though.
Mass Effect series
Castlevania: Lord of Shadows
Dead Space series
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Bioshock 1 & Minerva’s Den dlc for BS2
Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s Brand New Eyes
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
The Blackwell series
To the Moon
Back to the Future: The Game
Sam and Max: Season 3: The Devil’s Toybox
Cthulu Saves the World