Last month among a slough of amazing game announcements at E3 a new God of War game was finally announced. It stuck out to me for two reasons. First, and most obviously, I’m a fan of the franchise. But second, and more importantly, it marked a huge departure from the previous iterations, so huge that it seems almost like a different game entirely. The tone is quieter, the pacing a bit slower, and while it retains the brutal violence of its predecessors, it seems more keen on telling a character story than on showing off huge setpieces.
It’s part of a trend I’ve noticed lately. Videogames, along with their fan base, seem to be growing up. The leap to 3D graphics made cinematic storytelling much more feasible, and it has taken years to really find its groove. But now that we have a general sense of what games can (and can’t) do, developers have started to really hone and perfect the art.
Think about when film was first invented. Early movies really tried to be plays captured on film. Shots lasted much longer, the pace was much slower. They were almost always filmed on a large, expensive set. It took a long time before film makers realized that the medium had its own power. They started experimenting with angles, the length of takes, eventually with color and sound. They filmed on location rather than on set. It has become its own art form with its own style.
Videogames are, relatively speaking, still in their infancy as an art form. It was only recently that they started to become mainstream. As they have become a bigger and bigger cash-cow, they have also begun to find their own voice as an art form. I’ve talked a bit about this in other posts, but videogames do one thing that no other medium can do: they give control to the consumer. The amount of control varies from game to game. The Last of Us is very linear, but putting the controller in the player’s hands allows them to experience Joel and Ellie’s journey in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to.
Don’t get me wrong. By “maturation” I don’t mean that games are becoming more “adult,” which is something difficult to quantify. The original God(s) of War definitely have their place, and I think they really hold up. I mean that games, as a medium, are beginning to really utilize gameplay as a storytelling device. The Last of Us used the violence of its gameplay to illustrate the brutality of that world. God of War completely changed the way that its main character moves, and talks, and added more complexity to the gameplay, and it reflects his new perspective and changing personality. DOOM used its frenetic gameplay to give the player as much agency as they could; the gameplay is the story. The best games these days utilize the way the player interacts with the characters to add to whatever they are trying to get across in the game.
Because you are always there, as a player. You know you’re playing a video game. It becomes important, therefore, how you control the player character, how it feels to walk as them, fight as them, explore as them. The controller is in your hands, and the way that the game plays has as much effect on the story as the writing.
I am certainly not the first one to notice this. There is a term for it: game feel (look it up, it’s fascinating.) But I am certainly noticing the trend, and it’s great to watch the art form evolve. I’m pretty sure videogames are a part of the art world as much as film and television, even if some people still don’t see it that way. As time goes on it will become just another way of enjoying a story, whether that be kicking back and killing a few demons or enjoying a well-written and engrossing tale.