Single Player Gaming: A Modern Renaissance

Jordan Gough delves into the question – are video games the future of storytelling?

Gaming as a medium has changed from being a casual form of entertainment to a legitimate source of compelling narrative experiences. With the ever-changing technology game designers and creative directors have at their disposal, they can create far more convincing and realistic-looking games that rival even the best films out currently.

In the last few years we have seen online multiplayer games taking the reins and running the gaming scene, for example the Free-to-Play game Fortnite that has taken the world by storm. More narrative-driven games have fallen by the wayside in recent years to make room for the massive audience and popularity of these games but there has been a sort of renaissance. With games like The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, we can see the award-winning narratives peeking through, but they are still swallowed by the sea of online gaming. Video game companies took notice of this and the formula that works for these games and we began to see less and less mainstream narrative games being present in the market. On the 20th of April 2018, this all seemed to change.

God of War, the fourth game in the long-running and beloved series released to the public on PS4, received near perfect scores form critics and fans alike. Selling over 3.1 million copies in 3 days and earning a total of $131 million in digital revenue, this proved to contemporary video game companies and their directors that there is an audience for these kinds of games, ones with care and effort put into them as opposed to online games where you can pay to unlock content in the game you have already paid for. This was an important moment for the gaming industry as something at this caliber hadn’t been around for quite a while. While narrative games like Grand Theft Auto V  have a single player experience, the game was only given its longevity by its added online mode that slowly took over the entirety of the game’s identity, leaving behind the core of what made it popular in the beginning. While games can be enhanced with an online experience, it can also be a damaging to the games’ core.

The latest company to delve into the newfound path the God of War had a hand in creating is Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man for the Playstation 4. This game is solely single player orientated and any additional content for the game will only involve story or cosmetic items that will be cheap and if possible, free. This game and also God of War have soared far beyond anyone’s expectations due to the faith and support from Sony. The confidence this company has for these two companies, that were relatively small in the beginning have now produced some of the most positively received and profitable games of the last five years. This is proof to other companies like Electronic Arts and Microsoft that people are crying out for games that they can experience and lose themselves in.  Spider-Man has gone on to be the fastest selling game this year and this serves as further proof of its impact on the gaming industry.

Gaming as a medium for storytelling is incredibly important when looking at the success of these titles. People can experience stories and characters far more intimately and for longer periods of time than that of other mediums. TV shows, while having an episodic look at a cast of characters, are still set to a script and you as an audience member are passive in this situation. You’re experiencing the story with these people from the outside and have no direct impact to the decisions or progression of the story. In gaming, you, the player control a particular character in a particular moment throughout their journey. The story doesn’t progress until you do, thus adding a sense of progression and narrowing the distance of the passive and active viewing. Being involved makes the story feel more grounded and it’s almost as if you, the player are in this character’s shoes. Choice-based games with branching paths akin to The Walking Dead by the recently defunct Telltale Studios also do a fantastic job at narrowing this gap, by allowing each individual player to have a personalised narrative based around their specific choices. This crafts a more emotional foundation to the characters, especially in the case of The Walking Dead where you assume a the role of a young girl’s protector and the responsibility falls upon you and the choices the player makes.

With the success of games like Spider-Man and God of War and the creativity of these gaming companies, narrative gaming is making a comeback in a huge way. It is also becoming widely accepted as a legitimate form of storytelling and one may even say art form. It has become the medium of the future.