Firstly I’d like to warn anyone reading this, this will be FULL of spoilers.
Once upon a time there existed no narration in games, or if there was it could be summed up in a single sentence, ‘you’re the good guy, kill all the bad guys.’
But as time has gone by and developers worked on character development and had whole departments working on story boards to weave a narrative that can make the player feel like part of the story. I want to walk you through my experiences with narration in gaming
The first game to have any type of storyline was the arcade game Donkey Kong, it even had small cut-scenes to show the player the challenge ahead and to give motivation as to the stakes that are at play, being that Pauline is in danger and must be rescued from the clutches of Donkey Kong. It was pretty basic story narrative but it gave the player a challenge and a goal to achieve in the game.
Next there came Final Fantasy 7 with the new generation of polygons and detailed backgrounds it gave developers even more tools to tell the story in greater detail and to make the player feel even more part of it, FF7 also came with one of the most memorable moments in gaming history, when Sephiroth killed Aerith it was a huge moment for narrative in gaming, up until that point we had protagonists that don’t die and if they did they could use a 1up of a phoenix down and revive, but now games could use the death of a main character to drive the story forward.
The introduction of voice acting into video games was a huge leap forward once again to bring the characters added depth, games like Metal Gear Solid used talented voice actors to give the players a greater understanding of the struggles the protagonists face, Silent Hill also used this trick to give a deeper feeling of the isolation and to identify and feel the fear of the protagonist.
Loss and death were continued to be used as narrative devices throughout the Ps2/Xbox era with games like Shadow of the Colossus and Silent Hill 2 using the death of the loved one to drive the story forward from the very start, in Shadow of the Colossus the main character has lost a loved one and pleads with a powerful and dark force to bring her back, sending him on an epic journey to destroy the Colossi, and with Silent Hill 2 James struggles to deal with the loss of his wife, and is drawn to the town of Silent Hill by a letter addressed from her.
Many games used this type of loss to drive the story because it was easy to sympathise with the protagonist, since everyone has experienced some sort of loss in their life.
In my opinion probably the most unique narrative in the PS4 era has to be The Last of us 2, gone are the days when you played a game that you knew you were one of the good guys and that the people you fought were also easily identifiable as the bad guys, you play as a young woman called Ellie as she tries to get her vengeance on a woman called Abby for killing her father figure Joel, but as you play the game the white hat starts to slip from Ellie’s head you realise that from Abby’s point of view Joel was the bad guy because he killed Abby’s father, still with me?
So as you travel through the destroyed city of Boston fighting and killing people to get the chance at revenge, you realise that each person is just a survivor too and are defending their home. by the end of her journey you realise that in her pursuit at revenge Ellie has become as bad as the person she is trying to kill. it’s an incredible change from the normal narratives that games have in that you are left not feeling like the good guy and that you question the decisions that you have made throughout the game.
The final part of the game is Ellie and Abby realising that continuing this cycle of violence will kill them both and forgiveness is the only way forward, but the question is, is it too late for either of them to find the peace they deserve? or have they destroyed that in the pursuit of revenge?
So many narrative devices have been used throughout the history of gaming, ever driving the stories to new heights. Games now can compete with even movies in their intricacies and depth, I hope that we all enjoy many more years and greater adventures to experience.