Video games appeared as an entertainment medium that caught our attention back in the 80’s. In our childhood, many of us were fixated on our television screens while Mario jumped through walls and pipes, or while we were trying to shoot a duck with a Nintendo zapper. Since then, games have evolved to a virtual realm—a simulation of reality. The child’s play of the past has been transformed into a visual cinematic medium, which offers something more than cinema—interaction. Video games can be considered as an interactive storyteller. The question then is: why is this important?
There are different answers, but the concept of reality is a keyword here. The notion of reality has been one of the subjects that preoccupied mankind. From Aristotle to Hegel, great thinkers of humanity have asked the question “what is real?” and they have struggled to find an answer. So, the simulation—the replica of reality—has become a subject of interest, sometimes even more appealing than reality itself. We can think of fiction novels or stories as the first version of reality simulations. Even just by reading, without any visual stimulus, an alternate form of reality can be experienced. Our mind creates the images through words.
Literature can be seen as the “entertainment” media before Cinema/TV. Moreover, it leaves ‘storytelling’ as a legacy to its successors: radio, cinema, television and now, video games. They enrich storytelling with audial and visual elements. What video games add to this evolution is ‘interactivity’. So they surpass the attribution of child’s play.
Interactivity enhances the role of the audience. The audience is not just a passive spectator, reader or listener of the entertainment. Instead, they plunge into the storytelling. This also means that they are no longer the ‘object’ of cinematic experience. Ability to see and simulate the story through the eyes of the character they play creates the sense of being the ‘subject’ of it. Therefore, the audience can lead their own cinematic experience where they are the protagonists. In a videogame you can be a gangster in Grand Theft Auto, killing random people in the street, stealing a car, joining the mafia, or just strolling around Liberty City listening to the radio. Or you can be a warrior, a ruler, a general, an orc, an elf… depending on the game you play. You can save worlds, create new ones or just do daily things. Each video game has a story, and it is a text, like a novel, movie or theatre play. You can be anything in the simulation, while sitting in front of a computer.
We can see video games as the ‘recent’ final step on the stairway, which started with literature. It is possible to see the original form of ‘story’ as the ancestor of all entertainment media. However, there is also another fundamental element that video games contain: play. Playing is of course the core of video gaming, but it is also the core of being human (as an animal). Like the famous Dutch theorist Johan Huizinga stated, people are playing animals—they are homo ludens. Play is fundamental to the species and most ancient acts of mankind contain play. It is also an instinctual thing, as we can observe in animals.
What makes video games interesting, as the “new age medium”, is that they contain all these elements that grasp the ‘leisure time’ of humanity. Of course, in this age of simulated reality, play is an important element to create the integrity of simulation—it is the element that creates the ‘interactivity’. So, when it is added to the equation, video games appear as the ultimate form of storytelling, which continue to improve as technology improves.
Deniz Ezgi Kurt studied French Language & Literature at Hacettepe University, Media & Cultural Studies at Middle-East Technical University, and Cultural Studies at Tilburg University. She writes since childhood and tries to mediate the knowledge academically. She worked as a translator and a teacher. As a fiction enthusiast and a passionate gamer, she writes on videogame culture, visual media and pop-culture. After living most of her life in Turkey, she now resides in Netherlands.