A lot of ink, both electronic and the old-fashioned kind, has been spilled over modern videogames and what they mean. Myself, as a fairly avid gamer, I’ve got my own thoughts about why they’re so popular.
Simply put, unlike earlier generations of videogames, modern games generally have a story built into them, one that the player’s decisions help to tell.
Just look at some of the most popular games. Guild Wars 2 has received a number of awards, and the center of it is what they call a “personal story,” which is created by several choices the player makes when creating the character and later in the story. For example, if the player says his human character is an orphan, part of the personal story will center around finding his/her parents.
Even offline games increasingly involve stories. One of the most popular franchises has been The Sims (Sims 4 is expected sometime next year), and it’s essentially nothing but storytelling. There’s no combat, just what you might call a “life simulator,” a chance to make a life on the computer screen that is the same as — or different from — your own. At this point in Sims 3 you can even make your sim into a professional author.
You certainly couldn’t say that about, say, Pac-Man or Space Invaders. There was no story aside from whatever the player dreamed up. Modern games are a lot more like books in that they tell a coherent story, but unlike books the player takes an active role.
What this means for books I leave for wiser heads to consider.