In a recent interview, Joseph Gordon-Levitt expressed his belief that video games, not feature films, are the future of storytelling. The actor was making an appearance on the massively popular YouTube show “Hot Ones” when he made the claim and the interview has generated a flurry of commentary.
Gordon-Levitt is hardly the first person to predict this future, narrative heavy gaming has been on the rise for last ten years and continues to gain accolades. For the unfamiliar, let me provide you an all-too-brief crash course.
Starting with some of the earliest Role Playing Games (RPG) on the Nintendo Entertainment System, video games leaned into the ability to tell long, compelling stories. Over the years this has evolved into some of the most thought-provoking narratives available. Video games, unlike film or TV have the ability to immerse the player in their world through interactivity.
One great example is the 2015, survival-horror game “Until Dawn” produced by supermassive games and released on the PlayStation 4. “Until Dawn” told a very traditional “horror movie” story about a group of friends being stalked by unseen forces in a cabin in the woods. Only, instead of creating a passive experience, the game allowed the player full control over each of the teens in the group and presented them with a branching narrative.
Branching narratives are a staple of story design in modern video games. This method of storytelling allows for immersion and a sense of control among the players by allowing them to choose the path they follow, which in turn dictates how the story unfolds. Similar to the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.
In “Until Dawn,” players are given the opportunity to control every character, ultimately deciding their fates through their reactions to certain events. Unlike a feature film, which exists along a fixed plane, these games allow for repeated experiences to produce new results time after time. “Until Dawn” allows the player to choose the fates of its protagonists, capable of saving them all or dooming them through their choices.
And that is just one example. Narrative gaming has exploded in recent years, becoming its own genre. And other genres, too, have begun including deeper narratives alongside their more traditional gameplay. The recent “Ghost of Tsushima” is a traditional “hack and slash” video game that also features a very detailed narrative arc.
Of course, we’ve all heard this before. Radio was going to kill books, TV was going to kill radio and the internet was going to kill TV. But none of those things are truly gone. Their roles have diminished to be sure, but people still enjoy all of those mediums. And while video games might, and in my opinion likely will, over take movies soon as the storytelling medium of choice, movies won’t be going anywhere.