This is Not a Toy: My Top 5 Narrative Experiences in Games


Games have come a long way since the days of Asteroids and Pong, an even longer way since the days of Cup and Ball and Hitting a Big Ring With a Stick to Keep it Rolling and certainly an immeasurably long way since the days of Do Poo in Hand and Throw Far for Win Best Cave. Now, with seemingly everyone and their mums playing them in some form (sadly Candy Crush SagaFarm Hero Saga and Decaying Corpse Pile Saga count), video games are said to be bigger than the movie and music industries, and Swedish dudes who make computer Lego get to live in lovely big houses in LA. Some are even played as sports, and tournaments allow players to win huge sums of cash (I very much recommend watching the excellent documentary Free to Play).

Unfortunately, there are still some people out there who think that video games are toys to be played with by children, albeit little scumbags who enjoy shouting eloquent things like ‘fuk you fag i am a better nosc0per than you i am a army sniper with 30000000 confirmed kills retard i shit in your mums mouth’. Though it is a sad truth that this is the case, with too many parents apparently blind to the big ’18’ label stamped across the games they buy for the – to quote Mark Renton of Trainspotting – ‘selfish, fucked up brats [they] spawned to replace [themselves]’, proper gamers like you and me know that games can be so much more.

I’m sure many people of mine and previous generations who have grown up with games have heard something along the lines of ‘stop playing that rubbish, read a book instead’. What is that supposed to mean? A book is a form of entertainment just as is a movie and indeed a game, the difference being that when reading a book or watching a movie you are an observer to the story, whereas in a game you get to take part. A novel can be described as escapism but it can never put you personally into the experience in the same way as playing a video game (though some have tried – the brilliant Mr B. Gone by Clive Barker for example, a book in which a demon magically speaks directly to you, the reader, through the words on the page). It is because of this that gamebooks such as Steve Jackson’s and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series became all the rage in the 1980s. Take a novel, add player choice, dice rolling and plenty of unfortunate, grisly deaths and sleep on a nice big mattress stuffed with wads of cash. It can in fact be argued that games are the very best way to tell a story, as the audience involvement is naturally more powerful.

I have already discussed video game immersion in a previous blog post, so today I want to talk about narrative experiences in games. The titles I have chosen for this top 5 list are all examples which I believe any gamer should be proud to show a disbelieving non-gamer as proof that their hobby is worthwhile, proof that games are just as important as movies and, probably, a bit better. Perhaps they are even proof that games are an art form – a somehow-controversial debate that is, for some reason, still raging on like one of those nosc0per kids who’s just been spawn-killed.

Alternatively, you could just see these as five bangin’ games which you absolutely must play. Your choice. (more…)