While many video game storylines are as simple as “Go to room A. Get keycard B. Shoot bad guys C, D, and E”, some take it upon themselves to craft narratives that would rival any movie, TV show, or even book. (People still read books, right? Even if they’re just novelizations of Doom?) For your enrichment and appreciation, here are several video games with storylines that will resonate in your brain many moons after the final loading screen.
Ever wanted to play a complex, David Fincher-esque exploration of sorrow filtered through the lens of grotesque child murders? Then boy, do I have a game for you! Quantic Dream’s melancholy masterpiece Heavy Rain is basically an interactive movie that lets you decide how it begins, how it ends, heck, even how it middles. Your choices affect character deaths, story beats, and conclusions — at one point, when a character I didn’t want to die died, I restarted my PS3 to no avail, and spent the rest of the day feeling sorrowful for a thing made of ones and zeros.
The Walking Dead
You can keep your AMC prestige drama. If you ask me, the quintessential adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s zombie comics is this series of story-driven video games from story-maestros Telltale Games. The Walking Dead explores the very adult dramas and complexities of the world through the lens of a rapidly-maturing young girl named Clementine. By doing this, we as the player go through a similar oscillation between childlike primal feelings and the understanding that we have to get rid of these un-get-rid-able feelings just to survive. It’s a game that puts you in between rocks and hard places without a second thought, and I love it for it.
Freud! Jung! Nietzsche! No, I’m not listing topics of under-researched college papers I’ve written, I’m talking about the plot influences of classic Playstation game Xenogears. The story deals with the fallacies of religion, the implications of genetically modified humans, and the horrors of split-personality disorder, while still making ample room for RPG-gameplay. If HBO execs are looking for video games to turn into critically-acclaimed miniseries, they need look no further.
Spec Ops: The Line
If you looked at the cover of Spec Ops: The Line and thought, “Oh, another Call Of Duty clone, whoop-de-doo,” I don’t blame you. If you put those instincts to the side and gave the thing a spin, you were treated to a reimagining of the classic novel Heart Of Darkness, with all the moral ambiguity and titular darkness to boot. This game explores the horrors of war with hallucinations, impossible choices, and a twist that I daren’t spoil. Spec Ops: The Line is an underrated gem I implore you to check out.
Silent Hill 2
When it comes to spooky stuff, there are a couple different categories. You’ve got “fun spooky”, which gives you thrills and makes you laugh for just a second. Then you’ve got “actually-life-messing-up spooky”, which haunts you to your very core and makes you reevaluate things for a good long while. Silent Hill 2, with its mature discussions of traumas and how they manifest themselves in our lives, belongs firmly to the latter category. Who knew Pyramid Head monsters could be so therapeutic?
Many of the LucasArts’ classic point-and-click adventure games have a wonderfully intoxicating sense of humor. Yet Loom, which would barely registered today even as a cult hit, is something else. It feels timeless, like a fable passed down from generations. Loom is dark and emotionally draining, yet has a core of optimistic ambiguity. Simply put, it’s unlike any game I’ve ever experienced. If you can find it, play it.
That Dragon, Cancer
It feels odd, even crass, to call the story of That Dragon, Cancer one of the “best”. Hell, it feels crass to discuss it in the same breath as any of these purely fictional games. Yet the raw power, sorrow, and catharsis of the game, which explores the real-life developer’s relationship with his son who’s dying of cancer, demands recognition. This game’s story will not leave you; nor should it.
Which video game story affected you the most? Which ones did we miss? Also, my Twitter was voted “Story Of The Year As Doled Out In 140-Character Jokes” by Greg’s Mom Monthly, so maybe give it a follow.