The Difference Between Books and Video Games
I recently came up with a new story and immediately thought: “It would fit perfectly into a computer game!”. Then I paused for a moment and wondered why I was so sure.
Why is this story suitable for a computer game and not as a book or short story?
What’s the difference?
And what are the similarities between computer games and books?
The structure of books and video games (made by game developers such as Junub Games) is often very similar. At the beginning characters and conflicts are introduced, then for one reason or another, there is an escalation and works toward a tense climax (usually towards the middle or after two-thirds of the plot). After climaxing, the action slows down and the protagonist develops a (new) plan to act against the antagonist. In the end, he wins or loses spectacularly and the story is over.
One or a few protagonists
As in a book, you have to be able to identify with the character to be played in a game. This takes a certain amount of time and that’s why you usually stay with one protagonist. From time to time there are sequences in which you slip into the shoes of a supporting character for a short time, but they are usually short. Spontaneously I remember:
- Uncharted – A Thief’s End, where you play Sam Drake (Nathan Drake’s brother) for a short time, who breaks out of a prison, or
- Assassin’s Creed (especially in the earlier titles), where you leave the main story again and again and have tasks to do outside the animus.
The narrator is an interesting thing in video games because you experience the story yourself, so you could argue that you are your own narrator.
However, I would say that you experience a game fundamentally differently, depending on how the camera is set. In this case, the camera is comparable to the narrative perspective. Third person and you still see your own character in the picture (e.g. Tomb Raider, The Last of Us) or first person and you see through the eyes of your character (any first-person shooter, but also many horror games). The camera work is a stylistic device, like the narrative perspective in a book, which contributes to the experience of the story.
It gets especially interesting in video games when you have an unreliable narrator. Think of amnesia, where perception changes the more insane you get. Or again Uncharted – A Thief’s End, where the entire sequence with Sam Drake is a lie.
Often, especially in the adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi genres, own or completely new worlds are developed. Although they are visually easier to represent than on paper, the work is the same. A game with insanely great world-building, for example, is Dishonored. I don’t want to anticipate anything but just say once: Similar to a book, good worldbuilding contributes to a wonderful atmosphere and can even make an average story something very special.
Every video game with a good story also has an underlying question or topic that needs to be explored. Watchdogsis about surveillance and information warfare, and Uncharted – A Thief’s End is about family. Of course, the topics are packed in an exciting way and often not even presented as clearly as in watchdogs or Uncharted, but they are essential.
If you’ve ever put away a book or video game and you’ve been missing something, even though the story was actually good, it’s usually due to an unclear topic.
Experience vs Interact
A book is a story that has already been written and it is fixed. The pages are printed and you can’t change anything. It can be different in video games. Especially in recent years, for example, the TellTale games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, etc.) have focused on the player’s decisions and even big titles now often offer at least a “good” and a “bad” ending. This can go wrong, but still:
In games, you have at least the feeling of being actively involved in the story. In books, you remain a spectator.
Visual medium vs. mental cinema
Whether you prefer a finished world to watch or prefer to imagine everything yourself, is a matter of personal taste. I can see the positive aspects of both.
The mental cinema is of course wonderful for creativity, it stimulates the mind and you can let your own imagination run wild.
When you are presented with a finished world, you have the pleasure of looking at something that has sprung from another head, with places that you might not have thought of in life. You learn foreign points of view and may be enchanted by them. (I’m thinking, for example, of The Last Guardian.)
Both are great in different ways.
That’s why my new story is more suitable as a video game. I want to provoke the active decisions of the player. In a book, I could give the food for thought, but the outcome would be predetermined. I want to take advantage of the freedom of play.