I don’t know what your excuse has been, but my current blog negligence is 100% explained by the presence of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in my life.
For the uninitiated, Skyrim is a videogame of massive proportions and breathtaking graphics. There’s a clear main storyline, but you can also create any number of alternate narratives by completing, failing to complete, or altering any of the infinite side quests. (No, seriously, they’ve come out with a mechanism for infinite quests. Presumably, they’ll get a little repetitive after awhile, but reliable sources claim they’ll never stop generating.)
Now, keeping in mind that my only relevant frame of reference is Dragonage: Origins (I know very little of MMORPGs and first person shooters; beyond Dragonage and Skyrim, it’s all Mariocart, Smashbrothers, and Puzzle Pirates.), I think videogames have become a kind of intricate form of narrative. There will always be games that are safely characterized as point and shoot, but for people with slow reaction times, poor navigational skills, and who react badly to surprise (check, check, and triple check), there is still plenty of interest.
Let’s start with something relatively familiar. The Choice of the Dragon is pretty similar to Choose Your Own Adventure stories from days of yore. However, instead of flipping back and forth between pages, the book is offered on the Kindle (or, I suppose, any other reader), so that after a decision, you’re directed to the relevant outcome and there is no going back. Also, unlike it’s page-based ancestor, the outcomes are altered based on your previous decisions (not just the decision immediately prior). If you have a lot of gold, for example, someone might try to steal it. If you’re a sneaky dragon, you’ll probably do better at spying than a rageful flamey dragon.
This customization makes the book eminently rereadable, as someone else making the exact same choice can have a very different result. My dragon, for example, lived to old age and went into hibernation on a giant pile of gold; one of my friend’s dragons was beheaded by the gods, and another’s had to muster the will to stop her own heart. Throughout the book, each of us varied slightly at seemingly-minor decision points, but at most of the major ones, we were identical. But, clearly, such similar decisions never felt repetitive.
Taking another step further, I think games like Kingdom of Loathing pretty well bridge the gap between more traditional Choose Your Own Adventure books and video games. While still primarily (and consciously) text-based, KoL does add stick figure images, maps, and an inventory. It has a main quest storyline, but the vast majority of the game is independently navigated and determined. The game also makes a huge effort for wordplay, puns, and clever turns of phrase, and features such creations as the Haiku and Limerick dungeons, where monsters speak only in their respective poems. It’s literary and gaming geekiness in delightfully gleeful union.
I think games like Skyrim and Dragonage are a natural extension of these kind of stories. The visual immersion is definitely inherited more from TV (considering our level of obsessiveness there, though, I could hardly image it being a problem), and moving around and adjusting the camera can certainly be a learning curve. But I think once you find your poison–and for me it’s clearly the fantasy/dragon games–it can be an amazing, interactive, and completely comprehensive narrative.
As a final thought, I briefly wanted to mention the presence of books within the game. Most are brief explanations of the various races, creatures, and cultures you meet in the game, but there are also extended storybooks, hints to completing quests (“guidebooks” or “explorer journals”) and so on. There’s even, in what I’m going to consider a nod to my Video-Games-as-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure theory, an actual Choose Your Own Adventure book inside the game. I’m not going to lie, I have already started collecting books for my library.
So that’s where I’ve been the past few weeks. I’m sorry for the absence, I promise I’ll do better, and you can rest assured I’ll be back to Twain again this weekend.
P.S. I just found out that Choice of the Dragon is available online. I really recommend checking it out. While I try to intellectualize it as a really innovative use of the ereader platform and all that, it’s really just a brilliant bit of fun. Link here: http://www.choiceofgames.com/dragon/
P.P.S. Even though Skyrim is a single-player, non-internet-based game, there’s still quite a fan community. The game’s Wiki has been an invaluable reference and guide, certain player mods have really benefited my play-style (leopard-skin bikinis oooh yeah), and Ryan and I have both enjoyed a few fan videos showcasing hilarious moments/bugs in the program. My brother, actually, told me about my favorite one so far: in the middle of fighting a dragon, the dragon turned around, started attacking a crab, AND LOST.
Not so much different from Harry Potter or Buffy fandom, is it?
ETA: Rob shared this link with me about the Skyrim books. “Dovahkiin Gutenburg” indeed.