It’s easy to discount videogames as not being literature. Even as a gamer, I sometimes find it hard to talk about games in this way. I mean, seriously, have you played Gears of War 3? I don’t care how good the combat is; the dialogue and storytelling in that game are just atrocious. Then of course a game comes along that reminds us all that games can be a legitimate form of literature in their own right because they offer up a narrative structure unlike any other medium. For me, this reminder came in the form of two games: Heavy Rain and Mass Effect.
These two games are truly unique experiences because they offer up what books, movies and most games readily cannot: choice.
There is nothing quite like the choices you make in the original Mass Effect (except maybe those in the sequel). I’d love to go into detail about the anguish I went through with each of these choices, and detail what exactly made each one great, but honestly, I’d hate to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t experienced it yet. It’s just that good. The developer’s ability to make you care for the characters is really well done, and that is partly due to the fact that they are you. You choose what they look like, what their name is, whether they are male or female, and then as that character you make choices that have a ripple effect across the landscape of three games. When crewmates die, you think back to whether or not you could have done something differently to save them, perhaps invested more time in their side quests. It is this quality that makes Mass Effect truly unique, and a testament to video games as literature. Nothing in movies or books can replicate this feeling of control over the endpoint of the narrative.
Heavy Rain had the same effect on me as Mass Effect, and despite the fact that you are not able to create your own character, you still grow very attached to the cast as you guide them through the adventure. What really works about Mass Effect is the way it reveals the story. You act as an omniscient narrator of sorts who dictates the actions of four separate characters. And sure, the bad guy will always turn out the same, but besides that, the ending possibilities are endless. Interact as little as possible and the game will essentially play itself, with the adverse effect of characters deaths. This is truly unique to gaming, and is pulled off incredibly well in this title. This is what separates this games from Chooseyourownadventure books. There is no real way to read a book wrong, you either read it or you don’t. In Heavy rain, bad decisions or performing poorly will result in adverse effects on the characters and story. In fact, this is what makes Heavy Rain an even better example than Mass Effect. Mass Effect lets the player start over if they die, after all it is an action game, and your gonna die a lot if you suck like me. In Heavy Rain if you die, then that character is dead, end of story.
In the end I feel these two games are worth pointing out because they seem to pushing the medium forward. Proving that videogames deserve a place in the canon of literature.