Editorial: The Influence of Video Games on Narrative, Part 3

In Film, video games on August 13, 2010 at 1:10 am


Inception shows us one possibility of how a movie’s narrative can be influenced by narrative lessons learned in video games and/or how discussion using traditional video game language can help one understand its experience and meaning. But, there are other people in the visual entertainment field who are looking closely at the narrative techniques of the gaming industry and applying them to their work.

Comic writer, Grant Morrison spoke about his new project Batman Inc with IGN at San Diego’s Comic Con, and he had an interesting outlook on traditional narrative structure:

Morrison: So many comics are still inspired by Hollywood movies… and by extension a kind of approach to narrative which dates back to Aristotle’s Poetics and the fundamentals of Greek Drama, almost two and a half thousand years ago.

Morrison distinctly draws a connection between literary fiction, Hollywood movies and comic books. He admits that each medium uses an age-old narrative structure. But, video games may possess a wrinkle in the fundamentals of Greek drama that can be exploited in (in his case) comic writing.

He continues:

It occurred to me, immersed in my 50th hour of Just Cause 2, how far beyond that silent audience, proscenium arch, here’s some well-paid ‘actor’ pretending to be someone else experience we’d gone and how very timidly other forms of storytelling entertainment had reacted to the challenge of the beast in their midst, this ultimate choose your own adventure playground that in some cases simulates ‘life’ and terrain so effectively it’s like actually like going on vacation (how many gamers know the geography of Silent Hill as well as their own town? Do streets and locations from Liberty City, Panau, or Saints Row, turn up in the dreams of other gamers like they do in mine? I’ll lay odds they do. These amazing virtual environments appear in my memories as real as Chicago or London. Paris, Venice, New Delhi, Jogjakarta or any of the non-CGI cities I’ve been to.


Batman Inc. is an attempt to do a comic influenced by the storytelling structures, images, senses of scale, movement and perspective and so on that I’ve absorbed from games.

Like in Inception, Morrison is talking about an experience that a person who has played these types of games can fully understand. The word most commonly known to describe what he means when he talks about the geography of a game is immersion. Games that possess a strong sense of immersion compel the player to get lost in them akin to a book. The difference is a video game like Silent Hill or Just Cause 2 gives you objectives; it forces you to be an agent in the story. Your success or failure to complete these objectives is often dependent on how good you know the geography of this virtual world. In other words, the developers create an immersive world, and then force the player through the objectives to sink deeper into the game (much like the plot of Inception). It’s the sole reason why we call a good game “crack.”

Sure, Grant Morrison is a comic book writer and perhaps you won’t be reading any comic books anytime soon, but film director Jonathan Liebesman appears to have similar ideas for his Christmas season alien invasion film Battle: Los Angeles. Some of the techniques Liebesman uses in his action sequences were influenced by first person shooters, again a video game term to describe a game played from a first person perspective.

Just as a player’s perspective is shown in a first-person shooter video game, many of the action sequences are viewed from the perspective of the Marines who are tasked with defending Los Angeles. Director Jonathan Liebesman acknowledged the influence of video games during the panel and said, “It feels like Modern Warfare or Halo,” referring to two of the most popular video game franchises [LAT].

It remains to be seen if Liebesman will pull it off and more importantly if it will create for the audience a different sensation, one similar to the frantic panic stricken adrenaline rush of some of the best first person shooter games. However, the point is that other people are taking notice.

Whether you are a person who plays video games or not, you may soon experience its best ideas on how to build a narrative – ideas presented in movies, television, social media and literature that you do consume. If people working in more popular entertainment mediums (cinema, literature, music) can harness these lessons successfully, video games will have given us two things: more experiences similar to the one people are having in theaters today watching Inception and a language best fit to describe the experiences. And, a new language that could possibly challenge the language we’ve been using to describe literature and film for over two thousand years.

I stumbled into this by accident. I was in the minority 14 years ago sitting at home with a controller in my hand. But, it looks like lots of other people are starting to catch on.

  1. […] You can check out The Influence of Video Games on Narrative, Part 3 here. […]

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