6 Surprising Storytelling Techniques Video Games Teach You

Video games are art in that they stay with you. They’re a full-bodied, visceral experience. The death of a major character might even feel like the loss of a loved one to you, that’s how close they become.


Without further ado, here are six storytelling techniques video games can teach you…

1. Branching

Now, this might be more of a thing for those old-school, text-based RPG gamers or the Choice Of/ Telltale variety. But anyone who played the choose-your-own-adventure style games (whether online or by flipping through the pages of a novel) knows that there are 5 bajillion (true math) choices to make in a video game. Choosing to go left instead of right might make you turn the main character into a villain for all you know, or unlock a hidden ending. Branching is the complex webs of design that go into that framework for a video game that has multiple endings (think the True Good End/ Neutral / Bad End type of routes a la Undertale or Bioshock).

It just goes to show you, sometimes in stories, we might not be able to see the butterfly effect when we’re in the midst of an adventure, but it definitely sees us.

2. Sometimes, Going Off the Beaten Path is Way More Interesting

We’ve all done it. The wise old owl giving you your quest tells you to diligently pick up your sword and fight monsters. Instead, you smash every vase in every house in Hyrule just for laughs. Or maybe, some spectacular world-building catches your eye, and instead of running after the companion leading you on your journey, you choose to chase the holographic sunset instead.

Sometimes, a story takes you one way, but you’re caught up in discovering something you weren’t even meant to take that seriously. Sometimes, the story becomes entirely unexpected, and that’s where the true adventure awaits you.

3. Consider Belief Suspended

You’re telling me I’m a tiny red-clothed plumber running around outer space and fighting a spiky turtle?

Am I an assassin inside an assassin game inside an assassin game trying to assassinate me?

Twelve-year old fighting pet monsters against each other to become a professional monster trainer to kidnap other monsters I find out in the wild?

Sounds legit.

The quickest way to accept a world entirely different from your own is when you enter a video game world that just enchants you. You might not be human anymore. You could be an embodied teacup, but the world is still realer to you, somehow, than the one you escaped… at least, for a little while.

4. Music Brings Back Memories

Undertale does this beautifully, presenting subtle themes that overtake you… (Sometimes, for especially chilling effect.) Or like in Transistor, when the absence of sound can be even more heartbreaking than its implication.

Whatever song makes you laugh or cry or be immediately taken back to the end credits of Portal, just know that the power of music is real to you.

5. A Replay is a Whole New World

It might seem counterintuitive. Even if there’s no branching effect, and it’s a linear quest story… A replay will still have different meaning. That’s the beautiful part of games, isn’t it? Of art?

Viewing a painting, reading a book, rewatching a movie… The second time feels different. You grow, and so does your interpretation of what happens, even if it’s the same exact thing.

You change, and so does the replay.

Isn’t that amazing?

6. Transportation

Call this Ready Player One, but whether it’s VR or a simple handheld console…

There’s no denying that by entering the ludic circle of a video game, you leave this world behind for a new one.

Even Dungeons & Dragons, just a pen, pencil, some playbooks and your imagination.

Video games teach you to see what isn’t there, and to believe in the unimaginable.

Never stop dreaming.

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