I got to #3 — You Miss Game Storylines That Were Actually Compelling — of 5 ways to tell you’re getting too old for video games and had an aha moment regarding the whole “video games as narrative art” question.
Wait a second. Is it possible that those old games didn’t do anything magical with their programming to create “immersion,” and that, like my kids with GTA, I “immersed” myself in those games because I was playing them at a time before I was dead inside?
Ha ha. Dead inside. But really, this is what I’ve been trying to say all along: the narrative in a video game isn’t really there, it’s an illusion created by the player’s interest in what’s going on. The game has a suggestive narrative framework, but it’s not telling a story. The player is telling herself the story.
I can play a zombie game now, and I just see a bunch of boring, repetitive enemies.
This is a guy who likes video games and (I guess) used to see something else when he looked at a zombie game. I have never seen anything else when I look at a zombie game.
The older you get, the less elastic your imagination becomes, and the less able you are to fill in whatever gaps the game leaves in the narrative.
I am inclined to dispute the “less elastic imagination” hypothesis. Partly, because this fails to explain why some of us have never gotten narrative out of video games, and partly because it seems to be letting the entertainment in question entirely off the hook, as if it’s my flaw that I want a story to have a level of narrative cohesion and character development that just isn’t feasible in video games.
Also, not everyone who sees “story” in video games is a kid.
So I think it comes down to something else — motivation, maybe? If there’s something about the game that sucks you in, the brain starts to supply narrative, because hey, that’s what the brain does. But if you’re not sucked in, it’s just a bunch of zombies running around.
It might be similar to what happens when I find a movie really boring. Yeah, there’s stuff happening on screen, and there may be a story, I guess, but I couldn’t explain it to you and anyway I just don’t care.