By: Noah Wortham
The Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, was the very first home video game console. According to the Computer Museum of America, “all its game programs were practically the same with slight variations” and it required users “to stick giant overlays onto the TV screen to simulate a different scenario.”
Since then, video games have evolved and various platforms have hit the market providing countless hours of fun to gamers around the world. Over time, technology progressed from the 8-bit era of the NES to the 16-bit era of the SNES and Sega Genesis. Ultimately, the era of 3D was introduced with the PlayStation and Nintendo 64.
With today’s platforms, The Xbox Series systems and the PlayStation 5, we have entered into the era of 4K gaming with developers attempting to further blur the lines between video games and film. As the youtuber, videogamedunkey, points out, they have even gone as far as to visually replicate film by introducing motion blur and film grain filters.
Critically acclaimed releases such as “God of War” and “The Last of Us” have pushed the limits of narrative storytelling within games, which is a concept that is a far cry from the early days of Pong.
However, with this new trend of story-driven games comes the danger of forgetting the advantages that the unique medium of video games provides. Concepts such as player freedom, replayability and immersion. The desire to weave these grand narratives may trump these aspects and linearize the game’s experience.
Although you may find small details that you had not before, a film will be the same each time you view it. Due to the use of artificial intelligence, games vary when it comes to enemy placement and movement patterns. The uniqueness of each encounter adds to a games’ replayability. Branching story paths and Roguelike elements further enhance this dynamic. Conversely, films provide a linear experience that is purposefully catered to direct the audience along a single pathway. To linearize the structure of video games harms this distinction and can lessen the impact of the experience.
Linearity can also have a negative impact on a player’s immersion. Consistent hand-holding may disengage a player from the story and the world as they have to travel to designated locations and perform actions that they have no choice in. Meanwhile, granting the player freedom allows them to solve challenges on their own terms and engage foes through their own tactics. It also allows for variability not just between playthroughs but also in the overall experience as no two players would have the exact same experience.
Admittedly, it requires much more effort on the part of developers to program on a deeper level that discourages linearity but the creativity it affords the player is worth it. There is definitely room within the gaming industry for graphic novels, shoot ‘em ups and point and click games.
Developers should be free to tell grand and compelling narratives and create the titles they envision, but to linearize gaming defeats the point of utilizing the medium in the first place.