Games tell stories. That's great. The problem is, they keep telling the same ones. The dark lord threatens all that is good and must be defeated by the conflicted hero. The plucky kid with no parents must save the world. The commander and his daring crew must scour the galaxy and defeat the rogue with the doomsday device. Themes and variations.
There's nothing wrong with these stories--we've been telling them in one way or another for centuries--but as reliable as they are, they don't always convey a recognizable version of life as we live it today. We need modern stories that capture something of the essence of modern life. I see no reason why video games can't tell these stories. Unfortunately, most game designers seem content to respin the same Tolkien or sci-fi or anime inspired tales, focusing the bulk of their efforts on updated graphics, realistic animations, and gameplay upgrades.
Maybe what we need are a few fresh narrative ideas. With that in mind, here are a few stories I'd like to see video games tackle.
- A wheelchair-bound boy discovers he has special empathic powers enabling him to tap into the true thoughts and feelings of others. He must use this ability to help his diplomat father bring two warring nations together and restore peace.
- A down and out shoe salesman in Ohio decides to chuck it all, sell his possessions, and drive his beat-up Honda Civic west to see the mountains and ocean for the first time before ending his life. The journey will either confirm or reverse his decision.
- A 15 year old girl must navigate the treacherous experience of being a freshman in high school, surviving peer pressure, dating, classes, drivers ed, and a well-meaning single father who loves her but simply cannot understand her.
- A happily married older couple receives a newborn baby on their doorstep and must learn to care for it with no skills or training. The player can choose to play as a parent in single player mode, with another player-parent in co-op mode...or you can play as the baby. Sort of a highly ramped-up version of Nintendogs.
I make no claims about the viability of these ideas--and you may have some much better ones up your sleeve--but we need to start somewhere. These are decidedly non-epic stories and will require some rethinking about what makes a game a game. But to those of us hungry for alternative narrative experiences, such stories would be a welcome departure. After all, how many more orcs do you need to kill?