Video games free people from the shackles of linear storyline – storyline can be moulded by the actions of the player. Thus the experience is customized to the player, creating more involvement and, therefore, more emotional attachment. The player feels to be more a part of both the story that he or she has created and the characters that are in it. Older games had no progressive stories other than movements like up down, left right, and shoot. Modern games are different: story can unfold all around you.
Story can happen in front of you and have nothing to do with you, it’s just to add sub-narrative or atmosphere, almost like watching a film in a game. Narrative in games isn’t as limited as in other forms of media. In a book, you read it and it enters into the processing plant of your imagination. In a film it rolls over your eyes and you either take it in or you don’t, but in a game you have to play with the story – you have to interact with it and change it. Thus it becomes more involving and more engrossing and it achieves the ultimate goal of story, which is the suspension of disbelief.
Heavy Rain is game that interests me because it makes no bones about being a film. Heavy rain has no game play: it takes more of a passive role, where instead of you directly controlling the actions of the characters, your part is more guidance. You use quick time events (QTE), so it’s more of an interactive film than a game while being heavily story-orientated with several different scenarios and endings.
The most important thing about Heavy Rain for me is that the game can change drastically through your own actions, even to the point where the main character can die and the game can continue on using one of the other playable characters. Initially I just thought this was an interesting gimmick, but throughout playing I realized that if I failed this mission the character I had gotten to know would be gone and I’d have to restart the game to play him again. This made every fight more intense, every encounter more shocking because I knew if I failed there would be no retry, that would be it, their lives are literally in your hands.
This one idea changed how I thought about a video game character. Before that point I’d been happy watching Leon S Kennedy get butchered by chainsaws or eaten by monsters because I could always just load and try again. Heavy Rain achieved something not many games have: they added value to the lives of their characters. They did this by simply making their lives like ours: finite. I know there is an ending in the game where all the main characters (or most of them) die but I’ve yet to try it, because I just don’t want to see that.
Another such instance of narrative variability is found in Mass Effect. I bring this game up is because I’ve played the first two games of the saga without replaying them because I like how the plot turned out. Then my Xbox broke and I bought the 3rd installment on my ps3, and I started playing it and within an hour I stopped because it didn’t feel right because the primary narrative moments of Mass Effect 3 are culminations of interactions and choices made in the first two games.
So because I didn’t have all the saved data from my last games on the ps3, it was a fresh story. All the encounters, all the relationships I had created didn’t exist. I told myself when I bought it: ‘it’s just a game, it doesn’t matter,’ but it did matter and I couldn’t play it any more. My only solution is to get my Xbox fixed and start over on mass effect 3. That’s the power interactive storytelling like this has: you stop being a gamer and you become a part of the story, you become a director and the main character rolled into one and that is something that no other media can compete with.
Aside from Mass Effect, interactive plot usually destroys sequels because the next game is unsure of its history. So Heavy rain 2 is virtually unmakeable because it won’t necessarily know who died and why, but I think this is fantastic because it increases innovation. Sequels are black holes of creativity: they should only be created if there is an entirely new experience to add, not because there’s more t-shirts to be sold. You see the way Mass Effect was designed differently – it was envisioned as a trilogy, so they had already planned for two sequels and built their games around a fluid story.
On the other hand, stories are supposed to be based on irreversibility, but games aren’t although they are made in terms of the end result. You could for all good measure decide that your character’s death in the spiked pit is apt and leave it at that turn off the console, but you don’t, you want to progress and get the ‘true’ ending.