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The Interactive Nature of Video Games

One of the things I love about video games is their interactive nature. Movies are great to sit back and watch, but the level of investment isn’t the same. When you’re watching a movie, you have no say in what the characters do or how they develop.

Books are similar, with the exception of visuals. The story is there for you, but you’re free to imagine the world and action how you will within the confines of the author’s description. Or lack thereof, in which case, your imagination is even more free to fill in the blanks. Either way, the story happens as intended by the author.

On the surface, video games aren’t much different than movies and books. Keeping with the movie and book analogy, this applies specifically to story driven games. Story driven games have a bit of leeway to them that movies and books don’t. Assuming the game has an end, then there is a clearly defined beginning and end to the story, with a middle that could be mostly linear (BioShock, Final Fantasy XIII) or extremely open (any The Elder Scrolls or Might and Magic game).

The start and end of games will always tell the same story. Even if there are multiple endings, you’re getting a variation on a theme. The middle section is where the interaction really happens.

RPGs are famous for the open middle. As previously stated, any game from The Elder Scrolls or Might and Magic series has a wide open middle. Yes, there are specific quests that have to be done, but otherwise, you’re free to develop your character how you choose, explore the world and see sights that may not be part of the main story line, and do other optional stuff you want. Even the more linear games still give you some agency over how the characters are developed. Final Fantasy XIII is probably the most linear game in the series, but you are still free to develop your characters in the Crystarium system and set their roles.

BioShock, with its mostly linear world, still gives you character choices by choosing to harvest the Little Sisters or save them, and growing your powers by the plasmids you choose. The Grand Theft Auto games give you optional stunts and missions to complete, and if that’s not enough, then the Saints’ Row games take the same formula and go over the top. Dragon Quest Builders takes the open world concept of Minecraft and wraps it in a story, but still gives the player a lot of control over how the towns develop and the characters grow.

In all of these games, there’s a level of interactivity that isn’t possible in any other medium. Not only are you discovering the story, as you would in a movie or book, you’re also actively participating in it. The character doesn’t act unless you do. Unlike a movie, games require active participation to advance the story. This active participation in the story is one of the reasons I love games and prefer them over movies.

The interactive nature – the active participation – is also a great metaphor for life. Your own life requires active participation to advance the story. It requires you to interact with others and complete (or at least attempt) “quests.” It requires you to make choices about how you – your character – will grow.

Life has to be experienced – your story isn’t written yet. There is no walkthrough to say where to go at any given point in life or what the next step is. There is a definite beginning and ending to your story, but the middle is wide open. And it’s that middle section that really makes the story. It’s the middle that is truly memorable in life.

Don’t let your life be like a movie, where you’re just watching everything go by. Where the story just happens, whether you’re invested or not. You’ll miss out on so much that life has to offer.

Let your life be like a video game. One that is interactive. One that has an active participant moving the story forward, with a character that explores and interacts with the surrounding world, and is open to experiences and leveling up. Take part in the wide open middle section of life. Write the best story for your character that you can.