Recently there has been a sudden rise in the success and amount of “Interactive Movie” games, such as Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Telltale’s The Walking Dead. These types of games blend gameplay with a cinematic storytelling that creates an experience similar to playing a film. The most important part of the game comes from your interactivity with the progression of the story, making heart-wrenching and emotional decisions that ultimately root your heartstrings to the game. Interactive Movies are games dedicated to extensive storytelling, rather than innovative gaming.
And the question is, will this become our entire gaming future? They have become incredibly popular. Telltale Games has made quite the name for itself in the last few years in the last few years. You can bet that with such popularity and success, others are going to try their hand at it. Before you know it, there could well be a Legend of Zelda Interactive Movie, bringing in Nintendo some cash at last, or a Call of Duty game without action… okay so maybe it won’t go that far. But who knows what lies ahead?
So what is it that makes Interactive Movie games so popular? For me, it’s how intensely and completely that the story draws you in. The story drags you down, holds you tight, and won’t let go until the end credits roll. They are games bred and born to tell stories worked on and developed by professional and skilled writers, perfected till they are certain it is a narrative worth telling. These are the kind of stories you would expect from the depth and intricacy of books, not games. These games are the answer to anyone complaining that games always have terrible stories. Stories are highly important as a backbone behind games, but Interactive Movie games take it a step further, and turn it into the heart instead.
Another things that make these kind of games shine is the flexibility. Gamers want the freedom in the game to be able to try things our own way and see what happens. It’s really interesting how much player choice can be put into games that, in the meaningful sense, are linear experiences. Your choices have consequences throughout the game, but all roads usually lead to the same place. And yet, it feels so satisfying to be able to make those choices along the way. For more on this aspect of games, check out Extra Credits’ video on Illusion of Choice.
Let’s talk about The Walking Dead for a second here. There may have been little game play to keep me in the action, but I really didn’t miss it much. In place of cool looking assassinations or swords or massive guns, they place the intricate history of Lee’s character and the awful choices of deciding who will live and who will die. The narrative sufficiently makes up for its lack of gameplay, so I really don’t have much reason to complain. The game grabbed me and now I’m hooked. I’m looking forward to every next episode, I follow Telltale Games and Quantum Dreams on Twitter for news, I want more of this genre. Hate me if you wish.
And I’m clearly not the only one, judging on the success of it all. Games are become less about gaming, and in many ways, that is upsetting. It’s been going on for a long time, actually. Look at some of the games out there that praise intense action game play. What are you actually doing behind the controller? In Assassin’s Creed you hang above an enemy and press X. The game then takes over, and zooms dramatically in for an awesome cinematic shot of the assassination, a cut-scene full of atmosphere and graphical genius. Great, that’s cool, but what did I actually do? Press one button? How is that any different from making a choice in The Wolf Among Us? Oh I get to fight this enemy? Cool! Let’s press B and – oh, the game’s done it for me… Well, ok. It’s never seen as a bad thing, because it isn’t.
As to why this is happening, I would argue that it is the consumer’s call for narrative depth. We want stories like this, stories that aren’t just Mario saving Peach again and again and again, as Nintendo has yet to learn. We want something with depth and intricacy that can truly get our heart beating and drawn into this elaborate universe. But this is often hard to fit into a game that also needs interesting combat missions. There’s too much to do and not enough money in the budget for it all. So what do you do when you want a story-driven game? Cut out the fat and make the whole game about the story. This is how the Interactive Movie may one day take over our systems as gaming companies find it more and more difficult to compete with a game so strongly dedicated to narrative strength that they cannot defeat it.
I’m not saying that companies like Telltale Games and Quantum Dreams will overtake all the others, I’m concerned that top dogs like Rockstar or Bethesda will decide to dip their toes into the new genre and will discover the success and the money behind it. From there we’ll get countless sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs, until the world is filled with Interactive Movie games at every corner. I mean, look what happened with zombie games, one company did it well, and then every one did it! Now we can’t get rid of them! It is the power of trends, and Interactive Movies are next in line.