Something that struck me while playing Bioshock Infinite (which is pretty darned excellent)…
A lot of folks, justifiably, make the argument that most of the writing in videogames is fairly juvenile. Jesse Schell, at his recent GDC talk, talked about the notion that games are really good at “neck-down” verbs (running, jumping, punching, etc.) while other media (books, movies, etc.) are better at “neck-up” verbs (talking, asking, pleading, etc.). Still, I don’t think there’s any argument that we’ve had videogame stories that have really stuck with players over the years. So let’s just take, for argument’s sake, that game stories are currently not as effective as stories than other media, but they can resonate as effectively in the player. Why?
(and yeah, I realize I’ve just set up a really arbitrary argument.)
Listen to this: http://www.radiolab.org/2010/sep/20/ – you should listen to the whole thing, ’cause Radiolab is just awesome, but the part I’m specifically thinking of is under “Letting Go”, where David Eagleman talks about time seeming to slow way down. The tl;dr version, at least as I’ve interpreted it, is something like this:
Your brain takes in information at a set rate (whatever that rate is). As your brain “stores” data, you have a perception of time passing. Basically each “write” is a block of time. So let’s say it’s 1 write per second. In times of crisis, your brain stores WAY more data, because if you survive, having as much detail as possible to analyze after the fact may make the difference between life & death the *next* time you encounter something similar. So your brain writes 5 times as fast. Since your brain still perceives the flow of time as 1 write per second, you’re now writing 5x/second, but you still perceive the time passing as 1 write/second, so 1 second now feels like 5 seconds.
Essentially, crisis primes your brain for an influx of important information.
So, with games – let’s say you’re playing some hardcore FPS, where every moment is life & death. You get through the crisis, just barely. For some period of time after that crisis passes, you’re still in this “primed” state – your brain is taking in more information, and giving it a LOT of significance, because you believe it will be vital to your survival. Even though you’re no in a shoot/be shot kind of mode, the narrative “break” (cutscene, perhaps) is given a lot of perceptual weight, because something in your mind still believes it’s in crisis mode.
So I’m not saying that games stories all suck otherwise, or games stories are inherently better – just curious if there’s something to having a combination of “high-risk” situations followed by story that gives the story a higher priority or more significance than the story itself justifies independent of gameplay, and whether that’s part of why a lot of us who grew up with games remember game experiences at a very deep level, even if the actual experiences themselves weren’t necessarily amazing on their own.