Post by Elise Escamilla

Writing as an art form has transcended all types of different mediums: from the screenplay of a film, the lyrics of a song, to the writing in video games. Yes, video games. For those who play them and know them well, this isn’t news. For those who are less familiar, and only have whatever party games that came with the Wii to go off of, video games are simply games. However, I would argue that there is a bit more writing in the world that they could be missing out on. Just as literature and other pieces of art can tackle philosophy and issues of morality, video games often take the same plunge.

A good example is the game Bioshock. Here is how the setting is described in one of the most iconic introductions ever:

“I am Andrew Ryan and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose…Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”

The underwater city of Rapture is built upon the idea of complete freedom. A utopia, free from the subjection of religious ideologies or corrupt governments.  However, embedded in the language of independence are severe red flags: “petty morality” and “the great would not be constrained by the small.” These phrases foreshadow the truth behind the supposed utopia and imply that, in Rapture, there will be no moral compass guiding right from wrong. Everything will be done in the name of science, progress, or creativity. Real psychopaths emerge (was anyone surprised?) in the exciting forms of a sadistic artist, an insane plastic surgeon obsessed with beauty, and ruthless business men. While these characters wait for you to face them, you, as a player, have to face moral conundrums of your own. The game as a whole confronts morality head on, while also producing an incredibly compelling and heart-felt (depending on your game play) story.

Another classic franchise is Half-Life. Following the chaotic events of the first game, Half-Life 2 begins many years later. Aliens called the Combine have established themselves on earth and are ruling over humanity. A creepy notion, but it gets weirder. The aliens have created a suppression field that prevents humans from reproducing. Elements of dystopia and science fiction are always a good time on their own—but together? You get masterpieces. One aspect of Half-Life that I have always found interesting was the Vortigaunt species. They are an alien species that had once been slaves, before your character freed them.  If you decide to talk to them, one of them tells you,

“The way ahead is dark for the moment. What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness. We are a tapestry woven of Vortessence. It is the same for you if only you would see it. How many are there in you? Whose hopes and dreams do you encompass? Could you but see the eyes inside your own, the minds in your mind, you would see how much we share. We are you, Freeman. And you are us.”

The language of weaving reminds me of the Post-Colonial literature class I took here, at UCLA. The idea of weaving is a domestic, often feminized, action, and in many ways, the Vortigaunts embody classic notions of femininity. They often heal you or your companions when in dire need, and they are very emotionally connected with their surroundings. Their femininity is juxtaposed by the masculinity of the tyrannical Combine, who use violence in their quest for absolute power. Additionally, the Vortigaunt’s words, “We are you, Freeman. And you are us,” reach toward philosophy, in that there is an implication of infinity in the way that we think, feel, and share. I could probably write an entire paper about these wonderful aliens and how well they represent oppression and resilience, but, let’s face it, I’d be the only one to read it.

And yet, video games also don’t have to necessarily be that “deep” to be considered highly for their writing. One of my personal favorites is the Uncharted series. The games follow a treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, who encounters myths and legends that come to life in his adventures, whether that be finding El Dorado or the pirate colony, Libertalia. The writing in the series is on par with anything you see in a good adventure film like the Indiana Jones franchise or Romancing The Stone (1984). The characters are fleshed out, real people (thank you voice acting and motion capture), and there are clear arcs in character from beginning to end. Because of the absolutely likeable cast of characters, the story itself is only bolstered. Each game has a new treasure to find, a new adventure to embark on, and a new story to fall into.

I can’t truly describe the impact these games have had on me in terms of how I write or what I write, especially if you haven’t played the games, but what I mostly want to convey is that the idea of good writing can be extended to video games. It’s different and new, but so are all art forms at one point. It’s difficult to tell a strong story and have an audience emotionally invested—ask any writer. The fact that video games can have the same emotional impact on me as a film or novel, solidifies them as their own form of art.