I want to start off by saying that in no way is this writing piece a critique of Literature itself. Video games and literature are two distinct mediums. Both however can be used to express one’s messages and ideas, much like music and films. I know most of you would outright disagree with the title, but allow me to clarify why.
Literature had been around for a very long time. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the latest works of fiction, literature has proved to be an inseparable part of our lives. One can even say that literature has become an aspect of humanity itself; educating, entertaining, and enlightening people all over the world. Video games however are comparatively new. The first “video game” was arguably envisioned in the 1940’s, in the form of the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, reported to be a missile simulator inspired by World War II radar displays. However, due to equipment costs, the device never saw the light of the day. It wasn’t until the 70’s that the first ever commercial video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, was released. With it came an electronic Ping-Pong game, which inspired the creation of the first commercially successful video game Pong; acting as the catalyst that started the entire video game industry.
Fast forward to the 80’s, when the industry reached its golden age, which brought forth a variety of brand new genres such as RPGs, Fighting, Stealth, Adventure, and Platform games. Popular series like Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Metal Gear, and the ever popular Super Mario Bros. made their debut. Though at the moment, most of these games relied on difficulty and challenge rather than plot and characters to entice folks to try them out. It’s a known fact that older games were brutally hard and unforgiving, requiring serious dedication and skills in order to complete them. This made it all the more satisfying when you succeeded.
As technology got more advanced and sophisticated, so did the overall quality of the games. Games began ditching the tired “Saving the Princess” plot and characters became more than just tools and actually felt like someone you would know in real life. Games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI are proof that gamers do appreciate a good story. Improved graphics and memorable soundtracks helped in immersing the player and making the experience unforgettable; another edge gaming has over literature. By using the right words, a writer can elicit the desired emotion from the readers. That effect can also be utilized in video games. Whereas in books, the reader is only an observer, in video games the player is a participant, making the emotional impact much stronger and effective.
One particular example I would like to present is Heavy Rain. Each action in the game requires you to move the analog stick to imitate how you would do the action in real life. So if you want to open a door, you’d have to move the stick in a circular fashion and then subsequently pull the stick forward. It may seem tedious at first but once you get used to it, it makes the entire experience much more immersive.
Another example is the critically acclaimed masterpiece that is The Last of Us. The intro alone is enough to dismiss all arguments that video games can’t have the same emotional impact as literature. By putting you in the shoes of Joel’s daughter, it made you empathize with her character, making her death much more emotionally effective even though it was already obvious that she won’t make it through that part of the game.
My main point is that video games haven’t existed as long as other mediums. It has a lot of room left to mature and grow. Compare Pong to The Last of Us and the difference is astounding. Who knows where gaming will be after 100 years? So to those saying that video games will never surpass literature, I’ll tell you one thing: Just wait and see.