When I’m not writing a novel, novella, and multiple short stories for anthologies, making friends on Twitter and falling deep into the infinite vortex that is TV Tropes, I am a massive video game nerd.
Video games have long been criticized for poor writing and use of the medium, which is understandable considering how young interactive media is compared to film, TV, and music. Sometimes we just don’t know how to best use what we’ve got.
That being said, there have been more than a few standouts, games that rise above the rest and give us writers something to really aspire to.
And if you’re a bookish nerd and haven’t really delved into gaming, these are a few I highly recommend:
The Elder Scrolls
The Elder Scrolls series began with a shaky start in 1994 with Arena and didn’t exactly hit its stride until its third installment, Morrowind, in 2002. Even then, it had already established a rich world with huge and new places to explore, intriguing and multi-faceted races and cultures, and action-packed stories and things to do. For close to 25 years, Bethesda has put on a show of this breathtaking universe that always has something new.
The most interesting part of The Elder Scrolls series is also how it treats canon and information through its storytelling. Players are invited to see the world how they would like to whether it’s as a Viking Who Beats Up Dragons or whether they’d like to investigate the nuances of this strange environment where the gods may sleep, characters may or may not realize they are in a video game, and the stars are mere holes in the sky.
Vulgar, crude, and obscene, Saints Row is a series that chronicles the life and times of a street gang, The Third Row Saints. While it may have begun as nothing more than a simple Grand Theft Auto imitator, by the second game the writers really amped up the utter ridiculousness with such shameless abandon that it’s hard not to have a good time.
Even though later installments have completely jumped the proverbial shark into true madness, there’s still a charm to a well-written series that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
BioWare’s oft controversial science-fiction series may come with more than a few tumultuous concepts and choices, but no one can doubt that it comes packaged with a complex and interesting world to explore.
Making friends with alien races like the warlike Romanesque Turians and floating neon jellyfish people, exploring the galaxy’s uncharted waters, and creating your own unique character through social decisions has never been so much fun.
It says a lot that even ten years after its initial release, the ending of the final installment is still hotly debated to this day.
Full of snarky banter and cutting wit, Valve’s Portal duology of first-person puzzlers was revolutionary in more ways than one.
Although the first game only featured the voice talents of the remorselessly murderous AI GLaDOS, the second game expanded on their cast and storytelling featuring Ricky Gervais alum Stephen Merchant as well as an enjoyable but ultimately heartbreaking co-op mode that presented a flavorful story without much by way of a script.
We still eagerly await for the day Valve can count to 3.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Another BioWare make, Knights of the Old Republic is considered one of the best-written and most compelling Star Wars game ever created. Set almost 4,000 years before the first chronological movies, the studio was given free reign to create their own story and devise their own cast of captivating characters that aren’t named ‘Skywalker’.
It took home multiple prestigious awards for its creative storytelling and its twist still has fans pining for a certain Sith Lord to remain canon even after Kathleen Kennedy’s purge of the Expanded Universe, landing this game in the ‘Legends’ universe.
Bastion, the debut game of indie developers Supergiant Games, is a unique oddity on this list because the story is presented in a completely different way than anything else: the game is fully narrated. Everything from spending too much time destroying crates to the numerous deaths of the player character (whose only given name is “The Kid”) has its own line of dialogue in the smooth caramel tones of the game’s voice-over.
It also features unique universe of diverse races and an out-of-the-ordinary dual-wielding mechanic.