Role Playing: The Art of an Interactive Medium
Art, as defined by Google is “the expression or application of human creative skill or imagination.” A suitably broad definition for a subjective topic. In the rise of our digital age, video games are becoming more pervasive as a form of entertainment. However, video games are also becoming more relevant as a work of art. As with film, the video game is a way of telling a story or providing an experience, and it is the details, whether it be the writing, the environmental aesthetics or the elegance of its interactions, that become important. It is the requirement of player’s input that separates video games from film and allows for new avenues of story telling.
Video games can range widely when it comes to whether they are played primarily for entertainment or even as a sport to cinematic and narrative experiences. Beyond: Two Soul’s (and it’s predecessor Heavy Rain) is a game that asserts itself as a drama. Beyond: Two Soul’s follows the life of Jodie Holmes, and forces the player to take on the role of Jodie for 15 years of her life. The player makes decisions about what Jodie does, from picking what kind of music she wants to play at a party to important moral choices about who Jodie is as a character and what she values. It is the ability to affect how Jodie interacts with her world that allows the player to fully immerse themselves in the life and story of Jodie, and helps the player build a bond with the characters throughout the game. While the game draws heavily from cinematic dramas, it is set apart by its need for interaction that allows the game to be engaging for the longer period it takes to experience it.
While video games like Beyond: Two Soul’s draw primarily from cinematic and dramatic techniques, the history and adaptation of the tabletop RPG (role playing game) is the basis for how many games have players interact with their stories. Tabletop RPGs are games where a group of people come together and collectively create a story filled with both characters and scenarios. Dungeons and Dragons is the most well know tabletop RPG, but a formal rulebook and setting like those provided by Dungeons and Dragons are not required for all RPG games. In games like Skyrim a(nd other installments of the Elder Scrolls series) where you create your own character and are in full control of what they do clearly shows where the inspiration for the role playing genre comes from. This genre of video games stems from adaptions of the tabletop RPG rules into a video game format, such as with Baldur’s Gate, and the evolution of this style of game into the action RPG like Dragon Age: Origins. This has led to the transition into the modern RPG like Witcher 3 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The influence of the tabletop RPG is not exclusive to the role-playing genre. As mentioned when discussing Beyond: Two Souls, all genres of video game require some measure of role playing. Role playing really shows itself as an art form in more narrative focused games.
While tabletop RPGs are considered a game (the G in RPG is game after all), they also could be considered a collaborative writing style. Each player brings in a character and agrees on certain rules (a setting). Having a diverse cast with potentially conflicting values tends to be innate due to an array of contributors with different characters. Like any narrative, the RPG can approach difficult emotional topics, such as loss or betrayal, but it is collaborative and pushes for players to work together to achieve an experience made by a supportive structure. This variability of input characteristic is also what makes video games able to provide a unique story to each person, and a different story with new perspectives with each successive play through the game. The decisions one makes in a game or how they play can change how the player interprets a story, allowing for one person to potentially get multiple stories from one work. Whether these different perspectives are significant or not is up to each individual, and how the player’s input is handled by the developers.
These characteristics have created a new sector of art, and has allowed the typical definition of art to expand and evolve with advances in technology. This has opened a new world of connectedness, and as everyone gets something different from each story, we are collectively able to contribute to a narrative, making the possibilities for interpretation truly limitless.