So on Monday, my class covered a pretty fundamental question: What is story?
It seems pretty simple at first: well obviously that’s the thing that is in every movie where you learn a lesson or that keeps you interested or something.
Not exactly. Story is the structure that binds all pieces that make up a competent work, 7 to be exact. All 7 come together to create a story, one that can be told and captivate, that can frighten or educated or that can bore and annoy. The 7 parts are simple: Plot, dialogue, characters, theme, setting, point of view, style. Every part as important as the last. Without one of these, your movie, your book, your video game is broken. It won’t tell the story effectively, it will be lacking, and even people who are not conscious of it will notice.
Weak dialogue, poor style, bland characters, all complaints that readers make about media products everyday. Metal Gear Solid is rife with expositionary dialogue that hurts it’s pacing and credibility. Avatar has bland, stereotypical characters that make it overlong and boring. Paul W.S. Anderson has virtually no style – all aspects of his work are lame. His style is B-Movie cheese and trashy everything (AVP, Resident Evil, the upcoming Three Musketeers [ugh]).
There are of course, many amazing examples of works which do every aspect well. Shadow of the Colossus for video games, Harry Potter for books, Ferris Bueller for movies. All of these are colorful, with personality bleeding from it’s characters, their interactions and dialogue, their worlds and plot thick with entertainment, point of views clear and theme within but not hiding, and of course, all with a personal style indicative of it’s originator. Shadow of the Colossus carried the distinct signature of Fumito Ueda, the master behind it and Ico, as did Harry Potter in respect to Ms. Rowling. Ferris Bueller is one famously identifiable work by a director who’s reputation was founded on a single theme: high school kids.
But I’m only going to talk about one when it comes to our case study.
Shadow of the Colossus is the masterwork which every game should strive to be. It is filled with easter eggs and modes to keep you busy (just not at first), it’s engine and world are enjoyable and can be played with when you’re not following the story, it was unprecedented in it’s visuals and underlying technology, but the real experience is when you get on the back of Agro and you track down your charges: the Colossi.
The game is focused. Every part of it is designed to bring certain feelings or emotions to the forefront. It’s smallest details, all work to make sure your mind is on the right track: loneliness, desperation. The way you attack, the way you increase health, the way you travel, the way the light comes over the hills or the color of the hills themselves. The placement of every tree, rock or pebble. The tattered robe on your back. The lizard creeping off to the side. The music. All of it a part of a greater whole, one designed to make you feel. The game does just that, and better then any other. You feel this game. It’s power can not measured; it simply is. It is powerful, and moving, and deliberate in every one of it’s moves.
The game is my favorite, and worth checking out if you have a PS2 or PS3 (it’s about to be rereleased in HD). It’s a grandstand for video games and the very thesis of video games as art: it’s proof that the interactive medium can have as much power, interpretive space and effective story telling as any other work. And the full writeup will be handed in later…