Video Games and the Importance of Stories

I want to do something a little bit different today—1.) simply because I haven’t really played any games this week, and 2.) I just feel like it—and talk a little bit why video games are so important to me, and how they transformed baby me into adult me.  

I have played video games since as long as I can remember. My parents owned the original Nintendo Entertainment System before I was born (bless you, Dad), and I started playing on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System as soon as I had enough hand-eye-coordination to do so. I’ve never not known games.

Then came the Nintendo 64.

Some of my best family memories are sitting in front of the TV playing Nascar 99, Glover, Yoshi’s Story, Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Stadium, and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. I still remember the courses, graphics, and sound effects of each of these games as if I just played them this morning.

Nintendo might as well be a part of my DNA.

Eventually, once I was in high school, we got a PlayStation 2 and an Xbox, and I was introduced to RPGs through Kingdom Hearts, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Jade Empire, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I’d always loved playing video games as a kid, but this is when I first started to understand the story power that games could hold, when games made me feel something deeper than surface-level enjoyment or frustration. Very quickly, games became my escape from the awkwardness and injustice and annoyance of being a weird, gangly, book-smart teenage girl.

I fell in love with the fantasy genre through these games, fortified by the books I was reading around the same time, and I think it’s no accident that I’m drawn toward these narratives now—whether books or games or movies, or even my own writing—stories that reflect these early games in some way.

I love the fantasy cliché of the powers of light vs. the dark, stories based in worlds resembling historic Persia and ancient China (Wuxia, my love), big bombastic spell-slinging fantasy in expansive worlds with intricate dungeons and horrific creatures. I’m drawn to these stories, I think, because they were my introduction to the genre and the first real sense of wonder I experienced in regards to storytelling. And it’s these same kinds of game that let me experience that same wonder over and over again.

I’m a fiction writer, first and foremost—this blog is my side project—and the more I write, the more I realize just how heavily influenced I am by these games I played as a teenager, and by the games I play now. I used to worry about it, like oh, I don’t want anyone to think I was inspired to write by video games, because of some false, elitist notion that storytelling in games was somehow lesser than books because the format wasn’t written down. No one studies video game narratives in college, after all. But I don’t worry about that anymore. Now, I lean into it.

So what if my next fantasy novel is a compilation of favorite video games and TV shows? If I can recreate that feeling of wonderment that I feel when playing a game or experiencing a new world, then who cares where the inspiration came from?

(As an aside, I am really excited to write my next fantasy series. It’s Breath of the Wild meets Avatar: the Last Airbender, with a dash of World of Warcraft cosmology and Elder Scrolls’ dungeons thrown in. The first book is currently titled Starcaller, and I don’t have much beyond a vague sense of plot and the main character, but I’m very excited to get started on it later this year.)

I’m not sure what the point of all this is except to fill my scheduled Friday blog post slot, but I don’t often get to express just how important and formative video games have been for me. I spend a lot of time talking about games to my husband, but not many other people (which is part of the reason I started this blog).

For the longest time, in the back of my mind, games felt like a fun, childish thing of no importance or impact—not that I was deterred in any way from playing them due to that misbelief, only that they didn’t hold much importance in my identity beyond the fact that I called myself a gamer—but I am coming to the slow realization now that I was wrong.

I think a lot of this comes from the conversations I’ve had with my husband with regard to the quality of games and the stories they tell—and the frustrations I’ve had with certain games lately, which I’ve written about here. I’m realizing more and more that yes, games do matter. At least to me. They matter a lot, more so than I realized before.  Games have taught me a lot about storytelling and characters and worldbuilding, probably just as much as books have, and I think that is a wonderful thing.

Will my writing be better for it? I don’t know. If people don’t like it, well, then I’m clearly not writing for them. I’m writing for myself first—who happens to be the most important member of my audience thankyouverymuch—and then for all of you who do like my video game flair and over the top fantasy.

Game on, friends. 😊