Stories in Video Games


Video game critic Tom McShea talks about the best storytelling happening in video games.

Games mentioned include:

The Legends of Zelda

THe Walking Dead

The Last of Us

Mass Effect 3

Dragon’s Lair Arcade Game Laserdisc

Sleep No More (a theatrical experience in NY)

Fallout 3


Bioshock Infinite

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Direct Download Link for the episode

More about this show, for new listeners:

This is a creative writing podcast and a screenwriting podcast. In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc. Each episode, Cheryl and James draw upon their respective experiences in publishing and filmmaking to analyze popular novels, movies, plays, television shows, short stories, and song lyrics. Featuring various co-hosts and writers, as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ iPhone app ‘The Storyometer.’



4 Responses to “Stories in Video Games”

  1. Karen September 27, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    I too loved early Zelda’s and made up the story as I played. For me, later versions of Zelda and other games lost their magic since they think for you and direct you too much. They became more like multiple choice tests as opposed to short answer and essay testing.
    Maybe the take away is relates to over explaining in story telling. Writers are told to leave somethings up the reader’s imagination and interpretation in order to make reader work and engage deeply. Now this advise has a dynamically illustrated–my Zelda lesson–thanks to Narrative Breakdown.

    BTW-I laughed about James giving his family a game system really for him and remembered my son gave me Duke Nukem for Mother’s Day. (He was 8-10ish.)

  2. Rowan September 27, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    Another Great Episode. I don’t play many videogames these days but I used to play quite a lot. I always loved games with story and meaning and characters and emotion over mindless violence. You hit on some great new tittles in this episode.

    If you would, you really must check out The Longest Journey. An adventure game from 2001, with an amazing story, intriguing characters and beautiful hand drawn backgrounds. Not to mention the voice acting which is just superb. I can’t recommend this game enough. There is no violence. It is along the lines of a Neil Gaiman story. The less you know about it going in the better. Here is a link to a longplay on Youtube. Please if you have the time, treat yourself to this masterpiece. You won’t regret it.


    • Rowan September 27, 2014 at 9:42 am #

      I’d actually recommend playing it over watching the longplay as many of the awesome little details are skimmed over in the video. It is pretty cheap on steam. No shame in using a walk-through as some of the puzzles are super hard.

      Also some other honorable mentions
      -Planescape Torment
      -Fallout 2
      -Siberia 1&2
      -Deus Ex (You mentioned this but it deserves repeating!)
      -Longest Journey Dreamfall

  3. Frank June 11, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    First I want to say how much I am enjoying the Narrative Breakdown podcast. It is one of my favorite podcasts and I have enjoyed listening to them very much. They are entertaining and educational.

    James had mentioned frustration with the game making you do commands where you don’t have a choice, as opposed to simply watching the scene play out.

    I’ve always felt like those types of mechanics, such as the part in Walking Dead where you have to kick your way out of the car and walk around it, serve these purposes in a game:
    – It’s a way to get a player comfortable with the controls of the game in a low risk setting. Most games these days use the first parts of the game as a tutorial, and I find it a more entertaining way to learn the game mechanics as opposed to reading a manual.

    – The fact that you have to control the character, even in a situation where you have little choice in the outcome, serves the purpose of connecting you with the player. You’re not just watching Lee work his way around the car, you’re making it happen. As a result, it connects you with the character in a way that passively watching a scene doesn’t. It also establishes a connection that is built throughout the game. Additionally, it makes those situations where you don’t have control more tense; it heightens the sense of helplessness.

    Also, I wanted to suggest checking out the game “Heavy Rain”. While the plot does have holes you can drive a truck through, and the voice acting is weak at times, it was an ambition attempt at creating an “interactive movie”, with 4 protagonists, and what happens in the game (and their success/failure) resonates through to the end (with 22 different possible outcomes, from catching the killer to the killer getting away with it). Might be worth checking out for a future episode.

    Again, love the show!

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