Despite their younger age relative to other entertainment mediums, video games have transformed the entertainment industry and in turn the way we conceptualize virtual and fictional experiences alike. Advances in graphics, storytelling, gameplay and immersion have helped video games advance and evolve into the $67 billion industry they are a part of today. Since their inception, video games have provided a unique form of entertainment because they create a world characterized by its distinctive sense of engagement.
Video games force interaction with the story and characters, which in turn creates a sense of immersion and engagement that brings the virtual world to life. Unlike other forms of entertainment like television and movies, video games are not commonly an activity that can be experienced with only limited or half-hearted attention. The progression of the experience itself is tied to the player and his actions; consequently, anyone even remotely interested in the act of playing the game is forced to be active.
Taking time away from a novel or television show breaks the feeling of immersion, but because games require constant, vigilant attention, they are able to maintain the suspension of disbelief long enough to truly bring the player into the world. This, in turn, produces interesting results.
Compared to movies, during which the viewers often feel connected merely to the screen and leave when the movie ends, characters in games take advantage of both the feeling of connection and storytelling capabilities exclusive to games. Finally, video games are commonly the longest form of entertainment, which allows each title to invest valuable time in character development and atmosphere. Most video games last anywhere from 10 to 20 hours, excluding online play, which far outlasts movies, at two to three hours, and books, at three to six hours. This extra time permits video games to tell fascinating, deep and thoughtful stories that develop gradually and with respect to appropriate pacing. As a result, action scenes don’t go back-to-back and long, boring stretches don’t drag on.
Although video games are often criticized for their simplicity and mindless repetition, story-focused games like the new Bioshock Infinite introduce rich, fictional worlds and use their immersive atmosphere to explore complex themes, including religion, responsibility, guilt, ideology and ethics. Actions within the framework of the game also advance this exploration, namely split-second decisions thrust upon the player. These decisions, as seen in games like the Mass Effect series, often have real consequences and invoke genuine thought. Sacrifices and character interactions demand reactions. These decisions feel all the more weighty in games because they involve characters that the player has become familiar with and inevitably impact the world that the player as invested time into.
Choice is another mechanic exclusive to games, because novels, movies and television shows have already made the choices. In all other forms of entertainment, the person is forced to accept the main character’s decisions, restricting interaction to judgments and reflections. In games, the player directly controls the suspenseful moments, altering the progression of the story and ensuring that no two players’ experiences are alike.
Video games have garnered a negative reaction primarily because they are associated with violence and because they appear mindless, with no redeeming qualities. These conceptions are not entirely untrue, but they are not substantial enough for video games to be completely dismissed. Although violence is a common genre in the gaming industry, it is no more prevalent than in television or movies.
Video games are sometimes regarded as an inferior form of entertainment because they externally appear to repeat endless violence and serve no purpose in telling a story or establishing a world. In reality, video games offer deep and enriching experiences, and experiences unlike those found through other entertainment mediums. Video games have always been, and will continue to be, the most distinct form of fun.