Video game worlds are more than just a background

Video game worlds are more than just a background

Photo Credits: BRIAN LANDRY / COURTESY

Video games provide an unparalleled relationship between you and the world of a story

One of the greatest strengths of video games is their ability to transport you to a whole new world. It’s what makes them such great storytellers. But as games have increased their ability to create worlds on a technical level –– games are larger, more detailed and more realistic than ever before –– they’ve also been able to create digital versions of real-world cities. And in many ways these “fictionalized” cities in the digital world become almost like travel brochures for the cities themselves.

In the analysis and criticism of games, setting is still treated like a background. And, to some extent, that may be applicable in older games and certain genres of games today. But, in the massive open-world odysseys and epic stories that are now produced, the world is so much more than a background — it is more like a living, breathing character than ever before.

How do the worlds feel? How do they sound? How long did it take for you to remember your surroundings and recognize landmarks? These are the questions we should be answering (and experiencing) when we play games today.

Swinging around Manhattan as Spider-Man in Insomniac Games’ “Spider-Man” let me feel the energy and bustle of New York. The liveliness of the world, swinging through skyscrapers and shooting finger-guns at enthralled New Yorkers, really made me want to be there. Each subsection of the city felt different, from Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper East Side. The sensationalism of Spidey’s friendly-neighborhood was amazing.

But, the game that gave me the best sense of immersion in a new setting was Sucker Punch Productions’ “Infamous: Second Son.” It was the spring of 2014, and I had just gotten my hands on the next generation of gaming: the PS4. “Infamous: Second Son” was the title I had to play. Set in a fictionalized Seattle, the game itself was amazing, but the world was sensational. Any city, real or created, had never looked so beautiful in a game. The high reaches of the Space Needle and the views of Mt. Rainer were breathtaking. Photo mode was killer, and “Second Son” made the feature an instant staple for our current generation of games.

I fell in love with a city I had never been to –– through a video game. It was so beautiful not because it was visually appealing –– I could see that in a movie –– but because I could experience the city in a way that was personal, like I could in real life. It felt like a place I could actually inhabit. The dark alleyways and empty docks were mine to explore. I could climb on top of any building to get a better view or spend as much time as I wanted at the Pike Place Market. Movies can portray the highlights of a city, but having the freedom to take in the beauty of that Seattle at my own pace is not possible through a movie.

Five months later, when I finally visited the real Seattle, the feeling was almost indescribable. It was a mix between the strangest deja-vu feeling ever and utter joy. I didn’t just recognize Lincoln’s Toe Truck or Elephant Car Wash: I recognized actual alleyways and street corners. It was like experiencing a new city for the first time –– twice.

Of course, Sucker Punch Productions is located just outside of Seattle, so the setting of the game they created was pretty much in their own backyard. The city the studio recreated felt even more alive and breathing, It wasn’t just a still or moving image on a screen — it was full of interactable NPCs and environments. It even responded to my actions and gameplay choices. That is the power of games, and it’s hard to understand until you actually experience it yourself. And with the rise of virtual reality technology in games, these digital cities are going to feel more real than ever.

It’s not that video games can do this better than movies or TV shows, or any other form of entertainment; it’s that they can do something that no other platform can. Video games can put you in the city and give you all of the sounds and sights you would actually see in the real-life thing. It’s unparalleled, and I can’t wait to see where the technology of video games takes us.

Written by: Calvin Coffee –– cscoffee@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Iodized Salt

    Play S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. The recreation of Pripyat and the Chernobyl reactor is amazing.

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