For years, video game studios seemed intent on making their experiences more ‘cinematic’. But now, a blurring with an altogether different entertainment medium is starting to occur.
More and more, games are starting to adopt some of the traits and tropes of television shows, from serialised instalments, to interactive series and even out-and-out cross-overs.
The two entertainment mediums are beginning to blend in fascinating new ways – but is this good or bad news?
Fusing the formats
Pictured above is Patrick Heusinger, playing the part of Liam Burke in major new Xbox One release Quantum Break. If the screencap looks uber-realistic, then don’t worry. That’s because it is in fact taken from a live-action video ‘TV episode’, viewed within the game.
The divide between the two mediums has been most obviously challenged by Quantum Break, which features four separate 20-minute long cut scenes in between gaming segments, which develop and affect the story line. Given that the likes of Aiden Gillen are among the cast too, it’s pretty significant.
Essentially, the Quantum Break video game attempts to merge a running TV show narrative within the game itself. Developers Remedy made no secret of their love of the television format by alluding to and referencing it in their previous atmospheric title Alan Wake – but here its outright part of the experience.
Essentially, every time you finish a big segment of the game, you’re treated to an episode of a TV show.
This is not the only emerging example, either.
The eagerly awaited Final Fantasy XV has recently been announced to debut alongside a concurrent anime series, which will closely tie in with the plot line of the main game (when it eventually comes out).
As if that wasn’t enough to convince you of the ever increasing bond twixt gaming and TV, director of critically acclaimed classic BioShock, Ken Levine, has been recently revealed as the head of a new interactive television reboot/remake of The Twilight Zone.
All of these examples have a tendency to sound arbitrary when listed, but they’re perfect examples of the ever fading line between the two mediums.
Serialised gaming is now a thing
Although it may seem like video games are starting to slowly evolve into interactive TV adaptations, the morphing of the two genres isn’t as one-sided as it may seem.
Although Quantum Break blatantly tries to adapt the TV format to meet its ends, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 took an extremely successful TV show, and moulded it into a cel shaded, serialised masterpiece.
In fact, Telltale games have numerous titles to their names that are released periodically. Serialised releases are starting to become a major option for modern day distributors, much to the dismay of some avid fans.
The periodic releases of the Final Fantasy XIII series did not do much to turn gamers into advocates of the system.
But it was obvious at the time that Square Enix were testing out a new fashion of gaming release, and although it didn’t particularly blow anyone’s minds, it showed that a) we will buy serialised games, even if they’re stupidly overpriced, and b) we can tell when a Final Fantasy game is half arsed (cue the release of the long awaited Final Fantasy VII remake being immediately transformed into an episodic adventure).
The serialisation of video games is something that’s obviously been taken straight out of the TV format, and with the continued success and critical acclaim of contemporary episodic dramas (“What?! You haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet?!”), you really can’t blame the studios for doing it.
Is this a good thing?
We’d love to be cynical, and say that the gradual merger between TV and gaming is purely a money thing.
But we can’t. You see, as much as we despise the fact that our future beloved games could end up being split into six separate releases, all of which will cost a hefty price no doubt, we can’t help but enjoy the end products in many cases.
Quantum Break’s approach may not be for everybody…
…but many gamers are enjoying the fusing of the two formats, and regardless of the results, it’s certainly interesting.
Likewise, when done well, an episodic approach to video games is paying dividends. Telltale’s Tales From the Borderlands and The Walking Dead games have meaty, distinguishable characters, and project solemnity and hilarity respectively. Something about the serialisation just works – with the breaks between episodes only intensifying fans’ interest, speculation and discussion.
The fusion of video games and television is going to potentially take us to some interesting places, and we have to admire the evolution in this regard.
Long story short: don’t serialise Final Fantasy VII, Square Enix. But if the gaming industry wants to create a strange amalgamation between gaming and TV, we’re not going to fight it too hard – not yet anyway.