Eric Mesa's Reviews > A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games

A Mind Forever Voyaging by Dylan Holmes
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bookshelves: video-games

It was nice to take a break from fiction to read this analysis of the evolution of video game narratives through time. Chronologically, the game goes from text adventure games through point and click adventure games to JRPGs and then to the blending of narrative with FPS engines before ending with Heavy Rain. The book is relatively short for its subject matter and decades of coverage (200-something pages on my Nook in epub format including the glossary) so the author has to cut out a lot. He's honest and upfront about this which, for me, took the sting out of "why did he mention this one and not that one?".

I believe the best compliment I can give this book is that the handful of chapters about games I'd played (Monkey Island, Final Fantasy 7, Dear Esther) brought me new insights. The author's throughline was about how the ludic and gamic systems slowly merged as video games evolved. In other words, to what degree were developers using the medium to create something wholly unique. In the earlier games sometimes the story is sacrificed for the game or the game is sacrificed for the story. But as the decades passed and we gained a game grammar and vocabulary (basically, even though it's not a perfect analogy - tropes), the developers were able to work within and subvert or comment on those expectations. No surprise to anyone who's really into gaming and around 30 or older, one of the best examples in this book are Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2. But there is also Dear Esther, which completely subverts the FPS.

How much you like this book is going to depend on a few things. The book is written academically with words like ludic and tons of footnotes (easy to follow in PDF (as I read at work) and annoying in epub (as I read on the plane)). There have been more blog-like essays covering similar topics that you can find out there, so that's one caveat. It's not a dry text, not by any means. And the author inserts his feelings and perceptions about the games throughout. But it's just a bit more formal than you might expect. Second, are you interested in the history of video games narratives? Third, have you been playing games since the 80s? Although I hadn't played a lot of games on this list, I'd played enough (and absorbed others through osmosis if they were series my brother Dan liked to play) to have a connection to what he was talking about.
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Reading Progress

September 10, 2018 – Shelved
September 10, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
April 24, 2019 – Shelved as: video-games
June 10, 2019 – Started Reading
June 10, 2019 –
5.0% "Based on the prologue, slightly more academic sounding than I expected, but very excited to see this journey in storytelling through video games."
June 10, 2019 –
12.0% "A chapter on Secret of Monkey Island - one of the few games discussed in this book that I've actually played. A very good exploration of the game and games around it (like the Kings Quest games that I was playing at the time - I came to Monkey Island decades later)"
June 11, 2019 –
18.0% "Never played Planetfall (or even heard of it), but neat to hear of this innovation and the role it played in the narrative evolution of video games. As I'm reading this book, I keep wondering if in a few years it would make sense for Mr. Holmes to do a sequel on how narratives have evolved from 2013 to whenever he writes it. Because I think things have continued to evolve both in AAA games (like Arkham Asylum) &indie"
June 11, 2019 –
23.0% "Never played Ultima IV, but I love the innovation there and can see its influence in games like Mass Effect."
June 12, 2019 –
27.0% "I'd heard the name "System Shock", but I didn't know anything about it. Reading I was just just thinking, "Oh, this is exactly Bioshock, but Cyberpunk instead of Ayn Rand". After reading about SHODAN, slightly miffed that in the legacy section Mr. Holmes doesn't mention GlaDOS."
June 12, 2019 –
35.0% "FF7 chapter was surfaced a few things I hadn't considered. Very well done."
June 13, 2019 –
41.0% "Good points about Metal Gear Solid"
June 13, 2019 –
45.0% "Great half-life writeup"
June 16, 2019 – Finished Reading

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