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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Video games are often an overlooked art medium, with many viewing them as a breeder of violence consisting of nothing more than pointing guns at one another. 

Despite this common perspective, video games are actually beautiful forms of art composed of nearly every other art form that one can think of—from writing to acting to sketching—and stand out from every other artistic medium in their ability to evoke emotion.

Interactivity and Choice

One of the main ways this is done is through interactivity. Unlike movies and books, games implement interactivity into their narrative, thus heightening players’ empathy, sense of responsibility, investment and overall involvement. 

When the controller is in our hands and the choices we make lead to a character’s death, we can’t help but feel guilty or frustrated. The onus is on us to make the right choices to help our characters get to the end of their journey.  

In games such as Life is Strange, The Walking Dead series and Until Dawn, our choices matter; both to our character and the ones around them. Making the right ones gives us a sort of satisfaction and a sense of pride. Making the wrong ones, though, can be pretty bad, especially when it leads a character to their untimely doom. 

Detroit: Become Human is a great example of this. In my opinion, it’s probably the best choice-based game out there since there are many pathways players can unlock, and each decision leads to new, subsequent choices that can alter the fate of the characters and the entire narrative. 

While having to make these choices makes us feel like we’re actually part of the story—since we are ultimately in control—they can also be extremely difficult: Do I become a deviant or continue hunting them like I’m supposed to? Do I steal bus tickets from a young family or remain stranded and in danger? Do I save one character or the other?

Making these decisions is what invests us in the game — we have to be invested in certain characters, understand the world, and desire certain outcomes in order to facilitate our decision-making. When all is said and done, sometimes we take a breath of relief, knowing we made the right choices. Other times, we feel like throwing our controller out the window since we can’t help but get things wrong sometimes.

Really, we become the character(s) we play. In our minds, we think I have to find El Dorado, not Nathan Drake has to find El Dorado. With books and movies, we don’t do that. Not just because it would sound ridiculous, but because we aren’t — we aren’t trying to earn Heathcliff’s love, Catherine is. But when it comes to games, we must travel halfway across the country with Ellie; we must defeat Mr. Negative and Doc Ock; we must fight the O’Driscolls and take care of the gang. 

Intriguing Narratives

Aside from interactivity, a beautiful, intriguing narrative is essential to immerse players. Video games are storytelling mediums. Sure, not all games tell stories, like Pac-Man or Tetris, but others can tell stories as touching and exciting as those in novels. 

The Last of Us is just one great example. Everyone who plays falls in love with the bittersweet narrative and Joel and Ellie’s developing relationship, fixating us on the story and wanting them to have a good ending. 

Red Dead Redemption II is another great example, for it is so complex, and the story branches out in various ways. After playing as Arthur for so long (around 50 hours playing just the main objectives) and getting to know the gang, it’s disheartening to see when it all falls apart and how hard Arthur tries to fix everything. Seeing him take Jack fishing and singing with Hosea and Dutch on the boat amidst the chaos of a world of gunslingers and robbers are the sweet little moments that we remember best because they touched us the most (And I totally did not cry my eyes out at the game’s ending…).

Similar to films and novels, video games also tell stories, but their interactivity is what makes them different and ultimately more moving. We’ve stuck with the characters for so long and gotten to know them, so leaving them at the end is always bittersweet. We can’t help but miss walking around the familiar world, talking to other characters, riding our horse through town and going on quests; everything we enjoyed most.

Characters: the Heart and Soul

More than anything, it’s the characters that stay with us when we finish the game. Even years after, I’m always thinking about Arthur Morgan, Ellie and Joel, Cloud Strife, Sean Diaz and more, not just because of how cool they can be but because they left such an impression on me.

Each one of my favourite characters endured emotional hardships and, beneath whatever bravado they may have, are kind people. Characters are the life force of every story; without distinctive, developed characters, why would we ever become invested in games? We care about the narratives because we care about the characters, not the other way around, and it’s their own stories that we always come back to in our minds.

The best characters are created by writers, but they are brought to life by talented voice actors. If you ask me, voice acting is a severely underrated art — it takes immense talent not just to be able to do different voices but to convey every emotion through voice alone. No matter how subtle or grand, the best voice actors can deliver the emotions the characters and we, as players, need. 

Troy Baker is one of the most recognized and talented voice actors out there. His performances as Joel (The Last of US) and Sam Drake (Uncharted) are my two favourites, with each character having a unique voice that doesn’t match the other or even Baker’s own. 

Baker hits Joel’s anger and emotion in his gruff voice while simultaneously giving a comedic, laid-back voice for Sam. Even with each character being so different, we’re able to see how, despite being reckless or closed-off, they care deeply about the people they love, as seen through acts as simple as worryingly shouting their names.

Ashley Johnson is another one of my favourites; her performances as Ellie in both parts of The Last of Us stay true to her character while also differing between her youth and maturity. Considering how emotional the games are, Johnson’s acting is so raw and real, making Ellie seem just as authentic. With Ellie being a young girl in the first game, Johnson is able to convey that rebellious youth, fear and loss whenever needed through her voice alone.

In the second game, Johnson adds a coldness and hard edge to Ellie’s once lighter and youthful voice. This perfectly portrays that she is no longer the young girl we once knew and has been shaped by her trauma into a distant adult. 

Of course, I must also mention the great Laura Bailey, who voices MJ in Spider-Man, Nadine in the Uncharted series, and Abby in The Last of Us Part II. I was blown away when I found out Bailey voices all three of these characters—only a few from her extensive resume—because not a single pair sound alike. She brings a unique performance and touch to each character, allowing them all to shine in their own ways and harness a different personality than the last. 

Her performance as Abby has to be my favourite, for she’s such a strong, powerful character who lets nothing get in her way. Although, when she’s around those she loves, she shows a kind of softness. At each of these levels, Bailey delivers, lacing her voice with ferocity when Abby faces her enemies but possessing a tenderness when she’s talking to Lev, a kid she befriends. 

Really, the love for and investment in the characters and their stories stem from the voice acting.

Video games hold so much more emotion than people think. With stories like Life is Strange, Spider-Man and The Walking Dead series, it’s clear that people who think “they’re just games” haven’t actually experienced these stories because, in the end, video games possess and evoke a kind of investment and emotional reaction that other mediums can never emulate.

Sariya Adnan

Toronto MU '24

Sariya Adnan is currently an English student at TMU. She's been writing her whole life and hopes to use words to create a positive impact on others and the world around her.