Video Game Storytelling: History and Origins

Video Game Storytelling: History and Origins

Heavy Rain for the PlayStation 3 is an important adventure game and monument to virtual storytelling; it demonstrates how developers can go about making realistic, mature video games (maybe too realistic, according to this thoughtful write-up by Chris Lepine of The Artful Gamer). But maybe Heavy Rain goes beyond “important.” According to its creator, David Cage, Heavy Rain is more than a definitive title in the interactive storytelling genre: It is the entire genre.

“We created the genre,” Cage told while talking to the site about Quantic Dream’s plans for future projects. “We own the genre, and we want to show that Heavy Rain was not a coincidence or a lucky shot – that it was really something that makes sense and that we can build on.”

Well, uh–

To be fair, it’s difficult to really define “interactive fiction.” The ill-cited Wikipedia entry is of no help. But technically, shouldn’t every video game with a start and an ending count as interactive fiction? Super Mario Bros. is about Mario/you saving a princess from a dragon-creature. Sonic the Hedgehog is about a blue mammal/you saving forest critters from the wiles of a mad scientist. You play the games. You make the story progress. You are involved.

Simple examples, yes. Though the likes of Mario and Sonic can be considered protagonists of interactive fiction stories, they’re not the characters we think of when we hear the term. Rather, we think back to old PC-based gems that really sucked the player into the story, gave them choices of consequence, and relied on heavy text narration where actual voices were unavailable. Sierra Entertainment (Leisure Suit Larry) and Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts (Secret of Monkey Island) put out several gems during the studios’ heyday.

Others in the games community are likewise seemingly uncomfortable about Cage’s statement. IndustryGamers’ M.H. Williams writes of Heavy Rain, “Heavy Rain was a refinement of previous gameplay mechanics, but it seems a bit outlandish to say Quantic Dream owns the genre as a whole.”

True enough. Heavy Rain is an important game, but it didn’t invent interactive storytelling; it refined the art(?) of storytelling in games, but it wasn’t the first game to plunge the player into a detailed, worthwhile story–and it won’t be the last.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Lepine’s critique is perfect! Games like HR are not interactive fiction. They are traditional linear fiction disguised as something weird in-between.

    This short and rather old post in my blog elaborates on my opinion:

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