Imagination, fiction and gaming

Nintendo Switch with Mario Game On

Gaming is where creative freedom truly flourishes

Our capacity for imagination is a very rare thing indeed. It is the creation of something not previously in existence, the genesis of which stems from a desire for something better, more original or different.

When imagination is applied to entertainment, we enter the realm of fiction. Rather than simply relaying information that already exists in ‘novel’ ways, we construct events, develop characters and explore narratives that can be barely discernible from reality, or vastly removed from it. As adult readers tend towards the former, young readers find tremendous inspiration and relief in the transportive experience fictional work provides.

This is clear from the notable successes of particular novels among certain demographics. The ‘Harry Potter’ series continues to enjoy monumental success among young readers (and its legacy works such as ‘Fantastic Beasts’ have done similarly well); ‘Percy Jackson’, which brings ancient Gods and deities into a 21st Century narrative, was another notable favourite amongst readers 15 and under; and there are many others who cut their literary teeth on the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’. All brought readers into their fantasy worlds through the use of fiction.

Although video games have always tried to tell similar stories of fiction, only recently have they reached necessary levels of visual finesse to make the experience truly memorable. In these imaginary worlds you are not only an observer, but a participant. As such you control, customize and choose how the story progresses. As an active participant, the story unfolds around your actions. You become as important as the story itself.

It is taking the imagination found in storytelling to entirely new levels.

Imagining what isn’t, not what is
Let’s take two very different dystopian games as examples. Horizon: Zero Dawn, for those who haven’t played it, is a visually mesmerizing first-person RPG. Following the exploits of a young female protagonist trying to solve the mystery behind the fall of the human race, you must navigate her through a now machine dominated Earth-like world of mecha-monsters in order to uncover the truth. It appears, on the surface, to be an idyllic world reclaimed by nature, when in fact the game explores conceits ranging from the consequences of unbridled human ambition to human subjugation by superior machine masters.

The recently released Death Stranding explores a future world that is dark and mysterious. In an eerie, desolate environment you play as Sam Bridges, tasked ostensibly with reconnecting cities across the US with one another, society having succumb to some sort of event that has fractured humanity in a disturbingly deep and profound way. Its gaming mechanics make it possible for players globally to share in the experience together, sharing the benefits of the progress made by a single player amongst the collective user base.

The beauty of games of this kind is in their imagination. They exploit the very real concerns of the day: be they the future relationship of man and machine or the unintended consequences of unifying tools like the internet in fact creating fractured, polarized societies. We are able to enjoy them because the experiences they deliver are immersive and fictional enough that we feel we are taken somewhere that we otherwise couldn’t reach.

Yet they are real enough in terms of the themes or ideas they explore to make us sit back and reflect on what we have – and how not to let it become what they have imagined.

Novels and game as access points
As with novels, video games tell stories. They provide us with a way into worlds we never even knew existed. It is no coincidence that we open a book as we would open a door; having an idea of what to expect behind it, but no absolute knowledge until we begin to explore inside. Others are reimagining’s of history, telling stories we are already acquainted with in new and inspiring ways.

Events of global significance – such as the world wars – are taken by studios and explored with enormous creative divergence. ‘Call of Duty: WW2’, set in wartime Europe, sees you play as Ronald Daniels, fighting alongside your squad mates from the landings at D-Day, culminating in the liberation of a concentration camp in Germany.

The mobile game ‘My Child Lebensborn’ introduces you to a very different experience of war. Assuming the role of a foster parent, you care for a child who is ostracized for his or her half Nordic, half German heritage. Players are provided with the heartfelt, often moving experiences that a child at the time would have faced in those circumstances. It invites you into a brutal world that leaves a profound new understanding as to the experiences of noncombatants at that time in history.

Then there are games like ‘Papers, please!’, in which the player becomes a border official, managing the movements into and out of 3 fictional border states, all of whom are enemies at one time or other. You follow the process, stamping permits allowing people in and refusing entry to those who don’t meet that day’s migration requirements.

And if you miss someone… Well, the repercussions of such sloppiness can’t be understated.

Imagination is as real as we want it to be

What we see in the different videogame iterations of the world are things that aren’t, but also things that very well could be.

This is where imagination within fiction comes into its own. It can present us with unpleasant representations of our time in places or periods far removed from those of today. And in these imagined worlds we can safely confront the various threats we face, fears we have and problems we don’t yet know how to solve. When we do, we may find answers or new approaches we hadn’t yet thought of.

Fictional experiences empower the imagination of readers and players of all ages. It can help us appreciate what we have or focus on what it is we want.

Simon John
Cicero Group Limited

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