Much is made of the fact that the game industry as a whole pulls in more money than the film industry as a whole. This is sometimes taken as evidence that gaming is set to eclipse film (and even television) as the primary entertainment medium. However, I believe that even in the face of VR headsets, film and TV are here to stay and will continue to enjoy their status as prestige entertainment mediums.
First off, let’s consider film’s biggest advantage: viewers don’t have to “play” it. The viewer merely presses play, and the story goes to its conclusion with no outside input. The viewer sees the twists and turns and may fear for the protagonist, but he knows the situation will be resolved one way or another. By contrast, a video game forces the player to play through increasingly difficult segments to get the next bit of story. Many players simply give up without finishing, and in the age of YouTube, players don’t even need to play through a game to get the storyline. They’ll just watch it…like it’s a movie.
(This also explains why casual games are so popular; they do not try to engage players in the same manner as film.)
Second, a video game’s storytelling is often hampered by the need to structure it around the gameplay. Video game stories need to contrive situations where the protagonist can perform the game’s primary activity, relegating moments that can’t be conveyed through gameplay to cutscenes. The needs of the story are subordinated to the needs of the game, as they should be, but that can lead to awkward storytelling, or the aforementioned playing through to get the next segment of story.
Lastly, most story games do not make use of a video game’s greatest strength: the ability to make choices. They push you along a linear narrative, often only letting you change minor details. The few games where your choices truly matter, such as Undertale or Long Live the Queen, stand out all the more, but the average video game will not even have the pretense of choice. They essentially become poorly paced movies.
Hollywood may have dropped the ball, but don’t count them out yet; they certainly don’t face any real competition from video games, no matter how much razzle-dazzle they throw up onto the screen. Remember, no one wants to work for their entertainment — and they shouldn’t have to.