Books once provided the only outlet for quality storytelling, but now with the rise of Netflix, films and games, they just can’t capture people’s imagination like they once did.
I spent years writing articles about games, much like this one, yet I always chose to watch video reviews instead of perusing through written ones. I’ve wanted to publish books for the longest time, yet it is so rare I commit to finishing a novel.
Books just don’t draw people in like other mediums do. Films and television shows add depth to their stories through visuals and sound, while games add those elements and the draw of interactivity. Plus books are still incredibly expensive to make. In New Zealand, while researching the costs of self-publication, I found that producing a pocket sized book cost $6 – $7 NZD per book, and it was only that cheap if you committed to a minimum run of 400 copies. Then on top of that, you have to pay shipping fees. Sending a tiny book from New Zealand to America would cost over $15 NZD per book, meaning that as whole each book costs over $20 NZD to produce.
So I thought to myself, is this medium dead?
That is until I played Pyre.
Pyre is the third title released by Super Giant Games (Transistor and Bastion). There is a small sports like game, a somewhat blend of NBA 2K and Nidhogg, peppered through the title to help pacing, but the majority of the game is more akin to the 2D adventure genre. Character models are 2D drawings, that aren’t even animated yet are still visually stunning, as if the developers just used the games concept art. What surprised me most, was how linear this narrative focused games story was. Most games that choose to focus on story rather than gameplay give the player countless options to craft the narrative and characters in a way that is to their liking.
Pyre commits itself to a more linear tale and thanks to the quality of writing and the games pacing, it works. You’ll be able to make choices around which characters stay, which characters leave and which characters you encounter, but the narrative is already written. There are only a handful of dialogue options in the whole game and the ending is only slightly adjusted to fit around your choices.
Pyre wasn’t afraid to say, this is the story we want to tell, you won’t be able to adjust it significantly but you’ll still feel a part of the tale.
I don’t like the notion that games like Gone Home aren’t really video games, but I genuinely see Pyre as less of a game and more the evolution of a book. It tells a story, pre-written by its developers, told entirely through written text. What makes it stand out from a book, and become more engaging, is the pacing, the choices around which characters you want to spend more time with over others, and the stunning yet simplistic illustrations that bring the world and its characters to life.
Pyre could easily have been a great novel, but whether by choice or accident, Super Giant has realized that the future of books, of telling stories through the written word, may still find success, but through a different medium.
This idea that stories once only suitable for books could now be embraced and successful through gaming, is an idea I both am excited to see more of and am inspired by.