When text-based adventure games were the king of the dimly lit room at midnight, way back in the day, there was a revolution that took place. Many adventures that were had in these games were no more visually stimulating than a mere imaginative thought. Like we do when we read books that take us to far away lands, that describe diverse characters, or that generally attempt to illustrate something with nothing but words, we make things up in our own minds. To you, a character in the story may be blonde, a certain build, and sounds like someone you know. To anyone else, that character's visage is very different, which never helps the debate that inevitably comes up whenever people discuss any creative work that exists in book and film form.
We all know the book was better. We make it what it is in our minds, which is boundlessly more personal.
Reading through paragraph after paragraph of text in these games does just that. You illustrate your own comprehension of the environment, the characters, and the goings-on. You fill in the blanks that the developer (programmer, writer...let us just call them an author) leaves for you, at times intentionally, to make their world impacted by your own creative forces. These days, those forces can be dulled. There are games now that are filled with flashy effects, millions of colors, graphics with limitless potential, and film-like cinematic quality. The author in many ways has learned and has been taught to tailor that experience, one that was so creatively personal, to evoke particular feelings. Striving to establish an interactive experience that beckons particular feelings, while leaving an element of freedom of choice or interpretation, are powerful tools.
If you don't intend on playing it anytime soon and want a solid example of what I'm talking about in that previous sentence, check out Bioshock Infinite's ending sequence. The experience is best delivered from start to finish, considering the depth that went into the supporting actress. I'd even recommend some background reading just to understand the game's setting and plot, but leaving a little to the imagination and just jumping into the video will still support my statement.
"Leaving a little to the imagination."
When Zork would describe a white house, a mailbox, and the Grue, the words alone had impact. Grue. The name of the monster itself has a certain feel to it. It seems slimy, dirty, and odd. What it represented to you could be entirely different, and therein lied a tremendous amount of power and freedom. Zork and games like it would eventually be paired up with graphics to support those key words. Grue. White House. Mailbox. These images are what the author, in this case we're talking about an artist (or a programmer that was asked to do some pixel art, much to his chagrin), had envisioned. Their own version of these elements was now tossed into the experience, diluting your freedom and power. Now, after an extensive journey to save a princess, you are greeted with an image of her. She is looking at you, thankful, maybe radiant or weary, but nonetheless happy.
And you didn't expect her to be a brunette.
Modern games are a leap forward in interactivity and storytelling from the long lost days of Zork. Visual clues, heavily thought out design choices to help improve or tailor an experience, and orchestrated soundtracks accompany our story beats and mechanics. Events unfold in games with a steady fluidity, avoiding loading screens and 'skips' that take us out of the moment and remind us we are playing something. One moment the characters are discussing plot developments over a cup of coffee, then in an instant you are taking part in a full-scale defensive after an ambush. The flow of the game rises and falls like a roller coaster. And in that sense, you are typically just along for a ride.
Albeit a beautiful one. I mean, have you played any of the Uncharted games?
I have always been drawn to online games. I am an only child, so when I was young I always enjoyed the games that involved multiple players (ideally co-op, since fighting games aren't quite as fun when you always win). My heroic journey, be it a roller coaster ride or an open-ended sandbox adventure, was something I always felt should be shared with someone else. For a time, I was on TeamSpeak every night with a steady group of people. They quickly became my friends, and while I didn't know them as well as I might have if we hung out in-person, we shared something that was deep. Despite all of the visuals enhancements, we were still able to experience those moments that an author can never control. We had adventures, and at times they broke that bubble of immersion, but the nature of that magic was still there. My adventure was also theirs. It was ours, competitive, co-operative, or otherwise.
Levels, loot, lore and all.