I wonder who amongst this blog entry's readers remembers the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series of books. When I was growing up in the mid-1980s, these books, along with the "Hardy Boys" adventures, provided me with countless hours of diversion.
Accessible fiction really has a way of grabbing someone's attention and not letting go. In this regard, a good video game is just like a good story. If a video game can stimulate more than just the player's senses, if it can engage the player's intellect and exercise his abilities to focus on a task at hand, solve mental puzzles, or calculate risk and reward factors, then perhaps it is not so different from a good work of fiction.
In fact, I would even be so bold as to suggest that good video games are good fiction.
Some of my favorite games certainly qualify as very good fiction, in my opinion. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas , and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic all feature very interesting characters as well as engaging plot developments. Moreover, like all good fiction, these games really take the "reader" (i.e., the player) to a different world. The lines between fantasy and reality get blurred during the experience of reading good fiction, and the same thing happens when playing a good video game.
Now I certainly don't advocate living the life of a Mafioso or of a member of a Los Angeles (or San Andreas) street gang, but this is the whole point behind good fiction: You get to see a representation of something that exists in the "real world." Realism is a moot point; rather, a good story relies more on the skill of the storyteller (the writer/s) in making the audience willingly suspend its disbelief.
Like the best books, a video game endowed with a great story is hard to leave. You want to explore everything in the world of fantasy that the game opens up for you; you want to see if your decisions in the game result in desirable outcomes. In this way, video games are just like those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I enjoyed in my youth. The ultimate resolution of the game is the sum total of all the player's choices, but like a good work of fiction, the results are logical yet not exactly predictable. You can figure out why the story ends the way it does, but only after the entire story is told; a good story demands your attention until the very end.
I don't subscribe to the generalization that all video games are bad. I don't even believe that games such as the "Grand Theft Auto" series cause some sort of moral decay in society. Rather, like all art, such games are a reflection, however dark, of the society itself. It is art imitating life, even if the mimicry is done to the point of exaggeration or distortion.
An old college professor of mine used to say to his class, "Fiction is real." A good video game such as GTA: VC or SW: KotOR certainly testifies to the wisdom behind this seemingly contradictory statement.
Sometimes, I really do believe that it's me saving the Galaxy from the tyranny of the Sith...