Sometimes, between the world championships and the million-dollar marketing campaigns, people forget what video games are all about: escaping into another world. Narrative games have been around since the very first games were playable for the public. Back then, without fancy graphics but in a world filled with text and ASCII art.
Stephanie ‘Hex’ Bendixsen, former presenter of the Australian publicly broadcasted show Good Game, Good Game: Spawn Point, author of Speed Zone and Space Fortress and well-known video game critic, takes us back to those narrative worlds of the past in the latest episode of Save Your Game.
From 2009 until 2014, Hex was the presenter of Good Game, an Australian videogame programme produced for ABC, where she reviewed, previewed and featured hundreds of games. However, for the Save Your Game podcast, guests only get to pick three games that shaped their lives and only save one of them.
The first game Hex ever played was the text-based game, Lensmoor, released in 1996. While plenty of stunning 3D visual games were released in this era (Quake, Super Mario 64, anyone?), she still opted for a text-based online adventure game. She explains that she played Lensmoor because “I could get away with it.” Her parents weren’t happy about Hex playing video games, so a text-based game that looked like a chatroom was a perfect substitute.
The great thing about Lensmoor was, as Hex describes it, “A fantasy novel written by every player.” With the Lensmoor world divided into two warring factions and a fully implemented RPG system, players could create their own adventures, all with the help of a textbox.
Hex says that players would describe what their characters were doing while chatting with other players, which gave those reading the text a more visual idea of what they were supposed to be seeing.
“You know when you’re reading a book, and it’s all words, but in your mind, you have an image that you’re visually there? That’s what it was like playing this game.” Every player in Lensmoor would be actively roleplaying, with moderators acting as deities looking at their communities from above and awarding characters points for players that roleplayed well.
Moving on from Lensmoor, Hex’s second pick for a game that impacted her life is the apocalyptic survival adventure, The Last of Us. She tells host Frankie Ward that in The Last of Us, she first saw the power of cinematic storytelling and its potential as an entertainment medium. “It was one of the most emotionally affecting games I’ve ever played,” she confesses.
Released in 2013, The Last of Us took motion capture to another level, and Naughty Dog, the studio behind the game, used it to make characters even more realistic. With an incredible story and superb writing together with great visuals, The Last of Us immediately became one of the best narrative games of its generation. Hex adds, “Being able to see every aspect of an actor’s performance realised in a game, with such a serious and lovingly told story was just – I was gobsmacked.”
In the Last of Us, two characters are constantly together as they wade through post-apocalyptic America. At the time, most games told most of their stories through cutscenes or direct character dialogue. With The Last of Us having two main characters, they could go in a different direction where both characters constantly talk to each other. In and out of cutscenes, Hex tells us that these interactions added another layer of narrative storytelling that made her even more emotionally invested in the game and brought the characters to life in an unprecedented way within a video game narrative.
The third and final game that Hex picked was Destiny 2. In her eyes, “The game takes everything [the developer] Bungie is good at, creating a really immersive sci-fi world with fun accessible shooting, and applied that to a multiplayer shared world.”
A date with Destiny
Destiny 2 was released in 2017 to critical acclaim. It took everything that the original Destiny had and made it even better. The world is bigger, the story is stronger and the gunplay has improved. Hex admits that it’s not a game she thought would have a place on this list, “But a lot has changed in the game since its release.”
Hex started playing the game about a year ago, and it has completely consumed her life. “It opened up a whole new world to me, maybe even something that I previously avoided because I always thought of myself as a very narrative-driven, single-player gamer.” Most of the shooters out there were competitive shooters (CS:GO, Call of Duty, Battlefield). Hex never really warmed up to those kinds of games, “I never felt I was quick enough."
For her, the biggest draw of Destiny 2 was the community. With the game still receiving plenty of updates, there is a lot of content to explore for newer players, which was exactly what Hex did with some more seasoned players.
From narrative text-based MMORPGs to taking down aliens in Destiny 2, in this episode of Save your Game, Hex gives us great insight into the mind of the highly acclaimed video critic and some great lessons in video game storytelling along the way. Give it a list and find out which game she chooses to save.