By Peter Suderman
Post-apocalyptic America, Ayn Rand underwater, the decline of the Wild West, and more.
Until recently, popular storytelling was an essentially top-down art: Novelists told readers how characters thought and felt, playwrights determined what they said, and movie directors subjected captive viewers to their own individual visions. The story you saw was the story someone else imagined, and audience interaction was limited to throwing tomatoes at the stage, or scribbling in the margins of a book. Even popular sports were basically passive: Fans might follow along in great detail, but the plays and their outcomes were determined by the actions of an elite few on the field.
But for the last 40 years, video games have begun to change all that. Games were built around interactivity: Players got what they wanted, not what someone else gave them. And as the technological firepower that makes video games possible has grown cheaper and more abundant, those games have increasingly focused on complex choice architectures designed to let players make their own stories. Game designers still build the playing fields, and some are more constrictive than others. But the arc of game design has bent toward expanding player choice. You are at the center of the experience, and you make it your own. The star of the show isn’t some writer or actor or player on the screen. The star is you.