I’ve been watching a lot of serialized television lately. Justified, the Hannibal premiere (it was quite excellent), Sherlock, even The Following for a bit; serialized television is my favorite genre of television. I love character development, and standalone television rarely does character development well. From the premiere to the series finale, little is ever done to make a character different from start to finish. It would be as if a person never grew, never changed, never learned life lessons. The standalone form of television has grown quite popular these days, especially in conjunction with the procedural that Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, and its ilk have made so famous. And while I will forever love the great procedurals I grew up with, I grow increasingly weary of the format so often used by the television industry.
The path to great story is a difficult mountain to climb, like a campfire it must have a good foundation, but it must also be nurtured well; even a well set fire can be put out if fuel isn’t placed in regularly. Standalone episodes make it easy for viewers to jump into a show, but that same easy come attitude makes it easy to go as well; its why viewership rarely has gains on its first season. Serialized television shows bet their lives on the story, more than any genre of show they must be excellent with the story.
A serialized television show must engage their viewers even if the story isn’t appealing to the entire audience through any technique they can. Often times this is the kind of television that has the best characters as well. Great story can come and go, but great characters never die. Quick, name your favorite episode of Law & Order… takes you a while doesn’t it; but if I ask your favorite Detective, how much quicker was that answer?
It’s a lesson that video games still need to learn. What separates AAA games from all the rest, is more than the graphics and Hollywood-esque cutscenes, it’s deeper than that and resides in the quality of the story and the character development. More often than not, whether or not a game is an AAA title is obvious before a game is even unwrapped; quality characters and story cannot be hidden and cannot be imitated.
I don’t believe that video games need to move to more serialized content, I do think however that simply copying Hollywood is not the way forward. More than anything what separates video games from other media, is the ability to evoke the feeling of immersion and the emotion that comes with it.We aren't there yet, and when video games finally break that barrier we will all take notice.