Literature has been a part of the human experience since humans could first tell stories. It has also shifted greatly throughout the centuries – decades even. What constitutes good literature now may not have been considered good ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. Over time, however, new literary mediums have emerged.

It began with the oral tradition. Then it turned to drawing. A series of images would depict a story. Then it turned to writing and as language developed, words became more complex. Eventually, pictures were strung together and words added to them, creating motion pictures. Soon, these pictures became interactive, responding to inputs by a living person. Video games were born. The war for quality literature only grew more complex.

There is always debate over what constitutes literature. I am of the belief that any genre and any medium is literature. The quality of said literature is always up for debate, but I will not argue that it is not literature. I will, however, say that the different mediums have different goals.

Writing, for instance, serves to make the reader think. They must read the words, understand them, and visualize. They must then be able to figure out what is happening. It is when wording and language are most important and could mean the difference between a dull character and an exciting one; a flat story and a wild ride. Movies are different. They remove the words. They take much of the interpretive work out of the piece. They show you what is happening. Therefore, they can worry less about tiny details and more about the big picture. However, they have a pacing concern. How fast is the story going and is the character and plot development logical at that pace? They also have the issue of logic. It’s easy to just make something happen in a movie without anyone really thinking if it makes sense at the time. A book does not have that luxury. Everything needs to be explained, to some degree, so the reader believes what they are reading.

We also have comics, which are a combination of various forms of media into its own unique area. Comics have the luxury of being both read and looked at. The artist and writer can tell a story with both words and images. Therefore, symbolism in drawing and realism in dialogue are key elements to comic books and graphic novels.

However, the newest medium would certainly be video games. Video games are an interesting collection of the previous mediums in that they can include all of them as well as add another. You can have video games that utilize a lot of still art, comic art, writing, and videos. In the advent of video games, they were not so complex. They were simple ideas and weren’t capable of being very complex. However, now that we have much more complex systems of gaming, games are often discussed by gamers in terms of their story.

Role Playing Games, or RPG’s, are often the most literary of the games. The premise is that the player takes the role of one of the characters in some sort of epic. They see their character develop and change as they react to the things happening around them. More recent games allow the player to make decisions that directly affect what happens in the storyline. This gives the player a more immersed feeling.

But there are people who swear up and down that video games cannot possibly have literary value. I like to disagree. Intensely. I like to begin with the purpose of literature. There are quite a few, depending on how ambitious the creator was. Some literature is meant to teach a lesson. Some is meant to make commentary. Some is meant to make the consumer forget about their world and live in another for a short while. They do these things by utilizing literary elements such as imagery, symbolism, characterization, plot, and others. If you, like I, think that that is the most important part of literature, then you must argue that video games can be literature.

There are, of course, examples of terrible literature in any medium. Video games are no exception.

I just find it baffling when people say video games cannot be literature. Take for instance the Dragon Age series. It is a fantasy story set in a fantasy world. There are some people who claim that Fantasy and Science fiction cannot be literature, but to them I laugh the hardest. (In my humble opinion, Fantasy and Science Fiction are the most capable of being effective literature since there are less boundaries to respect in terms of realism). Good fantasy stories require world-building. A well-built world will parallel our own in many ways. It is what allows the creator to make comments on our world using their work. Dragon Age has one of the most well developed worlds I’ve experienced. It is filled with mystery, political intrigue, and interesting characters. It has a rich and well developed history with diverse cultures, religious beliefs, and political systems. The stories follow the themes we see so regularly in our society, such as political corruption, misdirection, cover ups, and ignorance. They help teach that, though you may be on a specific journey, those you interact with are on their own journeys. You must interact with everyone’s journey, and that may change yours.

How is a story like the Lord of the Rings all that different from the Catcher in the Rye? It really isn’t. We have our main character(s) on a journey to accomplish a task. The tasks may be different, but they are tasks. As they work toward those goals, they interact with other people. Those people either make their quest easier or harder. In the end, there are many failures and successes, and by the time they achieve their goal, they have done it in a way they never thought possible.

My question is: Since the message is the same, why does the packaging really matter? Why does it matter if one is set in an imaginary place while the other is set in a fictionalized American city? It doesn’t.

Now that I’ve gone on a tirade about fantasy being literature, I can return to the topic at hand. Video games clearly share many of the same elements of other forms of media, but add an interactive part that helps consumers to internalize the messages. So, I leave it here for your opinion: Can video games be literature?