ENRAPTURED: BUILDING WORLDS THROUGH ENVIRONMENTS
So after years of dreaming about playing it, I recently completed Bioshock. The world was intriguing, the dialogue was witty, and since I was playing on Easy for the experience, the gameplay was pretty fun. As I continued to play through the game, I began to realise that although its streets were empty (aside from the murderous psychopaths lurking in the shadows), the city of Rapture felt real and very much alive. And one reason for this was the audio messages left behind in abandoned bars, apartments, and hallways.
I often found myself going out of my way to get those messages. I stood outside the Farmer’s Market for ten real minutes trying to reach the audio message inside, not realising that the area would eventually become directly accessible. They were almost always completely optional, which made me feel as though I was choosing to learn more about the world as I explored it. And quite a few of them had nothing to do with the characters directly involved in the storyline.
Take the example of Anna Culpepper, a character who was brought up maybe twice or thrice over the course of the game. Visiting her apartment was optional, but when I did, I found a tape documenting her murder. I then went upstairs and found her corpse lying in the bathtub.
Small things like this, such as detailing the deaths of minor characters, made Rapture really feel as though it had been lived in. It made me realise that each corpse I found lying on the floor without context was meant to have been a real “living” person at some point, and this made the world feel much more real and immersive.
I experienced something similar while playing Gone Home. Although the main story was told through messages found by exploring, simply examining my surroundings in more detail gave more depth to the other members of the family and the things they were going through.
I love games that build worlds without dialogue. They reward players for exploring, which is something I love to do (when I’m not being chased by something, that is). And I feel like they create more immersive experiences when compared with games that outright tell players all about the world they are in.
(though games from the Souls series take environment-based world building to a whole other level)
And to conclude this entry, this form of world building isn’t exclusive to video games. An example of this is Mad Max: Fury Road. What I liked most about the movie was the fact that we learned more about the world, its people, and its economy through the main storyline, without the need for a secondary character to explain anything to our protagonist or to anyone else. Although many things were also left up to the viewer’s imagination, they piqued my curiosity, and I walked out of the theatre with the urge to look up the lore of the world in greater detail.
What is your favourite game that tells its stories through its environment, and why?