Virginia (Variable State, 2016)

Some thoughts, having watched the first 15 minutes of the below walkthrough video of the game Virginia, thinking about narrative and screenwriting techniques, and how the medium of the video game could affect the choices made while writing the script.

Even the opening credits and music are reminiscent of a film. The statement at the very beginning makes very noticeable use of the word “story”: “Based on the official record of events, the following story has been written”. The music seems to insist that something of importance is going to happen, building up the tension. As a player the first time around, you don’t know what’s about to happen – you are expected to apply your lipstick, then directed down a corridor. It’s not until you go through to the front of the queue on to the stage do you realise you’re being presented with an FBI badge.

This first scene is very much reminiscent of movies, where a rookie FBI agent is officially presented with their badge. It’s entirely non-verbal – there’s no need for any dialogue whatsoever – it’s completely visual.

Although the progression of the narrative relies on the player doing what is expected of them, things such as the musical cues inform the player if they’re along the right path. Most game players would have a good (even if subconscious) awareness of the visual and auditory cues that work within a film, and the tension filled music at the start will help them know as and when they’re on the right path for where they need to be going; if the music continues at the same pace and tempo, chances are they’re not really making much progress in the grand scheme of things.

As a viewer of a movie or television show, I like to be constantly asking myself questions about what’s going on, on-screen. I don’t want to be spoon-fed every single piece of information. Non-verbal scenes help that to happen – lack of dialogue means that I have to interpret the images on-screen (hopefully the way the screenwriter intended). This ties in nicely with games such as what I have seen of Virginia – everything from the very beginning is a mystery, and the fact that you play an FBI agent means that no doubt there will be further mystery to solve.

The cinematic tropes presented within these first few minutes of gameplay have drawn me in to the game, even while just watching a game-play video rather than playing the game myself, leading me to want to know more about what’s going on.

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