What Is a Linear Game?

by Alex Saez
Choosing between linear and non-linear games is a matter of personal preference.

Choosing between linear and non-linear games is a matter of personal preference.

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Video games come in many different categories. During their infancy, video games were very simple, using simple graphics on two-dimensional screens. Now, they have become highly detailed, dynamic and vibrant. As a result, games have taken on a much more cinematic formula, where the player is immersed in an episodic story, much like a movie. From this new development, two major categories of stories have arisen: linear and non-linear. In short, a linear game gives the player little to no control over what is happening, while a non-linear game is the opposite.


Linear video games have stories that follow a specific, unchanging plot. The object of the game is to play through sections, missions or levels that reveal the story as players progress. These types of approaches are comparable to books or movies, where the viewer -- or in this case, the player -- has no control over the game's outcome.


Since the player cannot control the story, there is little in the way of flexibility. This means that no matter what kinds of actions an individual chooses, it has little to no bearing on how his character or the final outcome develops. Additionally, he will have virtually no control over how he interacts with any computer-controlled characters.

Replay Value

One thing that linear games often lack is replay value. Replay value is the degree of enjoyment a player will get from going through the game again. Once a person knows the game's story and outcome, replaying the game can still be fun, but the inability to create an alternate ending will affect its novelty. As result, playing the game again may not be as appealing.

Linear and Non-Linear Games

Considering how stagnant linear games may sound, it may seem that non-linear games are a better choice. However, this is not necessarily the case. The key to a good game is not the level of control, but rather the story itself. Games like "Halo" for Xbox and Xbox 360 have been extremely successful, despite their linearity. "Red Dead Redemption" for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 also garnered critical acclaim, although its story is linear. Much like a well-written film or book, the stories of these and many other games were captivating and entertaining. Non-linear games are equally successful. "Infamous" for the PlayStation 3 gives the player the option of committing honorable or dishonorable actions to create two completely different endings. Bioware's "Knights of the Old Republic" for Xbox also gives the player the option of choosing the "light side" or "dark side" path, leading to different endings and influencing how other characters react. As long as the story's format fits the game, its success will not be affected.

About the Author

Alex Saez is a writer who draws much of his information from his professional and academic experience. Saez holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Queen's University and an advanced diploma in business administration, with a focus on human resources, from St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario.

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