It’s All In The Details: Video Game Codexes

A key component in video games or any kind of media we enjoy to partake in begins with a writer and a story. The characters and the world they exist in wouldn’t be possible without one person or a team of people in the writer’s room brainstorming and building the kind of stories they wish to see. In order for a story to have life, you’ll need to know the history of the world you’re creating, the personal struggles and triumphs of your characters, or the current issues concerning their world. Playing video games tend to reveal most of what you need to know as you experience the game. The rest that isn’t central to the story often wind up in a game codex.

Game codexes are often found in the game’s menu. They feature most prominently in RPGs and some open world games. They offer a wealth of information from intimate profiles about the supporting characters you meet along the way to the geography of a place you just visited. These codexes further enhances your experience with the game by making every aspect of the characters and world as tangible and real as it can be. Despite the effort and painstaking details writers often go through to create the best story possible, these efforts may go unnoticed.

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Depending on how invested you are in learning the story, characters, and world, you may want to read every codex entry you unlock as you progress in your game. If you prefer to simply play the game and are satisfied with the information you get in the game itself without going back and reading every codex entry, it in a sense ends up being work writers may have wasted their time on getting right and keeping consistent to their world and characters.

Understandably, our relationship to a game will be different for each player. Some would rather slay dragons than spend a good hour or two of their lives reading a digital sized version of a novel. Dragon Age and Mass Effect are guilty of having an endless stream of codex entries to read and sift through. It demands a lot of our time and investment to read all the information the writers and developers made available to the player, if they choose to look at it. Maybe everything about the game you’re playing is so fascinating you’re just hungry to consume everything and anything pertaining to the story and its characters.

Admittedly, I’m one of those players who will only take the time to read a codex entry or log if I’m really in love with the game. For example, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a behemoth of a game with an equally extensive and overwhelming collection of codexes for you to read. It’s so huge I haven’t even been able to unlock or find every single codex entry in the game. During the time I played Inquisition, I took the time to pause the game and read every single codex entry I newly acquired. This often took anywhere between 15-20 minutes of my time. This obviously took time away from me exploring the new area on my map or completing missions with my Inquisitor, but I was dedicated and a huge super fan of the series.

dai_codex

I can’t think of a game I played in recent memory where I ignored codex entries or story related journal logs I have collected. I know sometimes my own attention span can be short and I doubt I’d go out of my way to read the extra story information in the same way I do for Bioware’s games. Dragon Age and Mass Effect are special exceptions, of course, but like anyone who finds time to play video games, you much prefer to spend it actually playing the game than reading. If I wanted to read I’d pick up a book, right?

Being an aspiring writer and storyteller myself, I often think about the time and work the writers for these codexes put into giving players a complete experience. The purpose of telling stories is to pass them on and share them with a wider audience. Building a world and creating characters from scratch is no easy task. You want them to be interesting, complex, and evoke a strong response from people. The biggest goal for a writer is to make a story along with their characters unforgettable. Why else are we able to recall a video game or book with so much clarity even after it has been months or years since you’ve played or read them? You definitely don’t remember lackluster games or books that hasn’t effected you in some way.

I almost feel guilty for not reading the codexes for every single game I play because I know how hard these writers work at fleshing out the world and characters they’ve written. Maybe it’s our current struggle with short attention spans as a result of having too much technology and options at our disposal, but give me a game I can easily fall in love with, I’ll make the time, effort, and commitment to read everything the writers and developers include in their game. It’s a testament to the great work they’ve done.

Do you take the time to read game codexes? Does it help enhance or distract you from experiencing the game?

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11 thoughts on “It’s All In The Details: Video Game Codexes

  1. I get impatient sometimes and skip reading codex entries. I’m like you, I guess — if I really love a game, I’ll read as many as I can, but even then I have my “bad” days. I did spend a playthrough of Dragon Age Origins reading pretty much everything I picked up, but that was a special case because I replay that game a lot. Most of the time, I guess I just skim, and if it piques my interest, I’ll take the time to read a little more thoroughly… maybe.

    But I agree that I appreciate the time the writers put into this, and it’s nice to be able to enjoy more background on the story and lore if you want to!

    1. I get that way too. I’m more eager to get back to the game that I almost don’t want to read the codex entries and there’s a lot of information in a game like Dragon Age! But because I’m dedicated to the series and love it so much, I do stick with reading everything. Oftentimes, you find a lot of little interesting things in there.

      Overall, I think I’d prefer to enjoy the game itself and spend less time actually reading stuff in my games. I’ll leave that to my books!

  2. I find that in-game codexes can only enhance the experience, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go out of my way to read them. Mass Effect and Dragon Age are actually perfect examples for my attitudes on codexes, because while they both sport a wealth of information, they also contrast in a major way: organization.

    Depending on how information is organized, a codex can either draw you in with the information it teases or just look like a big chore. I’ve always found Mass Effect’s codexes to be rather inviting. All the information is easy to find and is all related in a way that makes me want to keep reading. On the other hand, something about how Dragon Age’s codexes have been presented (with the possible exception of DA2) has always made them look too intimidating to attempt. I think it’s mostly because the organization isn’t clear. If I look at it and can’t tell where I should be able to find a particular entry, then I’d just as soon not bother at all rather than try looking for it.

    One other comment: I don’t like how some games make you search around for codex entries. It’s fine if it’s story related, but otherwise I think it would be better to have it all unlock periodically to give us a better sense of the world; maybe even use it to draw the player to places they’d otherwise not bother going to.

    1. I agree that organization could potentially be a huge factor in whether or not someone decides to read the codex entries. Dragon Age has entries that are largely overwhelming and it doesn’t help that they all seem sort of lumped together. I think Mass Effect organized theirs really well so you aren’t as overwhelmed by all the information they lay in front of you.

      You also hit the nail on the coffin. I really hate having codex entries be a part of the search and collect portion of any game. Inquisition has some entries that you have to search and find in the game, which I found really annoying. I know by the time I finished the entire game, I still had entries missing because I never found them or I may have just missed them even as I tried to collect everything. This is one feature I can do without in games.

    1. I’m sure reading the extra stuff about the world and characters isn’t going to be for everyone. But I think a little brevity would be helpful to make the entries more digestible and enticing to read. Seeing all the blocks of text, and often in such small sizes, makes it really unattractive to want to read.

  3. I read them all. I think it enhances the story. Like the letters Joel finds along the way in The Last of Us. He (you) get to read accounts of what happened to other people who passed through that town before you – it triggers your senses in all the right ways (suspense builds). It also allows your imagination to run wild without the developers forcing you to see things their way all the time.

    I guess im a sucker for details! But you’re right; as long as the story is good it’s always worth it!

    1. In the case of collecting codexes in the form of character journals, those I’ll almost always read. I’d say the character would already have to be really interesting to get you to read a little extra to enhance the story. It certainly provides more insight into the person and what’s going on, which the game itself can’t always touch upon in detail. And at the end of the day, it’s still your choice if you want to take your knowledge just another step further!

  4. I’m a habitual codex-skipper, but it depends on the nature of the game. I definitely like the idea of them — that they offer details about places and characters in a game that you wouldn’t otherwise get, but, if I’m heavily involved in mission-based games, like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, then, no matter how much more I might like to know about something or someone, I’m usually too involved in the action to pay attention to codexes. However, in a linear adventure game like Bayonetta, where taking time to read codex entries means taking a breather from fighting, then I actually welcome the chance to get to know more about the world. (Still, it’s not like I take the time to read *every* codex I find.)

    When it comes to big games like Mass Effect and such, I’d be willing to pay a little extra to have all the codex entries in a separate book (that comes with the game, maybe?). That way I could read what I needed to on my own time! Plus, that would be a pretty cool collection of books to own. (*hint hint* game developers!)

    1. I’d love it if they just compiled a book of all the codex entries! It wouldn’t distract you from playing the game, but still allow you to read the extra information during the time you’re not playing the game. It’s a brilliant idea. And honestly, who loads up a game just to read for the next hour or two, am I right? We want to blow shit up! Stab people from behind. The important things in life. 😉

    2. A separate book would be nice. Actually, they did do something like that with the first Mass Effect, only it was a booklet included with the collector’s edition. So close…

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