Maybe Games Just Aren’t For Telling Great Stories?

By John Walker on June 11th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

During all of the recent conferences for the forthcoming consoles, a refrain is repeated by all involved. When they boast of their new technology, their graphical improvements, their breakthrough achievements, it always seems to be said that it will provide enchancements in storytelling. New ways to connect emotionally with the player. “To tell stories in a far more powerful way.”

I’m fascinated that this is the angle they choose. Not just because it’s the most disingenuous, but because it seems like it’s the last thing their core audience appears to care about. It seems like trying to sell a speedboat based on its lovely coffee holders. Yes, it has coffee holders, but most people are buying it because it goes fast over waves without sinking. Who of the Modern Warfare generation is buying games for their groundbreaking ability to tell stories?

The temptation at this point is to get all sneery and superior, looking down on those inferior lot who enjoy manshooters. Two problems. Manshooters are often great, and haughtily refusing to enjoy the good ones is stupid. And what exactly is it we’re holding aloft as an example of storytelling done right?

There are games whose stories I’ve enjoyed a great deal. I immediately reach for The Longest Journey, Deus Ex, Planescape Torment… um… and then I start to struggle. And the most recent of those was 2000 – thirteen years ago. Then there are dozens more games whose narrative has entertained me fitfully from beginning to end, the likes of Beyond Good & Evil, Saint’s Row 3, Dragon Age, GTA 4, and so on. And there are those games that merely have a narrative structure – something I often find important to motivate me to play, no matter how generic or predictable it may be.

But of these, which do I hold up as great examples of literature? Honestly? None. That’s not to demean the best of them – stories from games have genuinely changed my life, moved me enormously, altered my thinking in significant ways. But if gaming’s ultimate goal, from both technology and development, is this spurious notion of “storytelling”, then it’s doing a pretty poor job.

I’m not just talking about the soul-draining tedium of game after game being described as massive steps forward for innovation, imagination and narrative, and then featuring a gun bobbing at the bottom of the screen. I’m talking about an industry that heralds David Cage’s puerile homages to cinema as its masterworks.

My thought is whether this matters at all. Perhaps it’s time for us all to just accept that games aren’t ever going to be home to classic works of literature – it’s not what they’re for, and it’s not what they’re ever going to achieve.

Clearly whenever people make direct comparisons between games and books, or games and film, they’re inevitably poorly conceived arguments on unbalanced ground. Despite an industry that endlessly purports to be more “cinematic” with its greater emphasis on “connecting emotionally with the player”, these are gaming’s largest weakness, and rather stupidly fail to celebrate its greatest strengths.

Games are magnificent at, well, being games. The word “interaction” is hideously over-used, and for me at least immediately conjures images of Microsoft trying to get me to use my Surface tablet in conjunction with my Xbox One to choose my fantasy water polo team while watching CSI: Bournemouth. And “greater interaction” inevitably means waggling your arms about in front of a camera like a drunken aunt on a dance floor. But it remains that the ability to interact with events is what makes gaming distinctive from all other media.

Games have their own unique way of letting a story become more meaningful because you’re directly involved in it. But oddly, this isn’t the sort of story that’s discussed. This isn’t the goal from those stage-boasts. They have stories they want to TELL YOU, and the tech will enable them to TELL IT TO YOU more than ever before. It, in the end, becomes the equivalent of book publishers excitedly announcing they’ve found a way to write the letters bigger in books, and made the pages easier to turn. The result of this thinking is the dirge of arse-following shooters that plague the industry, so utterly fixated on TELLING YOU their story that it’s either portrayed in cutscenes, or when the controls are taken away from you.

“THEN THE PLAYER LOOKED OVER TO HIS LEFT AND SAW THE BUILDING FALL OVER!!!” goes the story, before cutting to a man with some stubble looking grimly forlorn at a graveyard. EMOTIONS. But look! These emotions are more emotiony than ever before, because the crinkles in his eyes crinkle more realistically than previously technology could crinkle. The single tear coming out of his eye comes from Fully Functional Tear Duct Technology™, uniquely created for this month’s iteration of gaming devices.

It allows the comparative “proper” narrative games to shine alongside them. But to do so without ever reaching greatness themselves. For years I’ve lamented this, decried the failure of this medium to mature to a point where it can match literature and cinema in terms of intelligence in design. (And to be clearly, yes, most books and movies are terrible – we’re talking about comparing the very best.) When is gaming, I would ask, going to find its great stories? I believe I was wrong to ask.

Gaming isn’t going to. It’s had plenty of time to prove that. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a failure of developers at all. Maybe games just aren’t the right place for it? That’s practical: authors can take years to write their novels – something that wouldn’t be possible in game development cycles. And it’s perhaps pragmatic: the nature of interaction simply prevents great storytelling, and we should all accept this.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t demand better. It is still right and proper to lament the dreadful writing that appears in so many games, the cavalcades of clichés that plague us, the generic grunting tedium that most creators seem to think will do. But perhaps we should be setting our sights lower, reducing our expectations, and letting games get on with being a medium that simply isn’t going to provide us with wonderful story.

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476 Comments »

  1. TheIronSky says:

    No..? No. Absolutely not.

    Games are enormously powerful mediums for stories. Once again mentioning Deus Ex, Planescape: Torment, etc.

    But I think you’re confusing your audiences a little. Yes, there apparently is a demographic filled with 14-year-old adrenaline junkies living in basements who shoot men in the face and drink Mountain Dew. And yes, they do make a lot of money by making games for these people. But don’t you think there exists a demographic that wants narratives with extreme depth and player involvement? I feel like that’s a pretty huge group of people. Or at least it could be, if only the Dew-drinkers were enlightened to the power of 3D navigable space as a medium for storytelling.

    I guess it’s the same with action movies. They’re generally awful. I mean, really bad – I walked out on The Avengers about 20 minutes in, got my money back, and went and bought the Indiana Jones Trilogy instead (yes, it’s a trilogy). But there are still millions of people who would never subject themselves to that kind of trash (myself included). thusly, films like 2001, Schindler’s List, Blade Runner and others (just picking some of my favorites) were made.

    Wouldn’t it stand to reason that we could do the same with games? I would venture to say that there’s a core demographic of people who consistently play more story based games in the same way that there’s a core demographic of people who consistently seek well-written films.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      They are a powerful medium, but I think the key part of the relationship between game and reader is the interaction and not the game’s content. We create a sort of relationship with a game by spending time playing with it, and even if many of those interactions are meaningless (menus, walking around, mindlessly killing), we still manage to draw some sort of greater meaning or gratification from it. Just speaking for myself here, but I liked Deus Ex because it felt like I created my own story, despite (or maybe because) that story also included stupid things like a government agent jumping off buildings and then eating a backpack full of chocolate bars before stealing money from an ATM.

      Sort of like reading Infinite Jest or some other huge book. Half of the experience is carrying the dang thing around, and seeing how the experience of reading it changes over the course of time. So maybe games and other media aren’t all that different, developers just need to realize that exposition is a terrible way to encourage players to invest themselves in a story that isn’t really their own.

      • TheIronSky says:

        It’s a bit of both. When executed properly the mechanics can enhance the meaning. But developers have options – establishing the PC as either a character or an avatar can change the player’s perception of practically everything. It’s all dependent on the story they want to tell. Sometimes the exposition comes off a little weak, usually in terms of execution, but it can be powerful stuff, especially in the environment. The shrines in Shadow of The Colossus added a wonderful glimpse into the history of that game’s universe, even if most of it was left up to interpretation.

        • WrenBoy says:

          Planescape Torment is a very good example of the games mechanics adding meaning to its narrative. The way you built up a party to accomplish your goals only to discover that your previous incarnations were doing the same thing with the same detached cynicism.

          You suddenly realised that in every RPG you ever played that you thought you were a hero but you were actually a horrible monster.

          Glorious.

      • Evilpigeon says:

        I always felt that to tell a meaningful story in a game, you have to include the player in its creation. Look at the games that are held up as the best the medium produces, Planescape and Deus Ex have good narratives but what makes them shine is that they understand that the player has to feel like they’re a playing part in the creation of the story.

        The Nameless One works so well because you define who he is. Try producing the same effect in a book or a film. “Ohh you had lots of past lives and you were different then” has been used before, plenty of times. How much more impact does that have when you’re aware that over the course of the story, you made choices and that everything could have gone completely differently. You get an implicit understanding of how the nameless one might feel about himself because you can see through your every action and every conversation how easily it could have all gone differently. It’s a level of empathy that the same situation in a non-interactive medium can’t produce.

        Telling a story like this is hard to do and requires a different approach to writing because you’re trying to predict and tie in the creative input of someone else into a game you’re going to make. I think there have been so few examples of it, because the nature of development and the way in which games have evolved have left them in a position where it’s currently too expensive to create the variety of content necessary to involve a player in the creation of the narrative.

        • TheIronSky says:

          I also prefer the use of the “avatar” archetype over the “character” one. It depends on the story, but on the whole any character that becomes an extension of myself feels more real than ones who do not. this being said, I also enjoy hybrid avatar-characters, like Geralt of Rivia and Commander Shepard. They can provide a pretty similar experience.

        • Focksbot says:

          “Planescape and Deus Ex have good narratives but what makes them shine is that they understand that the player has to feel like they’re a playing part in the creation of the story.”

          I think the problem here is you’re mixing up two different types of approach. I, for one, don’t mind at all playing through a cleverly written story where my only job, as player, is to figure out how to keep said story going – by moving, sparring, puzzle-solving etc. That strikes me as entirely valid, even if it is, by its nature, very restrictive.

          Planescape and Deus Ex experiment with ideas of players collaborating on the story part, and that can work as well, but as the rareness of those games testifies, it’s exceptionally difficult to do. How can you really anticipate all the ways a player might want to act, or the choices they’ll make?

          There is no holy grail here. Lots of games work just fine as what they are, with the narrative that they have, and there’s tremendous scope for providing different experiences. It doesn’t really need to be rushed.

          The problem with this sort of debate is that it sets literature on a rather silly pedestal, where people worry about comparing a game with some venerated ‘masterpiece’ that not that many people taking part in the conversation have actually read. We seem to forget that literature is inclusive of many myths and fairytales and outmoded stylistic fashions that have been vital to human social development despite being rather ridiculous in their own way. The ‘masterpiece’ is an invention of scholars – it signifies something worthy of continued study more than it signifies something which has any particular power or societal importance.

        • Nogo says:

          This is the only way I can imagine game stories really working. The game needs to foster narratives rather than deliver them. Which sadly means a game can never itself be a great piece of literature, but it could create strong personal narratives.

          Oddly, Tear Duct Xtreme cards might be the future. Once games can create and display vast swathes of varied, compelling, detail rich content we can foster narratives with immediate potency simply because everything looks familiar. Until then we need to employ stylization, obfuscation and scale.

          The repetition of elements for memory reasons and glossing of scene detail and/or fine interaction (Gordon “Hover Hands” Freeman, Ol’ Twisty Wrist from LA Noire) makes it difficult to engage players on a small scale. So the Director rushes players through quickly quickly throwing dirt and explosions around hoping no one stops and notices sharp angles, shimmering seams, that same rubble pile from earlier just tweaked a bit and gets a bit bummed that the fun house is all a bit creaky.

          It’s a tough hurdle that may never be passed.

          • MiKHEILL says:

            This. It really should be about enabling the player to discover their own story within the world of the game. The problem is in the implementation.

            Until it is as easy to program narrative and direction into a game as it is to write into a book, it hardly seems fair to expect comparable story quality telling on the level of great books and movies. Something that would take minutes to write or days to stage and shoot would take weeks to months of effort from a hundred odd folks.

            John indicates that he has given up on waiting. I say he hasn’t waited nearly long enough.

          • sanderman says:

            I believe story and interactivity are in a few important ways quite incompatible due to conflicting needs, and for that reason games will never be able to embrace storytelling completely like books or film. Like a car with wings, that will never be able to soar high in the sky because to maintain speed it’s wheels need to touch the ground.

            On one hand we have stories, the best of which are meticulously crafted so everything happens just right for the optimal experience, convening plot, tension, character development and ideas. This only works because the author has complete control over the events that happen and the information presented to the reader.

            Then we have interactivity, which by it’s very nature means you cannot expect what the player will do. Even if you could predict every course of action and provide a narrative fork for every tiny little decision, the story is still likely to become a mess. Unless you start guiding the player, which quickly amounts to ‘No you can’t do that because that doesn’t fit the story.’

            Having the player create his own narrative can be a good alternative. Boatmurdered is a good example.

            This does not mean good games can’t have good stories, just that they will always need to be balanced with each other.

    • WrenBoy says:

      I think the point John was making is that even the games with the best narrative have essentially poor narrative.

      Planescape Torment is a good game. Planescape Torment has good narrative for a game. Planescape Torment has a poor narrative. Each of these statements is true and none of them are contradictory.

      The game has been converted into a book. I dont think anyone but the most devoted fans of the game think that it has any value as a piece of art.

      • TheIronSky says:

        I think you’re wrong. I haven’t completed Planescape: Torment, so I can’t vouch for its integrity, but I think there are a lot of games that have particularly fantastic stories. I think they could be made better if they featured greater interactivity and choice.

        What, in your opinion, would constitute a “good” narrative? Are we talking classic fiction like Melville or Fitzgerald or Steinbeck? Or do you just mean fiction in general?

        I’d say that The Witcher 2 has a better story than any of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. Granted, I have only read the translated versions, but that particular game happens to have an exceptionally good story. Your interpretation of “good” is just as relativistic as my own, and I happen to think that games are the pinnacle of media-based communication.

        • WrenBoy says:

          I am not sure what you mean by fiction in general. Do you mean badly written fiction? I enjoy high brow and pulpy low brow in equal measure as I do with pure literature and genre fiction but only if the quality is there. You wont find much purely narrative quality in games and nor should you expect to. No more than you would expect to in opera or in sculpture.

          I have never read Sapkowski but I strongly suspect that you are comparing top tier gaming narrative with bottom drawer literature.

          I think that history is and will continue to be kind to Planescape Torment the game and that it will be remembered as a classic. Planescape Torment the book will be nothing other than a reminder of how, even for a story driven game, that it takes more than the story for the game to be great.

          • Evilpigeon says:

            By suggesting that the narrative of Planescape is bad because it wouldn’t make a good book, I think you’re missing the point of why it works as a game narrative.

            An analogy might be that a direct translation of a book to a film doesn’t work because each is able to convey depth in different areas. To make a book work as a film you have to re-order things or imply events or even just take the result and convey it differently.

            Planescape would be a bad book but it’s a good game narrative, irrespective of the mechanics of the game itself, which, if you’ve played it, you’ll probably agree are horrible and unwieldy. To work as a story, it relies on the participation of the player to build empathy and investment in the main character and his companions which is a story telling strenght that non-interactive mediums don’t have. The story told can be just as complex, interesting and compelling but for it to work as a good example of how to use a game to tell a story you need to leverage the unique advantages that games have which translate poorly to non-interactive storytelling.

          • WrenBoy says:

            What I originally said was “Planescape Torment has good narrative for a game”. That is subtly different to saying that it has a “good gaming narrative” but I also agree with the latter.

            I think the way that the games narrative agrees with (some of) its mechanics is important though as that is a large part of what makes it a clever game. Otherwise it would just be overwritten escapism.

            EDIT:
            To be clear, the only reason I say the book version is basically rubbish is because I feel that many disagree. I really like PS:T, but only as a game (which includes the story) and not purely as the story.

            Neither do I think that games cant tell stories but I do think that the way that most games attempt to (via a tradition narrative tacked onto mechanics that dont know its there) shows that they dont understand the medium.

          • Wafflepocalypse says:

            I think you’re creating a bit of a false dichotomy there. The mechanics inform the story and the story informs the mechanics. It’s like trying to say “I really like Of Mice and Men as a book but without the dialogue it would be really mediocre” its true but also meaningless. I think its the same problem that runs through this whole debate. People want to distill out the actual written words in a game and compare them and only them to the giants of human storytelling. But that isn’t the only narrative force a game carries. You have to consider the level, sound, and character designs as well as it’s mechanics and the narrative generated by them.

          • alphyna says:

            I liked PST the book (tha fan version, which is mostly just texts from the game). The composition is not really bookish, but I didn’t feel robbed because the interaction wasn’t there. The mere premise of searching for the “twisted versions” of good, evil in neutrality is deconstruction enough (and thus interesting enough) for me. The quotes are still there, the characters are still there.

            On the other hand, no, the sensorium scene (you know the one) doesn’t work without interactivity. Still, the story — and by that I mean the basic plot — does. But I think that using game mechanics as a narrative vehicle was one of the pillars of the desing, so something not working in the book version is, well, the intention.

        • coldvvvave says:

          [quote]I’d say that The Witcher 2 has a better story than any of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books.[/quote]

          Mother of god.

          • Hauskamies says:

            I just finished the Lady of the Lake. Witcher 2 definitely has a better story than any of the books.

          • Borsook says:

            I guess the problem is that people read Witcher novels, which absolutely terrible, instead of short stories which are good.

        • Zephro says:

          I think the mistake here is confusing story with literature conveying greater meaning. Plenty of games have great stories, ie the Witcher 2. But don’t really tell us much about the human experience or anything interesting.

          Star Wars is a great story. But it’s not a masterpiece in the way Citizen Kane/BladeRunner/Schindler’s List/take your pick is.

          Planescape has a great story and is the nearest we have to something that explores themes well. Deus Ex though, that’s more just a fun story (IMO of course). It’s hardly The Great Gatsby/Heart of Darkness/To The Lighthouse/take your pick,

      • malkav11 says:

        The Planescape: Torment book may very well be bad. I know the Baldur’s Gate II novel is a wretched piece of trash. This is typically because the writer assigned to the book (because it certainly isn’t someone telling a personal story that speaks to them and simply had to be told) is bad at writing novels, or at the very least bad at rewriting licensed narratives into novel form. This doesn’t automatically say anything about the source material. There are really bad novelizations of amazing movies. There are really bad movies of amazing books. Etc.

      • devlocke says:

        Narrative is not literature. I think the narrative in Planescape was pretty fantastic. The narrative in NOLF was cliche, but fun, and certainly competes pretty well with narratives that tick both of those check-boxes in other media. Bitch about the writing if you like, but the storytelling in games is often top-notch. Pretending otherwise is bullshit. Video games aren’t novels, so expecting to get the same kind of writing is stupid. But video games are fantastic, and declaring them incapable of telling stories as well is stupid.

    • Upper Class Twit says:

      awww, I thought The Avengers was alright.

      As for your point, you’re mainly right, I think. But Its not just the 14 year olds who want to shoot men in the face that aren’t interested in the things you are. A lot of the people who game (my dad, for example) game for the sole purpose of playing a game, as in, entertainment; to kill time. There’s definitely a subset of gamers who are very interested in exceptional storytelling, but I imagine that its smaller than you would think. There’s a reason Planescape flopped when it came out.

      On a side note, why does everyone say that Deus Ex had a good plot? It was a great game, but the only thing I remember of its storyline was some conspiracy-theory-standard Illuminati bullcrap, involving the UN being a puppet, (of course) and god-awful voice acting.

      • TheIronSky says:

        You’re right on that front – I was just being facetious about the whole “14-year-old” thing.

      • Niko says:

        You only liked The Avengers because you watched all of it, not just the first twenty minutes!

      • Niko says:

        Spot on about Deus Ex’s story. It’s if the writer didn’t read Foucault’s Pendulum.

        • Veracity says:

          Neither has Dan Brown, and it doesn’t seem to have done him any harm.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        It’s funny, at the time, Raiders of the Lost Ark was criticized for being a soulless blockbuster by a couple of well respected critics. Later, Spielberg and Lucas were credited for creating the big summer blockbuster trend with Raiders, Jaws, and Star Wars.

        Raiders and The Avengers are probably more similar than he thinks. They were both movies with a ton of action and good characterization, made in part because of nostalgia of the subject, loved by many and hated by few. The difference is that time and the reputation of Spielberg have given Raiders a reverence that the Avengers will probably never receive.

        • vondas says:

          Of course, we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

          (Though I’ve never seen Avengers myself. Not much of a cinema person.)

      • GSGregory says:

        People often read books to escape and there is no difference between that and playing a game for entertainment or watching a cheap action movie.

      • Nick says:

        To be fair, I don’t think Planescape flopped because it was story heavy so much as the marketing for it was terrible.

    • NicoTn says:

      Please get of your mile high horse. You make me sick.

    • Zoorlander says:

      I’m not particularly interested in asking/answering whether games can be art; it confuses the medium itself with the qualities of ART, when those are much more difficult to figure out. So, call me agnostic on the question. I have loved games. I still try. I’m open to it.

      However, I find it hard to tolerate the claim that games are telling great stories. They haven’t, and not only have they not, they seem to rolling downhill. The only way one can argue that they are telling great stories is by tragically defining quality down. Planescape: Torment? It’s a great game. At an objective cross-medium level of story, it’s somewhere between a TSR novel and Robert Jordan.

      • Keirley says:

        See, this is one of the main problems with this debate; people have very different views on what is and is not an example of good storytelling, and I’m not convinced any of these views can be objectively better than any other.

        I’ve read books by Thomas Hardy, Dostoyevsky, and other ‘classic’ works of literature, and I thought many of them were turgid, sloppy examples of storytelling. Many people think they’re some of the greatest works of art ever made.

        If this debate is nothing more than ‘x is an example of good storytelling in a game’ ‘oh no it’s not, it’s terrible’ or vice versa then we’re not going to achieve anything other than illustrating that our responses to artistic works are subjective and basically inarguable.

        • Zoorlander says:

          They may have been turgid and sloppy, particularly since you’ve referenced two authors with very uneven output. You haven’t referenced any specific work, so I can’t say much about your claim that works many consider the greatest ever made appear to you to be quite poor.

          I don’t accept that making judgments about quality is hopelessly subjective. We should, at a minimum, be able to handily reject any claim that it’s impossible to determine that Arrested Development is better than Two and a Half Men. It’s more difficult to try to make these evaluations across media, sure, but that isn’t necessary to question the claim that video games are engaging in powerful storytelling.

          I think there’s an age/exposure thing going on here, too. I adored Planescape: Torment as a much younger, much less experienced reader/audience member. It is good. It is better than a lot of stuff that comes out in other media — film, TV, book, etc. But “powerful storytelling?” That’s hyperbole. It’s hyperbole I’m sympathetic to, because I think we have a laudable tendency to exaggerate the virtues of games that struggle against the great wave of crap, but it’s hyperbole nonetheless.

          • GSGregory says:

            The issue is people are simply looking at story telling from a very narrow view in this comparison. There are games like final fantasy that I will never forget and that means the story aka the narrative, the world, the characters, the music. If you want to ask how games are good at story telling look at some of the famous characters and ask why they are so popular, years and years of character progression.

          • Keirley says:

            Well, Crime and Punishment is a perfect example. I disliked it quite a bit, and I would maintain that this isn’t the result of a failure on my part, nor of a failure on the part of Dostoyevsky. Some things just resonant with some people, and some things with others.

            I’ve never seen a good argument for the quality of any piece of art being objective, and I’ve seen a hell of a lot of arguments, including countless made by philosophers in the field.

            And I happen to think Planescape: Torment is an example of powerful storytelling. You can say that that’s hyperbole, but I could equally say that anyone saying Crime and Punishment, Jude the Obscure, The Canterbury Tales, or Ivanhoe are engaging in hyperbole. Neither of us would be right, though, and we certainly wouldn’t be getting anywhere. We can both make good, coherent points about *why* we like x and don’t like y, but those points will be the product of what we personally, as individuals, find valuable when we look at art. If someone doesn’t care about the same things you do, that doesn’t make them wrong – it just means they have different priorities.

    • InnerPartisan says:

      If you seriously walked out of The Avengers after 20 minutes, you either don’t know the meaning of “fun” or you’re the most pretentious little dipshit I’ve met on the Internet…. today. I’m leaning towards the latter, especially since you simultaneously claim to like the Indiana Jones movies.

      Also: All action movies are awful? Yeah, sure. The Messrs. Nolan, Mann, Frankheimer, Peckinpah, Miller and Carpenter (among others) would like to have a word with you.

      Jeeeesus Motherfucking Christ. Internet elitists and their hyperbole.

      • TheIronSky says:

        I have opinions. Deal w/ it.
        Also, you do not know the details surrounding my early departure from that theatre. It was crowded, uncomfortable, and I didn’t feel like dishing out $20 on snacks that day. Also, none of my comrades who were with me felt like watching it either.

        Don’t be so quick to call me a dipshit – I merely brought it up to get a point across about how poorly written all media is these days. Even on the internet I shouldn’t have to explain myself on that front.

        Yes, I realize the futility in writing this response. No, I don’t care what you think. It is, however, important to note that just because I have an opinion that might differ from your own, does not make me an elitist prick. I do not particularly enjoy action movies (aside from hokey Chuck Norris ones or something), and I don’t enjoy games with similar values, IE Call of Duty. I also don’t like onions, humidity, or the smell of sulfur. Do any of these things make me an elitist? I didn’t think so.

        I’m not implying that all action movies or games have crappy stories, but I’d say it’s pretty universally accepted that Apocalypse Now! is a better film than The Avengers much in the same way that Half Life 2 has a better story than Battlefield 3.

        Besides, Beasts of The Southern Wild and Thirty Dark Zero were my favorite films of last year. And let’s be honest – The Avengers was pretty goddamn awful. My money was better spent on Indiana Jones.

        • devlocke says:

          I’m pretty comfortable saying that The Avengers was more fun than Apocalypse Now, as well as more coherent, better scripted, and in general a “better” movie. Apocalypse Now had some brilliant people involved, was based on a book people consider important, and had an interestingly troubled production history. But it’s not really a great movie.

          It’s possible I’m just not smart enough to appreciate it, and it’s also possible I’d appreciate it more if I’d read Heart of Darkness before seeing it. But I finished The Avengers thinking “Nicely done – and a Harry Dean Stanton cameo! Sweet.” I finished Apocalypse Now thinking “Meh… really? Some good moments, but christ, that was just not rewarding at all, for the time invested.”

          YMMV.

          • TheIronSky says:

            And I don’t think any lesser of you for your opinions.

            In fact, you’re a person on the internet, and I don’t think anything of you at all. Hence my whole point. oop.

            So, good for you.

          • Jerkzilla says:

            Whoa there, you’re forgetting one thing about Apocalypse Now, the fact that it has a message with significant cultural relevance for the time period it came out in. Sure, it adapted the narrative from “”Heart of Darkness”, but adapting it to the context of the Vietnam War was a brilliant way to look at an important historical event and, to a certain extent, war in general. Basically, Apocalypse Now had something to say. So did Stalker and Bladerunner, but many others as well.
            In contrast, The Avengers went on about teamwork, trust and a bunch of other minor themes but the point of that movie was that there are a bunch of superheroes pounding bad stuff into dirt. And watching it wasn’t cringe-inducing, which admittedly isn’t easy to pull off, given the subject matter.

        • Wisq says:

          It’s a little disingenuous to say “I walked out of the Avengers after twenty minutes” and then admit that there were a lot of other contributing factors only after someone calls you on it. And then try to use those contributing factors to excuse your original statement, to boot.

          It’s like saying “I stopped playing Portal after twenty minutes” and then trying to placate the hordes of outraged Valve fans by revealing it’s because there was a power outage at that point.

    • RProxyOnly says:

      You walked out of The Avengers 20 minutes in?

      That movie was as close to The Avengers and to a comic book universe as is possible, what was it your were expecting to see if it wasn’t that?

    • Screamer says:

      I walked out on The Avengers about 20 minutes in

      I don’t even…..what does the air smell like so high up? GTFO!

    • lijenstina says:

      Gameworld and the player led narrative are more important than the story itself. A coherent, complex believable world with many things to explore, find, where the actor can change it – then bear up the consequences.

      The player, by making decisions builds a story and narrative – for instance by choosing a stealth approach the point is to avoid confrontation when possible, gun blazing is to have it when possible – in both cases the player’s goals and motivations are different.

      But doing that is a fuckton more difficult than popping some text and saying you need to do this this and this then a scripted scene with disabled player’s input, run to the next objective.

      The reason why we have more linear games that just barks at you some 3rd rate story about revenge and fighting the bad guys of the moment is that :

      A) making a good story is freaking difficult (all the shitty movies and books can show that is a case)

      B) implementing the narrative properly through the gameworld and player’s actions and decisions is even more difficult.

      C) and the main reason – it needs more time and moneyz. More moneyz spent during development (if it is not some tax dodging scheme) equals less profit.

    • Mr.Snowy says:

      For my money the best stories are the ones that play out according to the desires of me as the player, that are driven by my own imagination. Give me a title that immerses me with its atmosphere and gives me freedom to act, and I will enjoy it far more than being pushed through a hackneyed plot.

      Two prime examples of this from each end of the spectrum, STALKER Call of Pripyat and Assassins Creed 3.

      COP dropped me in a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric environment which generated events that just engaged the imagination. The game gave me missions to keep me occupied, but the narrative of the game played out as much in my imagination as it did on-screen. The character’s motivation, thoughts, fears, hopes, were all mine.

      Assassins Creed has a story to tell, and not a very good one. Every step of the way it railroads you, driving you through cutscenes and insta-fail for deviation from what they wanted you to do. The game gave me precious little ability to play the way I wanted to, and the story was a failure because of it.

      RPG’s are often the guiltiest in this regard too, which is bizarre when you consider their roots. From games played completely in the imagination of the players, they have morphed into rigid storytelling vehicles where the character you play is reduced to multiple choice dialogue and a few skills when a fight kicks off.

      If developers want to engage the player in a story, make them integral to it, let them steer their own course, the games will be better for it.

    • Strickebobo says:

      You do realize that ‘thusly’ is a word invented to parody uneducated people attempting to sound intelligent, right?

      • TheIronSky says:

        I’m glad my mistake was so important to you that you had to point it out. After all, it is my mission as an American to destroy the English language.

        Frankly, I’m just honored that you took the time out of your day to make that remark.

    • Venkman says:

      Don’t start comments with “No..?”, first of all. You obnoxiously dismiss the entire article like that, but then as you go on it’s clear that you didn’t understand the article anyway.

      You address the 14 year olds who in your view don’t care about stories. Whether true or not, it’s entirely irrelevant to John Walker’s point. His point is that by and large, great game stories have not happened. The last one he can think of was 13 years ago. The medium is inherently poor for telling linear stories, and it doesn’t help that there have been very few game developers who are legitimately great at writing, filmmaking, or any other artistic endeavor. Walker isn’t bemoaning the fact that 14 year olds don’t care about stories.

      You then take an ill-advised tangent into film. The Avengers is a well-reviewed movie made by an auteur who is quite well regarded. To give it a chance for 20 minutes out of 143 is a mistake on your part unless you have already seen and disliked a number of other Whedon works. You shouldn’t brag about it. I see you backpedal in another comment and claim you left because of an annoying crowd and because you “didn’t feel like spending $20 on snacks”, which does not make logical sense. You were sitting in the theater for 20 minutes – so hadn’t you already spent $20 on the snacks? Regardless, if those are the reasons you shouldn’t get on your high horse and pretend you left because you’re too intelligent a film viewer to bother with crap like The Avengers.

      I haven’t seen the Indiana Jones trilogy in a long time, but The Avengers is probably pretty close to as good. The Avengers is better than Blade Runner. The fact that you think games tell great stories says much more about your artistic taste than your cute little brag about walking out of The Avengers.

      You should try to wait until your late 20′s to make further attempts at internet pretentiousness.

      • Machocruz says:

        Not by any standard of film craft is Avengers equal to or greater than Raider or Blade Runner. Whedon has a long way to go before he can match prime Spielberg action choreography, iconic visual story-telling, or perfect pacing, or Scott’s world and mood building, and symbolism. Avengers has not one moment that will enter and endure the film lexicon comparable to the Paramount logo dissolve, boulder scene, truck chase, “time to die,” future L.A. 30 years later and every segment of pop culture still call back or are influenced by these two films.

        You should try to wait until you’re out of junior high to make further attempts at discussing film or story-telling.

        • Venkman says:

          Blade Runner is not that good a movie, despite the fact that it did lay groundwork for the standard “cyberpunk dystopian future” world. Invoking “symbolism” when speaking about a film’s greatness pinpoints you as most likely a 10th grader. The bottom line is that the idiot I was responding to is laughably wrong, pretending he thinks The Avengers is bad because he thinks he’s supposed to.

  2. diamondmx says:

    Kind of reads like a Devil’s Advocate column from PC Gamer.

    Did you know you were wrong as you were writing it, or is it only coming to you now?

    • Thompy says:

      This is John Walker. I pretty sure his response to the final statement is “No.” too.

    • Meat Circus says:

      So, the deep depression that sets in to every committed gamer every E3 has taken a heavy toll on the spirit of John Walker.

      • TheIronSky says:

        “If you go to E3 and you’re not depressed, you’re really not paying attention. Most of what we play is as interactive as a roller-coaster. And that’s not good enough.” – Warren Spector

        /Obligatory Spector quote

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          Interesting that you post a quote that seems to agree with what Walker’s saying.

          • TheIronSky says:

            I think games CAN be a great medium for storytelling, but right now they’re too focused on being movies.

            AND THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I got as far as

      Maybe Games Just Aren’t For Telling Great Stories?
      By John Walker

      Before my brain was reflexively screaming “GRIM FANDANGO! YOU PROBABLY REVIEWED IT FOR PITY’S SAKE, IF ONLY IN THEY’RE BACK BECAUSE THAT COBBETT CHARACTER GOT THERE FIRST! ALONG WITH FULL THROTTLE! AND YOU WOULDN’T SHUT UP ABOUT THE LONGEST JOURNEY FOR SOMETHING LIKE A DECADE!”

      • i saw dasein says:

        Grim Fandago has an OK story but as a game it’s pretty terrible. Dumb puzzles, mazes, etc. The gameplay is a total yawn. Grim Fandago is a great example of a good movie ruined by being made as a game.

    • X_kot says:

      This discussion has been around for a long time, and it’s not the first time John’s written on this subject:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/02/01/garriott-says-weve-not-mastered-storytelling/

    • MasterDex says:

      I read the first paragraph, scrolled up to see who wrote it and said ‘yup, figured’ to myself. This is John Walker. This is what John Walker does.

      • njolnin says:

        Haha, yup, I knew right by the title that he wrote this. Needless to say, it’s a rather dour pronouncement that I don’t share, much like Ebert’s ‘games will never be art’ argument. Any time someone implies that things will ‘always’ or ‘never’ be like this or that, they end up looking foolish (would that apply to me? hehe). Well, in those two cases at least.

        Telling us to “reduce our expectations” and expect that games won’t provide a wonderful story is a dim and dismissive viewpoint, and I don’t think it reflects (whatever limitations game writing may have) the unique capabilities of the medium to make the gamer feel connected to the narrative. Honestly, if I felt how Walker does, I’d stop playing most types of video games. I feel kinda sad for Mr. Walker.

        I’d also venture that his opinion of the storytelling in books and movies is perhaps a little inflated, and that these problems are not unique to video games. Somewhere out there, there’s a TV critic arguing right now that television can only tell bland, formulaic stories (is that the case, or has TV gotten better?).

        In any case, in my own experience there are plenty of games whose narratives are up there with the best books or films (granted, it doesn’t happen as often).

        • Thompy says:

          He didn’t tell you to reduce your expectations – he said “But perhaps…”. He has written a thought piece to stimulate discussion, not stated his ultimate opinion. His Twitter feed even says he disagrees with the point.

          People attacking him have really missed the point.

          • njolnin says:

            Perhaps we’re splitting hairs, but I do appreciate the distinction that he is offering it to consider, not something I ‘must’ do.

            Nevertheless, John clearly is advocating for a side, and the ‘perhaps’ are posed to us, not to imply ambiguity in his view. Let me quote him: “When is gaming, I would ask, going to find its great stories? I believe I was wrong to ask. Gaming isn’t going to. It’s had plenty of time to prove that.”

            How else can I read that and not reach the unambiguous conclusion that he’s already lowered his expectations for great stories, and is suggesting that I do so as well. Could you explain to me how he doesn’t believe in that point (this sounds harsher in text than I intend)?

          • Thompy says:

            No no, I didn’t mean he was saying it is something you must do. We’re all smart enough to know what an opinion is. But I don’t think he was advocating a side.

            I just read the whole thing as devil’s advocacy not advocacy. I could be wrong but again, to quote his Twitter feed “I think I ultimately disagree with my point too.” However the “I think.” means he was more unsure than I would of thought he’d be on this issue.

  3. Meat Circus says:

    Shooter are *often* good?

    When did that happen?

    Shooters are just about, perenially and reliably the most enduringly pathetic, dreary, dismal, puerile and embarassing aspect of modern gaming.

    We *should* sneer at the colladoody players, because they’re dicks, and spoil gaming for everyone else.

    • Zanpa says:

      Get off your high horse, you elitist prick. You think you know what video games should be.
      Well guess what, most people don’t agree with you. Most RPS readers probably do, but they hardly represent the totality of people who enjoy video games.
      I play shooters and enjoy them. I don’t ruin anything for you.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Wow there… don’t judge RPS readers on the vocal minority!

        • Zanpa says:

          Maybe that came out wrong. I wasn’t trying to say that all RPS readers were like this guy, but that they probably shared his opinions. However, I can only hope most of them (or of us, I could say) don’t share his ways, and are able to respect other people’s views.

      • Jaunt says:

        And ludolitists don’t actually ruin anything for all you manshooter fans either. Except maybe niche gaming journalism. And what a loss you must feel.

        Shooters are bad. There. I came out and said what everything is thinking or not thinking. I’m not proving it with science. I’m not mandating all manshooters must be banned. I’m just saying that Call of Duty is really quite rubbish. And that’s cool, what it being my subjective opinion and all. I have a lot more opinions, like that FPSes are holding back the medium, and that Madden is committing highway robbery on its unsuspecting, unaware audience. I understand that these opinions may upset you. But that probably just makes it even more important to voice them. I’m not judging you as a person. Perhaps when you’re not Manshooting, you enjoy reading Infinite Jest and we could have an erudite discussion over a cup of chai on a bleak, eastern European street at a cafe. Maybe you have no stereotypically intellectual interests whatsoever, but Call of Duty fills some kind of need or want you have. Maybe you find value in it even though I don’t. That’s cool too.

        There’s a saying around uppity US folk like myself, which still applies even on privately run websites with no freedom of speech – the answer to bad speech is more speech. So if you want to go ahead saying that Call of Duty is the pinnacle of human achievement, go for it bro. But calling people dicks isn’t winning many points.

        In short, I think FPSes have used up every ounce of worth they could squeeze out of the genre 10 years ago and it’s about time we do something else. u mad bro? et cetera, et cetera, forever and ever, amen.

        Also, I am personally glad that most people don’t define what is good or bad, and don’t care what they think except insofar as it causes me to question my own beliefs. I sure wouldn’t want to live in a world where I have to concede immeasurable talent to a bunch of hacks because they’re the ones who can afford to have their product placed in front of the indiscriminate masses, just because those same masses decide it’s good enough.

        • MasterDex says:

          Reading that, it seems the undertone is something along the lines of “I hate CoD – don’t really know why – so I’m going to tar an entire genre with that brush of hate. Oh yeah, I’m clever by the way, so pay attention people.”

          Did I get that right? It’s so hard these days to know what people are thinking. :/

        • Nogo says:

          Not liking Madden and CoD is an unpopular opinion now? Is this satire or are you genuinely just an angry, hateful kinda guy?

          • Jaunt says:

            Zanpa said that most people disagree with disliking Madden/CoD. I’m just running with it.

            And I honestly have no idea where you’re reading hateful from. I’m opinionated on games, s’all.

        • RProxyOnly says:

          Agreed.

          FPS are an entirely redundant genre now catering solely to those with stunted development and an overarching need to shoot something in the face and who’s ‘evolution’ over the years would actually seem more like ‘de-evolving’ to any of the other genres.

          … and to anyone about to shout ‘elitist’.. well, I WOULD play them if they weren’t all so damned shallow and moronic that I fail to find any enjoyment in them at all.

          Some people like The Sun, whereas other’s prefer The Times. I don’t read newspapers.

      • MasterDex says:

        You know, I normally really, really hate seeing someone use the word elitist as far as gaming goes but I’ve gotta say, the shoe does seem to fit here.

        @MeatCircus: Back off and grow up a little. Not everything you dislike is some cancer that needs to be purged. There’s a whole swathe of quality FPS titles and the reason they’re so popular? The same reason that the NFL, NBA, Premiership, 6 Nations, etc are so popular – We like competition. It excites us on a fundamental level.

        I’m just going to assume you suck at FPS games so you hate them. Hell, it’s a big reason behind why I don’t watch football or any of the gaelic sports. I don’t go around calling for their extermination from the world however.

        • zin33 says:

          really?
          youre defending those tittles by saying we love competition? doesnt it bother you at all that theyre the most successful games yet theyre pretty much the same garbage released year after year with hardly any additions and expensive “DLC” that consists of just maps most of the time (that you could make / get for free back then..)
          anyhow i hate CoD as well and i do love lots of FPS i even got some pics of 100 kills no deaths in HL DM in case you want to test my “skill” at them. then again, the skill cap in that game might be too high for you if you are fine playing CoD

          • MasterDex says:

            Man, you haters make it too easy. I never mentioned CoD in that comment. Not once. It isn’t even alluded to. I spoke of the genre as a whole but your hate couldn’t see that. It saw popular and FPS and equated it to CoD. That’s rather disturbing actually, since now that I think of it, it seems to be a problem that’s spreading.

            Listen. I was playing FPS games while you were likely still figuring out how to do that neat little trick your daddy showed you to skip a bunch of levels in ‘the old Mario’. I could care less what skill you have or think you have, nor do I care whether you hate game A or B.

            P.S. Doesn’t it bother you that most games of most genres are pretty much the same “garbage” released year on year with additional “DLC” that consists of new maps/whatever (that you could make or get for free back then and still can, but even back then they were sold, but shhh, say nothing and let this new generation revel in nostalgia they barely recall)? Or perhaps you’re still young enough to not have become as jaded and disillusioned as I have – to which I say: Enjoy it while it lasts!

            P.P.S. Come join me in Tribes some time, and see how that skill cap is working out for ya.

            P.P.P.S. Show me your rage!

        • Noise says:

          Games like Call of Duty killed competition in FPS games by dumbing down the gameplay and making it “easy for everyone”. Compared to Quake 3 or any of the other truly skill based FPS’s, the modern console FPS’s version of competition is completely illusory.

        • The Random One says:

          Yeah, assuming that someone doesn’t like a genre because he is bad at them (and not because, say, the finds the gameplay fails to engage him so utterly he is bored) totally makes you the better man here and we all look up to you. Yup.

          • MasterDex says:

            Totally man! I’m so clearly looking to be the better man.

            It was some dry humour to close out my comment, hopefully making Meat Circus rage just that little bit more. What can I say? I’ve had a boring week and comments like that make me want to have some fun with their authors.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        Aww poor Zanpa……

        Made to feel inadequate over his lack of confidence in his gaming choices and lashes out with potty mouth.

        Bubbles.

        • Zanpa says:

          I don’t think you fully understand what I’m saying here.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            I don’t think YOU understand…… I don’t care.

            Bubbles.

    • Meat Circus says:

      You may not mean to, but you do.

      Shooters are prolefeed, and by god, they take some feeding.

      • WrenBoy says:

        I would say that the stories coming naturally from DayZ were superior to any story driven game you care to mention.

        • JRHaggs says:

          Crusader Kings II, similarly, creates incredibly hilarious/heart-pounding/tragic stories through its very mechanics.

          Know hope. We’ll get there.

          • WrenBoy says:

            I completely agree and I would assume that John would contradict his headline and say that CK 2 is a game which tells great stories.

            Not much of a shooter on the other hand.

          • Chris D says:

            That would presumably be in some alternate universe in which John Walker could be persuaded to play a strategy game.

          • jkz says:

            This really is the future of storytelling in games. Rather than heavily scripted and ever prettier cutscenes and QTE’s, stories being generated by mechanics and playing the game.

      • Phendron says:

        S.T.A.L.K.E.R. says ‘go fuck yourself’.

        • RProxyOnly says:

          And someone seeks to win an arguement on the internet by widening the definition of the subject being discussed to the point where there IS no point any more… Shocker.

          S.T.A.L.K.E.R wasn’t ‘simply’ an FPS. When taking up an arguement, at least TRY to stay on track.

          • Asurmen says:

            How is he widening the definition? Stalker is an FPS.

          • MasterDex says:

            S.T.A.L.K.E.R wasn’t ‘simply’ an FPS.

            Hah! Wow. You guys will jump through all kinds of non-existent hoops to justify your unfounded hatred, won’t you?

            Guess what, buddy! Battlefield wasn’t ‘simply’ an FPS, nor was Tribes, or ARMA, or a metric fuckton more shining examples of the genre.

            Bit of advice – You might want to check the footing your horse has on those there stilts. It’s looking a bit shaky.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            Seriously? You think it’s ONLY an fps? Did we play the same game?

            It’s a open world FPSRPG…. fucking LOADS of things to do other than shoot things in the face.

            In fps’s that is the ONLY gameplay.

            Dumbasses.

          • Phendron says:

            S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a game where you shoot mans and some other things. The original point of this thread was that games where you shoot mans are tripe. I fail to see how we’re getting off track.

          • MasterDex says:

            Seriously? You think it’s ONLY an fps? Did we play the same game?
            It’s a open world FPSRPG…. fucking LOADS of things to do other than shoot things in the face.
            In fps’s that is the ONLY gameplay.

            Please, enlighten me to all the other shit you could do in that game. Oh wait, shit, yeah, sorry. I forgot! YOU COLLECTED LOOT! Totally more than an FPS. You made decisions that led to MORE SHOOTING PEOPLE IN THE FACE! and if you were lucky, a decision you made meant SHOOTING NOT SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE FACE. Oh yeah, and you could upgrade your shit so you could, uhhh, SHOOT PEOPLE IN THE FACE BETTER! and, uhhh, SURVIVE BEING SHOT IN THE FACE!

            Really, get off the high horse man. S.T.A.L.K.E.R isn’t a bad game, but it still boils down to being about shooting things.

    • rightyeauhuh says:

      Because Grisham ruined literature and Tyler Perry ruined film, oh, wait. There is enough room in a medium for everything.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Not in gaming there isn’t. It’s the dudebros and their pathological lack of desire for *better* that means we have to tolerate each insulting E3 trailer, each identikit corridor, each racist kill-the-darkie-em-up and each bout of grotestque misogyny, year after year, without end.

      The game industry does not aspire to better because players do not demand better. And those of us who want better are inadvertently dragged down towards their lowest common denominator centre of gravity.

      So, no. Don’t give me this live and let live bullshit.

      • Merlkir says:

        Have you considered making games yourself? I bet there totally is an audience for wholesome progressive games about peaceful lives of pansexual ethnic hermaphrodites. Lead by example, don’t blame others for liking what you don’t like.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        There’s a lot of stupid and terrible things in games but… ugh, just read this: http://effingarcade.tumblr.com/post/47224149008/the-gaming-cringe

      • Phendron says:

        The whole industry is displaced by legions of developers that would only make another Heavy Rain if the Gaming-Industrial Complex didn’t shackle them to modeling snow camo textures on M4s!

      • vondas says:

        How many darkie-killing games are there? I’m suddenly curious. I’ve only heard of the Juarez something something. Usually you people prefer killing my white countrymen.

        • Tagiri says:

          You could try Resident Evil 5. Or Beyond: Two Souls when it comes out!

          Homefront, if that counts, though those are Scary Asians. Any of the not particularly good modern warfare (style, not brand) games set in an ambiguous ‘middle east’.

          • vondas says:

            I thought “darkies” was a term for black people specifically – you’re telling me it extends to Middle Easterners as well? Interesting. Those are admittedly more common, though in the one shooty game with them that I myself actually played I still ended up having to commit kinstrife by murdering droves of valiant tracksuited warriors of the Russian Mafiya.

          • Tagiri says:

            Yeah, it’s always so funny to see Russian villains in things made after like, 1990. I guess that lingering fear of “the Soviets” never really left.

            I was taking the term a bit more liberally, I guess, because it seems if you’re not shooting zombies or Russians, it’s ‘those scary brown people’.

          • vondas says:

            I don’t really mind Americans (or Brits for that matter) wanting to shoot virtual foreigners in video games. We don’t live in an age when war between nations is no longer a possibility, and in any case it’s less disturbing than if they wanted to shoot other Americans, IMHO. Still gets a bit awkward when you’re one of the foreigners in question, though.

            Hmm… Still, if not some variety of foreigners or zombies, who else would you shoot? Mutants and aliens, I guess? That has been done too, though maybe not quite as often.

    • Vorphalack says:

      …..and blocked.

      • Meat Circus says:

        I’m sure you can go and take out the rage you feel by shooting a foreigner in the head.

        GAMING IS FUN.

        • valz says:

          You clearly know nothing about how FPS games work. They don’t require you to shoot any foreigners at all! Neat, huh? I’m blocking you too, so don’t bother replying.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            Coward… throwing a comment behind you whilst runnning away from any reply.

        • jkz says:

          In Red Orchestra 2, I get to shoot foreigners in the head, while playing as a foreigner. ROLEPLAY!

      • Ushao says:

        I believe this is the first time I’ve ever logged in specifically just to block someone.

    • Upper Class Twit says:

      There are games for you, and there are games for them.

      Stop worrying about the games for them, and start playing the games for you. Or you could just give up and not play video games anymore. Perhaps you could get into sports?

      • bleeters says:

        Generally a problem when “games for me” start being pushed more and more towards “games for them”, to the point that what I originally enjoyed about them has largely or entirely fallen by the wayside out of some strange desire to make everything a as-generic-as-possible triple A action blockbuster that hopes to sells millions but rarely does.

        • Upper Class Twit says:

          Well sure, if you’re just talking about comparing what was big then vs. what is big now. My point was that there are games for you, whatever your taste may be, they just won’t be at E3. I mean, we live in an age where a train simulation can be published, sold, and be profitable enough for a sequel. I bet you can find what you’re looking for in videogames, somewhere out there.

      • philbot says:

        Exactly. Why can’t people just go with “Hey, I don’t like that genre of games, but that’s OK because everyone has different interests”. I don’t like racing games… but that’s my choice. I don’t go accusing people of being “scum” or “prole” (who does that? oh wait) just because they like something I dont.

        I just wish people would respect other people’s interests rather than patronising them.

    • TreeFrog says:

      Normally I loathe trolling, but that was glorious.

      • Phendron says:

        I’m tired of the meta-plot on the internet. Let’s stop trying to get a rise out of everyone and assume a platform of sincerity.

        • The Random One says:

          Yes. The trolls have done insincere arguing for so long that we now assume anyone holding a different opinion is just trying to get a rise out of us. That when one still holds a distinction between ‘troll’ and ‘person wot i disagree with’. The trolls have already won.

          • valz says:

            Intentional troll vs person-who-has-moronic/prejudiced/evil/etc-opinion = no meaningful difference to the audience. It doesn’t matter if the person’s opinion is sincere or not. What matters is that opinion isn’t valid/reasonable to the endless stack of people who know better. An accidental troll is still a troll, just as a person who bullies without consciously intending to upset and manipulate people is still a bully.

        • vondas says:

          Speak for yourself. You may be tired of it, but I generally find the metatext a lot more enjoyable than the text – especially considering that the text is often just so much would-be provocative white noise.

          • Phendron says:

            It really depends on what we’re all trying to get out of this. Obviously meaningful discourse online is a pipe dream, but sometimes you like to think you’re giving others something to chew on.

    • Widthwood says:

      Ok, I haven’t played call of duty specifically, but my three favorite genres are fps, adventure games and rpgs, I played CSS probably more than any other game ever. Does that make me a dick regardless of my personality and actions? Seems to me it is bit like saying “Everyone who plays hockey is an asshole”

    • MaXimillion says:

      So because a game marketed at teenagers and fratboys for some reason happens to have a mostly terrible community, the genre to which the game belongs is categorically terrible? Everything from Doom to Planetside 2 and Mass Effect to Half-Life is trash?

    • InnerPartisan says:

      “We *should* sneer at the colladoody players, because they’re dicks, and spoil gaming for everyone else.”

      YAY FOR TRIBALISM!

      • Upper Class Twit says:

        What man, you think this is just about videogames?

        Well, you’re wrong. This is a matter of principles. This is a battle of ideology. You’re either with us, or you’re against us!

    • vondas says:

      That was a pretty funny post. I’m reasonably sure it was a parody, but admittedly you never know. Thumbs up either way!

  4. fredcadete says:

    I agree that games haven’t been as good in *telling stories* as other media, but the article itself states that the player involvement is the strength of the medium, and that’s the key.

    The games that impact you the most don’t do with story, they do it with ambiance. Take Proteus, Kentucky Route Zero, the non-game parts of Braid, maybe Journey (haven’t played it). Games affect you not by letting you pick up a a book full of lore like Elder Scrolls, but by manipulating an environment that the player, lured in by the gamey parts, has put himself in. It is not “story telling”, but I like it anyway.

    There, two cents.

    • kincajou says:

      I fuly agree wth this But i’d go one step further. If we cannot see games as an adut medum for stprytelling i beleive it is not because they are incpable of it but because we might be looking for the wrong things. Looking from the outside, having only experienced films and literature, we attempt to gauge the value og games using the rulesr we used to gauge these two media. But IMO it’s not right, similarily a painting has poor storytelling when compared to a book and analysed using book standards but would it be outlandish to say that Munch’s scream does not contain a narrative?

      Games can be amazing at storytelling and narrative, they just do it in a completley different way. Spec ops: the line probably stands at the forefront of this mongst the gmes released in recent years. there is a narrative, it’s a strong and powerful narrative that could never have been transmitted with such pathos in any other medium.

      Games are growing, they are maturing, give it time

      • rightyeauhuh says:

        What? So Apocalypse Now never happened? Spec Ops: The Line stands out at the forefront of how not to use games as a medium to create a story and would have been hindered only slightly in its telling by completely removing any form of interaction.

        • kincajou says:

          Actually it’s heart of darkness that these two have “ripped” but i see the whole fourth wall shattering of spec ops as its story. Spec ops isn’t telling the story of apocalypse now, it’s telling the story of your power fantasy, of how this fantasy has consequences, on what it means and why it’s happening.

          This, for me, is the story of spec ops.
          Yes, films and books can tell me i’m being escapist, they can criticise me for running away from reality and wanting to be who i am not. But for me it rang hollow, shallow maybe…

          I appreciate that the heart of darkness plot is not at all original but for me that is but the facade of what the story is about. It feels a bit like saying moby dick is about a whale hunter chasing a white whale, if you know what i mean

        • The Random One says:

          I disagree. Spec Ops tried to do something interesting and completely failed, but if it wasn’t interactive it wouldn’t even have begun to try.

    • Consumatopia says:

      This. So much. People keep taking games known for good stories and imagining transcribed as books or recorded as videos, but that’s absurd. The ambiance of a exploring an imaginary world completely changes the subjective, emotional experience of a plot. The plot of Passage is basically non-existent, but as an interactive experience it has surprising emotional depth.

      Game stories are unfairly maligned for two reasons, I think. 1) There’s no consensus among gamers as to which games offer the deepest subjective experiences, the ones we should use to judge games as an art form. Whether this lack of consensus relative to, for example, film criticism is because of the nature of games or the nature of gamers I can’t say. 2) To truly understand games as an art form you must play them, you can’t simply read about or watch them.

  5. luukdeman111 says:

    interesting idea i must say… It does seem a bit odd to hear that come from the website that seems to promote games as art the most but I wouldn’t say you are wrong per se. Gives me some food for thought, so that’s nice…

  6. ballsandshaft says:

    Erm, three words:

    To The Moon.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Sentimental nonsense of the type which would embarrass a teen romance novel.

      • ballsandshaft says:

        If you didn’t like the narrative in To The Moon then that’s fine. But it WAS a narrative; it told a story that earned it a reputation for being “that game that made everyone cry” on all the forums, and a large part of its impact was due to the interactive nature that you get from video games. The Walking Dead is another great example of a game where the story is greatly enhanced by the fact that it’s an interactive medium, as opposed to the passive nature of books or films.

        • WrenBoy says:

          I never said it didnt have a narrative. It does, it has a sickly sentimental narrative. I know it has a reputation for having a great gaming narrative as that is why I wasted my time on it.

          Clearly that is a subjective judgement just as the claim that Dan Brown is a very poor author is a subjective judgement and the claim that recently vomited up Big Macs do not make a tasty meal is a subjective judgement.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            My dog REALLY likes vomited up big macs.

            Whether you think games can have good stories really depends on whether or not you have played a game with a story you thought was good. Plenty of people think movies can’t have good stories and for every movie you name with a story you thought was great, someone will tell you exactly why the story was crap. Its a personal thing, all you can say is that plenty of people really liked the story in To The Moon, so to them, games can have good stories.

            Gods, I know plenty of people who say that books can’t have good stories, they have plenty of criticism of literature which are entirely valid to them.

            But do please continue this thrilling debate as to whether a story one of you liked and the other didn’t is good, it’s really helpful and constructive.

          • WrenBoy says:

            Out of curiosity, how do those complaining that books cannot have a good story defend their position?

          • honuk says:

            hell, I could tell from the trailers it was trashy pulp. no need to listen to the drones and their crying.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            @Wrenboy – Mostly they go with the notion that written word can never convey the same understanding as the spoken work (Which they say is still a poor substitute for actually having the authors brain), due to the subtleties and nuances of how a word is said. They also say that success in literature requires following a particular formula which is boring and samey, thus many new authors have the creativity wrung from them in an effort to get their book made, and those few that buck the trend can’t get their books to reach a wide enough audience and even actively searching for a known book can often be a fruitless exercise if it hasn’t been produced by a traditional publishing route. They point to the theatre as the only way to adequately tell a story and I’m not sure this is an uncommon point of view amongst theatre goers.

            I do NOT agree with them, I think the written language is beautiful and many an afternoon with my friends has been ruined by the written word vs spoken word debate.

      • Loiosh says:

        WrenBoy, I would be curious to know why you consider To The Moon ‘sentimental nonsense.’

        I will preface my reply by saying I found the story one of the most affecting experiences of my life, but that is with the understanding, I have loved and cared for an autistic friend.

        I have empathy with the secondary protagonist of that story as I have personally gone through the same trials as he, especially when it comes to communication and trying to understand what she wanted to say at the times she could not directly express herself. It was difficult for me to work through that story, once I understand the character’s plight, as I have made that journey, and the revelation near the end is still affecting to me.

        I will say that the prose was not dense or complex. This was not an exploration of humanity like Andrzej Zaniewski or a complexity of language like China Miéville, but it was a compelling story, with real relational emotions and provided an insight into an experience few have had. The story in To The Moon is anything but sentimental nonsense. With that said, I’d be curious to know what you have that opinion?

        • Lusketrollet says:

          @Loiosh.

          So you’re biased, then. Doesn’t exactly make for a convincing argument.

          • FriendlyFire says:

            Feeling a connection to a character isn’t being biased. Good books almost invariably manage to make their readers connect with the characters, in one form or another.

          • adamsorkin says:

            I don’t know the material, so I can’t comment to it’s quality, but I’d make the argument that we’re all “biased” as such. For storytelling to be effective, regardless of medium, it needs to resonate with something personal. Important past experiences, beliefs, hopes, desires fears – or whatever else engages with/appeals to the audience. I’ll grant that there’s certainly a place for objective review of material, but I don’t think it’s the storyteller’s ultimate goal is a technically well constructed story. So what if the poster’s bringing some baggage with him as he experiences the story – aren’t we all in some form or fashion? I hardly think it disqualifies him from providing a useful opinion on its value.

          • Loiosh says:

            Hello Lusketrollet,

            As Fire and Adam point out, having an emotional relation with a character is not a worthy reason to devalue an opinion or observation offered. I specifically noted it so that it would be understood that is why the secondary protagonist’s point of view resonated so well with me. It would be for naught if the writing was not compelling, if the characters were not interesting, and if the presentation was flawed. All of those are carefully avoided by To The Moon, which is why I mention it as an exemplar of quality storytelling and writing.

            That the characters are capable of compelling emotional responses speaks to the quality of their design and motivations. I felt for all the characters in the story, either with (Niel, River and Johnny) or against (Eva). Again, this speaks to the quality of characterization and writing. It is an excellent and emotive work worthy of evaluation.

        • WrenBoy says:

          Thinking about it what I found the most objectionable was how heavy handed it was. I felt that it was trying to use cheap tearjerker tricks instead of being genuinely moving.

          To make an analogy with horror movies, I feel that To The Moon would be the kind of movie to rely on sudden jump out shocks rather than slowly building up a feeling of ohnoeverythingisfucked inevitable doom.

          The fact that there was zero game apart from the story and that even then the story had no apparent non linearity made me feel doubly cheated.

          • Loiosh says:

            @WrenBoy:
            When you refer to heavy-handedness, I am at a loss as I felt exactly the opposite. There was no trick pulled where an unrevealed element was withheld purely for an emotional lure, the ‘jump scare’ as you would say. Everything was methodically presented in reverse chronology. Though the story elements themselves were presented in an interesting take on in medias res. (That is, the player was dropped into an occurring conversation or confrontation with context that was retroactively revealed). That is not heavy-handed, that is a quality example of narrative.

            I can understand certain objections to the music, purely based on the quality of it having such an impact. A song like Once Upon a Memory is haunting and beautiful, but not manipulative, it is simply emotive and compelling. Much like Jeremiah Pena’s work for Ghost of a Tale.

            I’d like to know where you felt it was heavy handed, as I found the character’s reactions, frustrations and relationships both realistically portrayed and well-written. It’s one of the better character-focused stories I’ve encountered in any media.

          • WrenBoy says:

            I would guess that it meant so much to you because of the subject matter and its possible that they deserve credit for accurately portraying that kind of relationship. I honestly would not know as I am in no way familiar with it.

            There were a lot of heavy handed story telling techniques used. Im drawing purely from memory here but a representative example was when whatsisname was shown to be initially interested in his future wife because he found her condition to be a novelty.

            After showing this scene to us his friend then told him / us that he should not be interested in her for such shallow reasons but should instead only ask a girl on a date cause he feels some kind of deeper connection. The two main PCs often performed the same role of telling vs showing throughout the game.

      • Wulf says:

        The only place I’ve seen on the Internet where people are genuinely hipster enough to troll To the Moon, and to try to decry its worth. A beautiful story that carried the message that people in general could empathise more with disabled people is tossed aside as “sickly, sentimental, and trashy” with little defence.

        This is really one of the few places where this could happen. This is why I still watch RPS occasionally. It’s like a trainwreck. You want to look away but you’re just too morbidly fascinated to see what genuinely horrible thing will happen next. This time it’s pseudo-intellectuals trying to slam something they couldn’t possibly understand. Next time? Who knows. But I thought there’d be a little more defence of it than this. I’m not surprised, though.

        At this point, RPS is worse than Kotaku, Destructoid, or even Reddit. Even the article writers are trolling people.

        But really, To the Moon? That’s low, and callous, and not unlike kicking a puppy just for giggles and personal gratification. That’s just despicable and repugnant, to be honest. It’s as hipster as hipster could possibly be. I know an exclusively Apple guy who self-identifies as a hipster, and he has nothing on the levels of raw, unashamed elitism here.

        Really. To the Moon. A new low.

        Wow.

        It’s like if the figurative Marie-Antoinette were a hivemind. And if I’m wrong for thinking as I do, then I never want to be right.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          The real reason Wulf holds this weird distorted view of reality is that he is still sore from being banned.

          Quote from Alec Meer “Yes, it is a ban. You’ve been attacking too many people and starting too many fights lately, and it’s unacceptable behaviour on RPS. About to turn off forum account too; mail me if you want to try and convince me you can be calmer. Don’t mail me to tell me your behaviour was justified, because it wasn’t. And for heaven’s sake don’t send one of your essays.”

          Wulf – If someone (and it is only one person) does not enjoy a story, it does not mean they are against the message contained within the story. You have no justification for accusing Wrenboy of being despicable, it’s just your little habit of, how did Alex put it? “attacking people and starting fights”

          Maybe To The Moon doesn’t get criticised elsewhere, but it most likely does. It’s irrelevant if Wrenboy is the only person in the world who didn’t enjoy the story, the fact is that he didn’t and he expressed a presumably honest opinion as to why not. That you can’t deal with that in any rational way speaks volumes about you.

    • Zwebbie says:

      I didn’t myself, but I think people cried at the text, graphics and especially music of To The Moon, not its gameplay, which amounted to fifteen minutes of scavenger hunt and tile flipping puzzles for the entire thing. In order to be a narrative it had to drop nearly all semblance of being a game.

      To The Moon is a triumph of games in the same way that a video recording of Mozart’s Requiem would be a triumph of cinema.

      • Loiosh says:

        “In order to be a narrative it had to drop nearly all semblance of being a game.”

        This was only true in the particular case of this game. I frequently find that commentators conflate narrative with story and thus get lost and devalue experiences. I’ll provide an example.

        Take what I said about To The Moon, how the narrative was so affecting, and consider that I have the same feeling about Cart Life. The exception is where To The Moon’s storytelling is done purely through narrative with little gameplay, Cart Life’s exploration of a life is directly through gameplay, with minor narrative nudges. It is unworthy of us to disrespect games as an entire genre when we judge it against traditional narrative storytelling, as gaming provides in various ways, a unique style of storytelling that can be entirely unique to one experiencing it. You can experience a unique lifestyle (a story) via Cart Life that is every bit as affecting as the narrative-led storytelling in To The Moon.

        You but need to allow the experience of the story to overtake you.

    • Wedge says:

      Not a game AND I found it to be a horribly disturbing game in terms of plot and you do fucking horrible things in it.

    • Ragnar says:

      I think To The Moon is actually a pretty poor example. I’m sure it made lots of people cry, but that doesn’t imply a great story (though it is certainly captivating). Katawa Shoujo made me cry, but that just makes it a tear jerker. And To The Moon doesn’t really gain anything from being a game.

      A much better recent example would be The Walking Dead, which has both a better sorry and benefits from being a game as you change the story and make it personal.

      Or even Bastion, which also has a better story and at least gives you a choice for how the story turns out.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        If being able to choose narrative paths makes something a game, then a choose your own adventure book is a game.

  7. devlocke says:

    Ick. Morally repugnant article. I often disagree with you guys, but I don’t think you’d ever written anything ’till now that really lowered my opinion of you personally. Disappointing. Tilting at windmills is a far superior alternative to apathetic acceptance.

    • Dervish says:

      Morally, really?

      • devlocke says:

        Yeah. At a basic level “I should accept things that are not good, rather than work to improve them and/or hope for their betterment” is a morally repugnant argument. It’s icky.

        • LionsPhil says:

          It’s not exactly the best sentiment in the world, no.

          • MasterDex says:

            Nobody wants to play a completely abstract mathematical model of clicking on things, and nobody wants to sit through three hours of nothing but cutscenes.

            I disagree, good sir! Eve Online and Metal Gear Solid 4 would like to say hi!

            Both games I like for the record! (Just in case the lynch mob is nearby, but seriously, I do enjoy them.)

        • WrenBoy says:

          Or you could read it as an attempt to define what makes games actually good and concentrate on that instead of something which clearly is not what makes them good or interesting.

          • DerNebel says:

            I do think the poor writer went a little too grumpy on this one as well. Not that their weren’t brilliant poitns made in the article, it’s just that it tended too much towards apathy.

            Remember, John is a writer. And writers read. A lot. That’s a big part of getting better at writing. In the masterpieces of litterature, the words dance and sparkle, they burst with emotion and energy and potential, they are perfect, brilliant ideas frozen in stasis. Games just don’t have these bursts of great writing, and John is musing that we’ll probably never see them.

            And I agree. He just needs to be lee pessimistic about it. games have awesome stories, because we create them ourselves, when we play and when we discover.

            If you played Dark Souls, think about what made the world so enticing, so alive, think about what you saw in it that were never explained to you by the game directly. We have great stories in games, but games are terrible at being cinematic. They can’t be handcrafted, because humans WILL craft their own experience, given half the chance.

          • LionsPhil says:

            This is not a minmaxing exercise. Elements in opposition oft contribute to make something far more interesting.

            Nobody wants to play a completely abstract mathematical model of clicking on things, and nobody wants to sit through three hours of nothing but cutscenes.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            @Phil: Oh bloody bollocks, thanks for saying what I wanted to say better than I could say it. Yes: the tension between imposed narrative and interactivity is a good thing, it makes games fascinating, rather than diverting. All media are improved by their flaws.

    • noom says:

      I do believe this article was meant to provoke debate rather than end it, sir. Do try to keep a level head.

  8. Shodex says:

    Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead are two great examples of recent games telling legitimately good stories.

    • Moni says:

      I don’t think even The Walking Dead is particularly good at telling a story. When I talk to other people about The Walking Dead I talk about the choices I made, I talk about my story. The Walking Dead is great because it gives me the framework and the characters to make a great story myself, rather than showing me a great story that I can tell others about.

      I might be biased in this argument, because I’ve always agreed with Roger Ebert’s opinion that games are not an artistic medium, because a game’s story is never the artist’s but the viewer’s.

      • Dan says:

        I’ve always thought Ebert missed the point spectacularly. IIRC, he basically claimed that interactivity subverted authorial control (correct) and then jumped straight to, “therefore it’s not art and can’t be used to tell stories.”

        I think that’s silly. It’s applying principles from a dissimilar medium and expecting them to hold up. Frank Zappa once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I think Ebert’s complaining that the skyscraper has no rhythm, and can’t even sway gently unless it’s windy. As a dancer, that building is an epic failure. So, the AAA studios come along and staple some arms and legs to that building, and then complain that they can’t make money on these projects. (I don’t just mix metaphors; I layer them, too!)

        Well, that’s because it never made sense in the first place. While I realize that the following suggestions are difficult, and #2 in particular will take a generation to learn, I think this is basically what we need to do:

        1) Don’t treat other media’s successful models as Gospel.
        2) Learn to create stories that are enhanced by interaction rather than undermined.

      • nearly says:

        That’s a moot argument because that’s precisely what The Walking Dead aimed to do: let you create your own story and make choices. That doesn’t make it less a story that you chose option A rather than B. They created both stories, and are ultimately responsible for every story that arises from your choices by letting you make them in the first place.

        On the other hand, there’s no small number of literary theorists that will tell you that narratives aren’t about whatever the author says but what the reader constructs from what the author gives. Look at Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author,” Wolfgang Iser’s theory of gaps, etc. Look at Save the Date where arguably the game’s “best” ending is you simply imagining your own ideal happy ending There’s no small number of books or films (maybe Mulholland Dr. is an easy example) that give you a number of words or scenes and let you construct your own meaning.

      • Shodex says:

        I have two counter points to that, one: The Walking Dead is actually a quite linear game, and your choices don’t affect the story as much as you’d think. The game excels at making you feel like you’re making meaningful choices, when all you’re really deciding is who hates you and who dies in who’s place. Outside of some basic dialogue changes the story itself remains the same.

        Two: That story was created by the artist. Every outcome of every choice was created by the artist. You may feel like it’s “your experience” but it’s not, it was written, performed, and manufactured. In more open games like Mount & Blade or Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup it is a story you create, but even then still only within the world created by the developer. You say you’re not talking to your friends about the story given to you, but you talk of your actions in a game built around them are you not still talking about the story?

        And a third, unrelated, point: One thing gaming has that movies, books, and television never can is that removal of empathy. In Game of Thrones when ___ _____ got his head chopped off in season 1, or just recently ___ _____, ___ ____, and ______ _____ were brutally murdered by ______ ____ and _____ ______ we all got very emotional. This was because we empathized with the characters and what was happening to them. However in games those things are “happening to us”, and that’s the big philosophical change. When an ally betrays you they aren’t just betraying a character, they are betraying YOU.

        An example I always use is Mass Effect 3. In ME1 I romanced Liara, but in 2 I got with Miranda for the sake of a sex scene, with Liara’s return in the third game I went back to her unthinking. When Miranda finally made a show and she asked about “us” I had to tell her it was over. She then turned around a stifled a cry. I felt like an asshole, why? Because I chose to get with Miranda fully knowing I would leave her for Liara, it was my finger that pressed the button to break up with her. And it was a character I had spent 30 hours with in Mass Effect 2 getting to know, and growing attached to.

        Everything that happened in that situation was scripted, written by somebody else. And in fact isn’t even a particularly interesting development, especially in a game about stopping giant space aliens. But it’s because it was my choices and my actions that lead to that path on the road that it became more emotional. The last mission in ME3 is the same thing, when you’re saying those goodbyes to all the characters. Knowing it may be the last time you see them. It was heart wrenching, why? Because some of those characters had spent 90 hours with you, literally you. Not just the main character. They’ve reacted to your decisions, accepted your mistakes, followed you to hell and back, even “fallen in love” with you. So saying goodbye, even in a scripted situation, was tough.

        Not all games handle this right, and despite it’s flaws I thought Mass Effect 3 did a fantastic job at telling a personal story, and an emotional one. But even if that isn’t found in the average modern dog based shooter, the potential is there. Games are incredible mediums for story telling, but they require a lot more effort than books and movies do because they are hampered by that giant concept of “playing the game”. However games are reaching a point where they don’t have to be “fun” to be good, as I mentioned with The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line. I didn’t have fun slowly chopping ___’s ___ off or shooting _____’s ___ in the face, but it turned my insides upside down and made me feel a strong emotional response. That’s a sign of games growing in story telling maturity, and I hope we continue to see more of that.

        EDIT: Wow, big rant. My bad.

        • DerNebel says:

          Okay. Here we go. Rants are good! Rants are lots of words, they are what you think, put out there for the world to see if it wants.

          You touch some nice points, in my opinion. Games are about the choices.

          I think Ebert got it wrong when he said games can’t be “artistic”. They totally can, whether it be through gameplay or, more importantly for discussing the article, letting players create their narrative.

          Because, as you say, we aren’t totally in control as players. we are guided through the experience, feeling the weight of our choices, all guided by the hand of the writer. The game creates the framework (Dark Souls, Half-life 2 and Planescape are awesome in this regard) for you to fill in the blank. That is why I personally believe we’ll never see a Paul Auster novel gamified. It is simply not fitting the medium. A game needs to craft interactivity and a cutscene contains nothing of the sort, but neither does a Nobel Prize winning novel. Cinematic probably isn’t the way to go, a great framework for letting the player craft his own story might be.

          • blind_boy_grunt says:

            “That is why I personally believe we’ll never see a Paul Auster novel gamified. It is simply not fitting the medium.”
            ha, paul auster is probably one of the only ones where i think gamification could work. In the country of the last things or even something like city of glass in the hands of someone capable might be… ok. Additionally when i saw the e3 call of duty gametrailer all i could think was: i want a game set in “the zone” of gravity’s rainbow.

    • alphyna says:

      But is the story of TWD really good? Think about it. A very cliche premise (zombie apocalypse). A veey cliche plot (a group of survivors surviving). The characters were either bland, one-dimentional or more or less insane. They were not characters in their own right, but mostly vehicles for moral dilemmas. Take Ben, for example; whatever his ending, it’s never about him personally, it’s about whether you would care for a useless whiny loser. He has no persona, he’s just an actor in the morality tale. And that goes for most of them (would you care for an aggressive dick? would you care for an obviously insane and hysterical woman?). Not all, mind you, but somehow Kenny came out as a generic and uninteresting character to me.

      Now, Clem is a great character. But one good character doesn’t make the story good.

  9. Hindenburg says:

    i thought that too.

    Then I finished The Last of Us.

    It’s possible. God, It’s so fucking possible.

    • Upper Class Twit says:

      But-but-but, that’s a console game!

      What is this heresy?

    • jonahcutter says:

      It’s not even out yet. How’d you finish it?

    • maximiZe says:

      But that’s a movie, you’re just proving John’s point.

      • Hindenburg says:

        True. It’s pretty much 28 Days Later.
        With 15 hours of constant, gradual, character growth.
        While nearly always avoiding the standard “retarded shit people do in zombie apocalypses” writing crutches.

  10. Turin Turambar says:

    I kind of agree. There are good games about characters and storytelling, we know. We played them.

    But most games are about “actions” and “systems”. From racing games to strategy games to lots of action games, to simulation games, to platform games, puzzle games and even some RPG games (cough Elder Scrolls cough).

    We should admit they are not the equivalent of a movie or a book. They don’t have to. They can be great as *games*

  11. Vinraith says:

    I’m surprised to find RPS on my side of this issue, for once. Of course, I’d take it one step beyond this, and simply say that games are a lousy medium for telling stories to an audience, but a brilliant medium for letting your audience tell their own stories.

    It’s funny, because it’s right there in that list of great narratives you mention. Planescape: Torment and Longest Journey are both perfect examples to show that great authorial narrative is the mortal enemy of good gameplay.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Hah, that’s a great point. The list starts looking a bit better once you include games that tell their story through background lore or exploration, but they also grant the player more agency to direct the narrative.

      • Vinraith says:

        Actually, if you want to get some authorial narrative into a game that’s the way to do it. Note that the narrative is still non-interactive, and just provides context for creating new stories. That’s very much a happy medium, to my thinking.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Would Bastion be the flip-side of that, where the narrative is still ultimately fixed, but (mildly) flexible in how it tells itself in reaction to the player?

        • Caiman says:

          Dear Esther is an excellent example of this. It’s one of the most subtle examples of discoverable narrative out there, which many misinterpret as a linear walk through pretty scenery. The ending does somewhat spoil the subtlety, but it’s forgivable. I’d say a great many games have excellent storytelling, but like you say the telling is in the experience. There’s a good reason PoP: Sands of Time hand-waved your death away with “No, no, that’s not what happened…” Torment might have had a good story, but it could still have used the medium better to tell it. Reading pages and pages of text in a tiny window isn’t my idea of a great interactive storytelling experience.

    • Jesse L says:

      Give players tools to create their own stories. They are always the best stories. I’d rather watch CHKilroy and ShackTac highlights than any cutscene ever, and I’d rather PLAY a game that turns into one of their highlights more than watch one. This is the end of the issue for me.

      Games with great stories: DayZ, Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, EVE. These games create the literature of gaming. The Citizen Kane of games happened – I was Kane. So were you. That was the great story, wherever it occurred.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      absolutely. my favorite narrative-driven game is probably heavy rain– an absolutely abysmal game in regards to mechanics and the things i actually did as a player.

      the issue with games trying to push narrative is that they inevitably move closer to how film tells a story. thus the “better” a story is (like heavy rain) the less the thing actually resembles a game. the best thing the medium can do is allow the player to be a co-creator, to facilitate the emergent narratives that exist in all of our daily lives.

    • TreeFrog says:

      You are right. People who disagree are wrong, and should be set on fire. It’s that simple.

    • SKapsniak says:

      I’ve just spent the evening, for no good or sane reason, reading all the posts and comments on here about Crusader Kings II, which are all absolutely bursting at the seams with tales of terrible intrigue and gluttony and vice, of rulers who lived too long, or realms saved by nobodies who went back to being nobodies after the realm was saved, and lines of great lesbian Queens and their court dwarf consorts.

      So yeah, put me in the camp that says, games can so too do story but, “The more you tighten your grip, game developer, the more story will slip through your fingers” or something.

      Yet, bloody hypocrite that I am, my MMO vice of choice happens to be The Secret World, a game based around an authorial story if ever there was one. But, even there, it works because of what they leave out of the story rather than what they put in. My character is a mute-protagonist, I don’t even get to see the reports she files with her masters, only their screwed up response, the mission briefing cut-scenes she gets half the time aren’t even directly about the mission at all. Only rarely is anything about her specifically (and when it is it’s the least convincing bits). And so it beats all it’s direct MMO competitors so hollow it’s ridiculous, reaching all the way up to the heady heights of entertaining mid-list genre novel,

      No, the future magnum opus of game storytelling will be descended from CK2 and The Sims and Dwarf Fortress and Journey and possibly EvE, in a setting of uncanny, disturbing and weird and utterly normal, somewhere north of whatever the ghosts of William S. Burroughs and Iain Banks are thinking up. It will be a machine that makes stories inside your head through mechanics and atmosphere, each narrative you imagine never ever once the same, and the developers *will gleefully not care* that they do not control where it goes.

      Yes, chances of such a thing being an AAA first person shooter currently seem low, and Bioware’s box of tricks — however much they’ve been lauded over the years — are the same dead-end they always were, but why would you even be looking in those places?

      • Wedge says:

        Yes this, basically. The future of “story” in games is going to come from advancement in mechanics and more diverse generated forms of content, allowing unique player experiences within a game. The power of games isn’t to tell great stories, it’s to create them.

        The only thing games have over other mediums in telling stories is the capacity for functionally being a “choose your own adventure” deal, which both exists in literature, and is not a genre I recall containing any works regarded as a pinnacle of literary achievement. Though in that regard at least, I’d say gaming has exceeded it’s contemporaries.

    • Gradenko says:

      I think you’re missing the point of a story-driven game. In the case of something like Planescape: Torment, the narrative *is* the core gameplay. Does that mean it would work better as a book or movie? No, because you would lose the player’s ability to interact with the narrative and identify with the protagonist.

      • Vinraith says:

        If the story is the core gameplay, what’s all that god-awful combat for?

        What you’re really arguing is that it would make a better interactive fiction than it would novel, and that’s well and good. I have no strong opinion, I’ve never been able to push past the miserable gameplay to get very far into the story.

      • b0rsuk says:

        Story interrupts gameplay. According to your logic, reading a book or watching a movie is gameplay. No, when you add more fixed story, you just reduce the gameplay-to-story ratio. It doesn’t necessarily make the software less fun to use, but it makes it more of a story and less of a game.

  12. GameCat says:

    B-but there is place for story-driven games and… just games.

    Also – there are examples of games who are very game-y (95% of them is hacking, slashing, running, you know – gameplay with 5% of some short cutscenes) and are telling wonderfull stories.
    Dark Souls – it may be generic fantasy at first glance, but hey – you will NOT find any movie which provides THAT sense of discovering dangerous and beautiful fantasy world and pumping hectolitres of adrenaline in your veins. No way.

    Second game – Shadow of Colossus. You can’t capture emotions coming from killing Colossus in movie or book. It’s like – I did this! I’m awesome! But maybe not?

    TWD spoiler ahead – be careful!

    Walking Dead – that tense moments where you want badly to survive but you don’t want make your adopted daughter see that you’re killing a man by PIERCING HIS CHEST WITH GODDAMN PITCHFORK.
    I was feeling so bad after I did this. Again – movie or book would NOT be able to provide this feeling.

    • aliksy says:

      Oh fuck the scene where you explain to Clementine what you did.

      And the final scene with ben.

      The Walking Dead was one hell of a game.

      I think the lack of filler really helped it. All those bioware games try to have stories and characters, but it’s surrounded with “ok now murder 12 dudes” stuff. Can be fun as a game, but often doesn’t sit well with the story.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        “Can be fun as a game, but often doesn’t sit well with the story”

        I don’t think you summarized the article on purpose, but either way, its great.

    • HadToLogin says:

      TWD is bad example. Delete story and you’re left with something really unplayable – find white dots and mash few buttons.
      TWD is a great story. But it’s terrible game.

      • Shodex says:

        Why do people feel the need to make arguments like this?
        If you remove the story from The Walking Dead it becomes bad, correct. But there is no version of The Walking Dead without a story for that exact reason.

        You can’t pick apart an item like that, you have to look at the package at a whole. The way it was presented to you, and the way you experience it. It’s like saying, “Having money is great, but if you just remove the value from it it’s just paper and metal which sucks.” Removing the crucial element of everything makes it worse, that’s a fact. But that’s precisely why those crucial elements exist.

      • FriendlyFire says:

        Remove the graphics and any game is left as a black screen. Remove the input devices and you can’t do anything.

        You can’t take a whole and remove an arbitrary element and require it to work to be a “good” game.

        • HadToLogin says:

          Story is not something you MUST have to have good GAME (unlike graphics or controls). To have good game you need good gameplay. Remove story from CoD – it’s still playable, probably without losing a single bit of enjoyment. Remove story from Doom, Mario, Need for Speed, Dark Souls, Half Life, Portal – it’s still playable.

          Even games like Monkey Islands or Myst can be fun without a single bit of story, because they force you to connect some dots, solve some puzzles etc.

          But TWD doesn’t have complicated puzzles (with big thanks to lack of equipment and white dots showing everything). Remove story from TWD – not fun at all. That’s why it’s a bad game.

    • b0rsuk says:

      But you know what ? You could remove all text from Dark Souls and it would still play fine.

  13. ahtaylor167 says:

    I’ve been playing Spelunky lately and thinking about what exactly a story in a game is and how it compels us to explain the world and move us forward. I think one aspect of a story is the main character’s relationship to characters, objects, the world and so forth. Some of the best stories in the world are about the relationship between two people and how that relationship changes in response to events and time (this goes back even to the Epic of Gilgamesh!)

    If anyone has played either version of Spelunky, they know that there are generally two other friendly NPC’s in the game: the people you can rescue and the shopkeeper. After reading people’s response to the game, it was incredible that, with little aside from a 4 line introduction, there is very little in outright exposition. Still, as people played on, they would come up with short stories in their mind on why certain characters appeared in certain areas (a caravan of traveling performers got stuck in the cave, my dog followed these strangers in here, etc.)

    Furthermore, I noticed that this would happen if I were to attack and successfully escape the shopkeeper. If you get away from the shopkeeper and steal his equipment, you’ll end up facing up against a copy/clone/brother of his later on in the game, usually at the end of the next level. In my head, I always assumed that this was the shopkeeper’s brother, come to take his revenge on my, or forlorn at the loss of his twin. It’s ridiculous, and no way supported by the narrative of the game, but I felt like not the world but the character of the shopkeeper was responding to my actions, however simply, that signified a type of relationship.

    These relationships in Spelunky, while only lasting for a few minutes, were developed over time and space, so it was more than just me saying “I hate the bad guys” and shooting aliens. To draw another comparison, this aspect of relational storytelling is what makes games like “The Walking Dead” so successful.

    • DerNebel says:

      Hijacking this excellent post to discuss Spelunky’s females.

      You find two different kinds of women in the dungeon, both entirely helpless. One is a Damsel In Distress, frozen in place until you forcibly pick her up and carry her to the end of the level, and if you ever let her go she’ll run around blindly, often getting herself killed. The other is a, let’s say, temprorary companion whose services you buy off a shopkeeper.

      Here is a list of things women are good for in Spelunky:

      - Kissing the main character to give him strength
      - Being thrown into enemies
      - Being sacrificed alive to a bloodhungry god (a live woman gives by far the most points towards a gift from him)
      - Having sticky bombs tossed on and used as a walking nuke.

      So yeah! Interaction!

  14. Mbaya says:

    I think one of gaming’s greatest strengths when it comes to storytelling, is not giving the player a story at all.

    Take the diaries of peoples playthrough’s of XCom, Civ, Minecraft and many, many more. Create a rich and engaging world and allow the players themselves to create their own story.

    Not that I don’t believe actual storytelling doesn’t have a place in gaming, I quite frankly, am rather fond of linear games now and then and especially games with branching stories (like choose your own adventure, I guess), but I find a games world has the greatest potential, not some Hollywood writer who’s smushed a rough narrative into a game about shooting men who shoot other men and expect us to care.

  15. Dervish says:

    This topic will go nowhere because people will waste time passing around different definitions of “storytelling” and talking about how a game made them feel instead of giving serious thought to the implications of the differences between games, cinema, literature, etc.

    • RogerioFM says:

      And then there is the fact that you are just complaining instead of providing a valid and inteligent argument regarding the issue at hand.

  16. RedViv says:

    Everything for its proper medium. Do you want the audience to actually take part, give its own input, take its own pace, and throw it through abstracted struggles of the protagonist(s)? Pick a game. There is just no alternative, and this entirely new medium still takes its time to get out of immaturity – mostly because, instead of continuing to do its own thing, it tries to imitate others to an unhealthy level.
    This cinematisation (if that’s a word at all) of games is mostly ill-purposed, and does the entire industry a disservice. As does the focus on manshoot after manshoot after manshoot. Might possibly be a New Coke scenario of focus failure even, given the critical reaction to, and large-scale losses we see in, the BIG industry.

    (note: following tl;dr “Let’s talk to analyst/focus testers more.”
    Not exclusively connected to the story issue.)

    Here’s a thought: Why don’t we try to get behind the eyes of the people who do decide what entire wide groups of people want? Interviews with those who decided that a singleplayer-focussed exploration/puzzle/action adventure NEEDS a multiplayer manshoot part with a few side characters? The ones that said, yes, we shall exclusively test this game with its narrative focussing on parent/child dynamics and the philosophy of guilt, sequel to one of the brainiest of manshoot adventures, exclusively with typical college fratboys, and then change the covers and such for their good? People who say that, why indeed, there is no need to see how a female audience reacts to a game that has a 50/50 sex split in lead characters?
    Interview those people. Let’s see where they come from. Then examine how we might make them better understand the consumer and critics side, so they do NOT need to pick a whole bunch of rating numbers, incompatible and wildly different in almost anything, combined into one rather unrepresentative THING, as one of their biggest tools?
    I mean, I refuse to believe that 99% of those manager/analyst types are peaceful sociopaths with alien brain mechanics. Surely there has to be some way to get a reasonable understanding of the conflict?

  17. WrenBoy says:

    I’m talking about an industry that heralds David Cage’s puerile homages to cinema as its masterworks.

    Aw yeah

    • Upper Class Twit says:

      Well, its a bit aggressive isn’t it?

      I don’t think Mr. Cage sounds that great either (I haven’t played his games, but I do remember reading about how he said some dumb stuff at a presentation once), but “Puerile”? What, did he kill John’s dog or something?

      • WrenBoy says:

        I imagine he killed a little piece of Johns soul.

        • DerNebel says:

          That man has more than one soul on his hands, his writing is worse than the serial novels my younger sister used to read about 7 girls gathering the 13 magic jewels to stop the dragon or whatever. At least they don’t make any pretenses whatsoever, while Cage genuinely thinks he is a maestro of storytelling.

          He is like Nevermore in Dota. He eats souls and keeps them around, but he only gets more pretentious with each being devoured. And then he explodes with trivial morals and weirdass twists and unbelievable characters. He is the plague of videogame scripts. Don’t let him farm a Shadow Blade.

  18. Gorillion says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority as well, but games the absolute last place I look to for compelling story. There are a couple exceptions here and there, but they’re never in the same league, they’re just pretty good stories and great for the medium.

    Games are only just now approaching an era where low-budget and small studies have the tools to create something exceptional. The realm of large studios, which has only gotten bigger, is like looking at stories in the latest summer blockbuster. Too many cooks in the kitchen, no room to retain a truly great story, and most of the budget spent on CG. You can make a world-class film with $1000, a novel with virtually nothing, and until the small/independent studios who can actually retain creative control grow in number and mature a bit, I don’t expect gaming as a whole is going to grow in the story department.

    Fine by me though. I’ll take challenge and creative gameplay over story any day. That’s what I have film/lit/sometimes TV for.

  19. Finbar38 says:

    I think the point should be this:

    “Telling” stories is exactly what games shouldn’t do. Letting people ‘make’ stories is much more powerful, and interesting.

    Take games we wouldn’t consider “narrative” as examples: Civ, the Total War series, Minecraft, etc…

    I’m sure many of us remember great stories from our own playing of these games that, while it wouldn’t be interesting if they wrote it in a book, were compelling and fun to the person playing them. I often think games should be more like action figures, or perhaps Legos – A set of “story-blocks” and ways to connect them so we can make our own good times.

    • BTAxis says:

      Not this again.
      I do not WANT to tell my own story. I want to have a story told to me. I appreciate that others enjoy making up their own, but I get so sick of people advertising it as “the way it’s meant to be played”.

      • Vinraith says:

        There are quite a few media that are fantastic at telling stories to you, games are not one of them. What you want is completely reasonable, but you’re looking in the wrong place for it.

        • BTAxis says:

          Not acceptable. When I enjoy a game such as Fire Emblem, especially for the fact that it tells little stories about the interaction between the game characters, the same characters that act as tokens in a tactical simulation, I don’t want to be told I’m doing it wrong.

          • WrenBoy says:

            I imagine you are not doing it wrong of course. People who watch the narrative unfold watching YouTube playthroughs are the only ones doing it wrong.

            I dont think John is saying that there is anything wrong with enjoying a harmless piece of escapist story telling which nicely ties a game together. Its just silly to try and describe this as a great narrative.

          • Vinraith says:

            You’re not “doing it wrong,” you’re looking in the wrong place for what you want. That means you’re going to be forever frustrated, perpetually compromising either gameplay or narrative for one another because authorial narrative is fundamentally opposed to interactivity.

          • BTAxis says:

            While I don’t disagree with what you’re saying there, I would not say I am frustrated with games. When a game tells a story, it will almost invariably take the interactivity away in the telling (sometimes not, as seen in Bastion). But this is fine. A game that intermittently cuts to a non-interactive sequence for storytelling is still, in my view, a game, and not some other kind of medium.

            For instance, consider the contrast between a Western CRPG such as Baldur’s Gate and a JRPG such as Tales of the Abyss. I tend to be more drawn to the latter than the former, because the former will force me to play a role while the latter will play the role for me. Finbar suggests this should never happen, and I take issue with that.

          • Finbar38 says:

            Perhaps my use of “shouldn’t” without qualifiers was irresponsible of me. I do not think that video games should not ever do think like the Fire Emblem example you gave, what I meant to put forward was simply this:

            Games cannot BE stories – stories are sets of events that occurred in the past and are re-told later.

            Games MAKE stories – interactivity demands, by definition, player input, and thus variation via choice and action. Aka, the player causes the story in real-time. Admittedly, by tightly controlling what a player can do, and sandwiching in traditional-narrative sequences (read: cut-scenes, scripted text/dialogue) we’ve gotten games to feel a whole lot like storytelling, but they really aren’t.

            Instead, I’d (and this is just my opinion) like to see more games like Civ or Total War or Minecraft but with more emphasis on the “narrative” content of the things you get to interact and play with. The “blocks,” so to speak.

            Actually, I think Fire Emblem is a great example of this – characters with actual personalities but lots of freedom for the player to pick and chose who gets to do what, and where and how… etc.

          • BTAxis says:

            I quite understand what you’re saying, I just have a different experience in this.
            Take the case of the JRPG I mentioned. Typically these games will consists of an interactive part that involves managing items and equipment, leveling up characters and jumping through other hoops the designers implemented, and a non-interactive part that tells a predefined story. In this there is no choice, the player does not usually influence events in any way, there is only the illusion of progress.

            You might argue that these are two different things (a game and a narrative) that are interleaved into a single medium, and you would probably be right. But demux them and you’re left with two (for me) unsatisfactory parts. I don’t want to do the interactive bits without the context of the non-interactive bits, and I don’t want to sit through the entire non-interactive part without something relevant to do in the meantime.

        • DrMcCoy says:

          Counter-argument: Adventures, textual and graphics.
          Now tell me Grim Fandango doesn’t tell a great and meaningful story. Or Discworld Noir. Or Blade Runner.

          • Vinraith says:

            Adventure games neatly prove my point, being as most are mechanically abysmal exercises in moon logic puzzles and walking slowly from place to place.

          • DrMcCoy says:

            *sigh* So you’re a troll after all.
            *plonk* :)

          • LionsPhil says:

            I’m disappointed in you, Vinraith.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            If you truly think that those games have fun, well-designed gameplay mechanics, then you’re in the minority. They’re great games by most accounts, but their flaws are pretty obvious.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Note how Gabriel Knight 3 is not in the list.

            Believe it or not, some adventure games were written that could be solved with thinking, rather than rubbing every thing on every other thing until you got fed up and tried to dial the Internet so you could download an Universal Hint System walkthrough for it.

            If we’re appealing to the majority (or authority), well, average review scores were high and they’re widely fondly remembered. Q.E.D.

          • Vinraith says:

            @LionsPhil

            I’m sincerely unaware of an adventure game whose gameplay does anything other than get in the way of its narrative. In the best case scenario, I suppose it might just be completely independent of said narrative. In fact, that’s my whole point, authorial narrative and interactivity are mutually contradictory. If I’m trying to tell you a story I can’t very well give you control over it, now can I?

          • Rikard Peterson says:

            This is one thing that makes narratives in games so difficult to discuss on a general level: it gets tangled up with questions of good gameplay, which adds another variable affected by taste.

            I do like the “narrative at war with a crossword” mechanics of adventure games, while I don’t care much for shooters, and I’m completely uninterested in sandbox-style games. Unless they are really interesting in some other way, of course.

            Would Grim Fandango have been better as a movie? We can’t change any of the events in that game. All real interactivity can easily be argued to be limited to figuring out what Schafer and co wanted us to do next. I can’t say if it’d have been better or not, but I can say that it would have been different, and that I really like it the way it is. (Would it have been better without the narrative? Of course not – take that away, and there’s nothing left.)

          • X_kot says:

            It’s kinda cheating, but

            Sleep Is Death.

          • BooleanBob says:

            I’ve been playing Zack and Wiki recently on one of the console-toys. A couple of veteran trolls could throttle one another to death over the semantics, but it’s at least as much an adventure game as it is a pure puzzler. Despite this, almost all of the plot is incidental. There are a handful of cutscenes, no voice acting, and a cast of less than a dozen named characters.

            So, the (40+ hour) game is puzzles. Point and click adventure game-grade puzzles. It sounds like purgatory, right? At best.

            It also has motion control gesture mechanics.

            I bring it up only because, although it is an adventure game, you could never say it’s one in which the puzzles are getting in the way of the story content, because there’s so little story content you would have to be criminally insane to be playing it for that. Perhaps you have to be criminally insane to want to play it at all.

            But I can’t stop. Which means the puzzles are either good (and I don’t think they are), or I developed stockholm syndrome within the first fifteen minutes of play.

          • Lacero says:

            I’m glad someone mentioned Bladerunner. If only EA hadn’t killed westwood (RIP), this was the game to redefine games and they really needed another chance at it. An absolutely perfect representation of the original artwork, even more so than the original book due to the nature of interactivity and the possibilities of games.

            As indie games and other PC games are exploring lost branches of the gaming family tree recently perhaps this is one we can call for to be copied?

          • LionsPhil says:

            I’m sincerely unaware of an adventure game whose gameplay does anything other than get in the way of its narrative.

            Having fancy graphics gets in the way of clearly reading gamestate. Having an established protagonist gets in the way of some players projecting into that role (and a blank slate others). Everything is compromise because the experience is generally more enjoyable when it can satisfy all elements to some degree.

            But I’d probably stand Discworld Noir up for that one, since the investigation mechanics with the notebook are pretty much in parity with the narrative; Lewton is finding out the right things to ask of the right people in the right way, so is the player. Were it a novel, it wouldn’t be substantially different, yet there is still gameplay there.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          I’m sorry but that’s patently false because people have already enjoyed games for their storyline in the past. By that very notion gaming is a good medium for it. The best? Who knows, maybe not, but it’s certainly not the wrong medium.

          • Vinraith says:

            You could undoubtedly write a pretty good short story entirely in particularly thick porridge if you were so inclined, that doesn’t make it a good medium for the purpose. As I’ve already said half a dozen times in this thread, the problem is that authorial narrative and interactivity are intrinsically at odds with one another. If you want to tell a player a particular story, you have to take away their ability to meaningfully influence that story. That’s fighting the very thing games are best at.

          • Sheng-ji says:

            @Vinraith – I don’t think the story Journey tells, one of the best stories in games I have ever played, could have been as powerful or effective in any other medium.

      • DerNebel says:

        What games would you say told you a great story? I’ll claim that they actually didn’t. I’ll tell you that none of them came anywhere near a Philip K Dick novella, that none of them could compete with The Great Gatsby, not a single one was as tight and masterfully executed as Pulp Ficiton.

        I believe they had a tighter framework than Civ or Minecraft. Those games are extremes. Planescape: Torment, Mass Effect, games like those are much more tight but they are nowhere near complete stories. They are hundreds upon hundreds of anecdotes, designed to keep you thinking to keep building bridges in your head.

        Dark Souls is an extreme example. It is, in my opinion, one of the best narrative games ever made. And it doesn’t goddamn narrate at all. Cutscenes or even human interaction is quite sparse and direct exposition is very limited. But as you’re playing, you get that tingling in the back of your mind, you’ve seen this before haven’t you, where did you recognize that symbol from, how does this all connect together? And then you build a world for yourself, not even knowing it while you do it. But it IS a great story. It IS a brilliant narrative game, isn’t it?

        There is a Planescape book, as referred to in the article. It is drivel, at best. Tired old fantasy, weird, sure, but oddly boring. It drags on and on and on, in a manner not unlike the game. But the game, oh the game, it is awesome. It is an awesome story, but it’s because you are being guided by words to tell your own story. “What can change the nature of a man?”, that is you, that is you telling you your own story in this weird world of twisted realms and insane minds. You are changing, as you walk through the world in a way a book never could impact you. Never mind that the writing is not exactly Paul Auster, because you’re filling out the gaps yourself.

        Some people enjoy limitless freedom to craft their own experiencem those people play Minecraft or Civ. Others like a it of structure, for them there are Simcity and Don’t Starve. Up we go, up the ladder until we reach RPGs and storydriven shooters like Half-life. Those games are for people who like being shown a world and a story, but will readily make up the parts in between what they’re shown. The next step is, of course, movies and books. Here, the story is crafted, here you see the great literary masterpieces that need noone else except themselves. “The Death in Venice”, “Norwegian Wood”, “Repent, Harlequinn! …”, these stories need no player, no interactivity.

        That’s why games are beautiful. In essence, a game needs a player because if noone plays, nothing ever happens. You shape your experience, and I’m guessing you like it, since you keep playing games.

        This of course, doesn’t even touch gameplay, visuals, sound design, all elements that are essential in a game, but just the narrative parts. Game can have great narration, but it absolutely cannot take the player on anything more than a visual rollercoaster ride if it insists to hold your hand. Once it lets go, the magic of human imagination can do its work.

        Oh, look at me. I love writing it seems. I just deleted a wall of text to come up with something more concise and ended up with a smaller wall of text.

  20. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    But perhaps we should be setting our sights lower, reducing our expectations, and letting games get on with being a medium that simply isn’t going to provide us with wonderful story.

    I’m not sure about this ‘story = good’ equation – plenty of games manage fine without ‘em. The last week I’ve mainly been having great fun playing Sim City 4, Race ’07 (with some other fine upstanding RPSers) and Mount and Blade: Warband, all of which are sans story.

    Obviously you can tell a story in a video game, but you don’t have to. I think the article implies that “telling a story” is a fundamental, first-order duty of a game, and that a collective failure to do this requires a kind of reassessment of what a game is or should be. Games are such varied beasts, which provide their enjoyment and their challenge in such varied manners, which such differing aims and means of getting there, that a blanket condemnation of the ‘state of storytelling’ seems a bit askew to me.

    The manshoots that John mentioned – wouldn’t it be entirely possible for a gamer to want a sense of immersion in a military environment there, and to prioritise that over the narrative it tells? To provide a sense of this violent, militaristic fantasy (that’s not being critical about violent militaristic fantasies BTW, as John says they can be lots of fun) might make for a dull narrative, but there’s nothing to suggest that’s what the player would/should want.

    Most of the games I seem to play don’t really have a story – they’re toys, sandboxes, worlds to poke and play with and see how they react, so to be honest I’m a bit short on examples to actually discuss the current standards of story telling when that’s what the game’s actually trying to do. But as a general answer I’d say that games can try to do many, many things – its ability to tell a story doesn’t have to be sat in the driver’s seat, if it’s present at all.

  21. Vagrant says:

    The problem is games are not a great medium for making movies, but everyone keeps trying. Nintendo’s pretty good at not trying to make movies, at least.

  22. captain nemo says:

    Hmmm…. overdose of E3 consumerist junk ?

    Antidote : Day-Z, Neptunes Pride, FTL et al

  23. DrScuttles says:

    While plenty of games have terrible stories, I don’t believe they deserve a free pass because their contemporaries are slumming it alongside them. The Daily Mail doesn’t deserve acceptance because those rags are utter garbage; I expect better.
    But… I’m not convinced the industry is entirely capable of bettering itself. There seems to be a certain amount of boiler plate development in the “AAA” space and to expect one particular element (story) to shine in a AAA franchise installment while the game mechanics play out identically to its predecessor seems somehow disingenuous.
    It could be a personal bias; some of my favourite games have an element of the auteur behind them, feeling like a story and game experience that a creator wanted to share. An industrially processed videogame, that is to say art commissioned by a stable team of artists produced to specifications designed to sate a specific audience simply can’t ever live up to some crazy idea that someone / a team pitched because they believed in it. Only thing is, the former is dependable and funds the industry. The latter brings the respect.
    I’d much rather expect more and be often disappointed and dismayed than to simply declare vidyagame stories are pretty crap, huh?

    To clarify, I’m only really talking about games which require a story. There’s no need to justify keeping zombies off my lawn or explain what Minecraft… is.

  24. GernauMorat says:

    I disagree. However, that was a well written article

  25. Laurentius says:

    There are good stories in games, it’s just very rarly (and in my case almost never ) the ones that games are telling the player. Check Alec Meer FTL – Fatal Frontier or maybe you want to hear my story how after an hour of failures my almost complelty dissolved PUG group finally beat COF p3 boss in GW2 ?

  26. Glottis1 says:

    Maybe you need a little break from gaming. Games should be fun, right? And games are maturing, but its a slow process. Give it some time.

    • kincajou says:

      not all games should be fun, (see pathologic or spec ops:the line) but i agree that if one of the great fighters in favour of games as an intelligent and adult medium crushes them down, it’s time for a change. For a book maybe, for film, for a walk..

  27. LennyLeonardo says:

    It seems like Mr. Walker is, perhaps ironically, judging games’ stories as though they were films/ books. Many games have fantastic stories. Some are written by the developers, some occur emergently (word?) through play, many of the best occur through the collaboration between the developer and the player, but none are anything like what you’d expect from a film, even when they’re trying to be.

    Some people like to say things like “ludonarrative dissonance”, when badass soldier lady Shepherd gets the Mako stuck in a ditch, but actually it’s just a much more interesting story for the gamey wrinkles.

    Edit: Realised that the first sentence was horribly presumptuous and insulting, but kept it because I like that apostrophe.

  28. Turkey says:

    Um… Don’t you guys report on indie games that affect you emotionally like almost every other day? Why do you care if a bunch of AAA games can’t tell a story?

  29. Dinger says:

    Games can have great stories; memorable stories. Hell I have stories from games that I can recount in detail to anyone interested to hear. Those are all stories that I had a major part in shaping.

    None of them are those you’d find in the Playstation Michael commercial. Who wants to be the greatest, when you can only be the same greatest as everyone else? Why is Michael different from Susan, when they both show up at the key moment, got the QTE, and banged on the “Hero” button until, without merit, they received the Infinite Grace of the Developers?
    I mean, I enjoyed the heck out of Dishonored, but how many stories can people tell about that, compared to, say, Minecraft? Now think of all the crappy games out there.

    When gamemakers talk about “telling stories”, I get the same vibe as when Microsoft starts talking about their customers. Microsoft’s customers are overpaid executives who fly business class and buy Exchange Server licenses. “Telling Stories” is what designers do when they forget that being great in a gamespace is only memorable when there’s a chance for failure and a chance to be the bastard the developers never dreamt of.

    Not even Mad Max online needs another hero.

    Oh, and John, the ones you can remember from 12 years ago are the first cases that you encountered. The reason why we don’t go to as many action flicks when we’re 35 as when we’re 16 is because we’ve seen them all. The same holds for games. You get old and you get jaded. Not that that’s bad, mind you; just keep it in mind.

  30. kud13 says:

    Planescape Torment,

    Deus Ex.

    The Legacy of Kain series, taken as a whole. Especially the writing In Soul Reaver 2 and Defiance, although all 5 games have their own iconic moments.

    Spec Ops: the Line.

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Prypyat. No matter which way you play it, the world of the game is so deep it allows for countless narratives of how Degtyaryov completed his mission. The original spawned a series of books that has long since broken double digits. The stories of The marked One, and that of Scar, while less compelling, can also feel deeply personal.

    The Witcher 1 was, in fact, a seamless tie-in with the entire series of novels about Geralt of Rivia. As someone who read them, and played the original Witcher to completion at least 4 times (averaging at least 60 hours in each play through), I can honestly say, I haven’t encountered a moment, where anything the game threw at me was out of tone with the books. Starting with The Witcher 2, not so much. but The Witcher would be a literary work, because it was never about the combat.

    This is one of those times where I have to heartily disagree with John. Games CAN bea reat story-telling medium–but the method of presentation needs to done right just so. Planescape, the Witcher, Spec ops–these games were crafted around the narrative. In case of teh Witcher, the game was an adaptation of literary works, transferred so faithfully into the game that it made people turn away from it, because of the overly cumbersome mechanics. But this very technique–this method of presentation–is waht allowed the game to fit organically into an existing world, already created by the narrative of the literary works CDPRED were adapting. Likewise, the entirety of Planscape revolved around the Nameless One and the great question “what can change the nature of a man?”. And the game focused on dialogue, to the detriment of all else, and it was truly glorious for those who “got” it.

    Legacy of Kain, starting with Soul Reaver 2, took the same approach. Hell, there is basically no “game” in SR2–you fight your way between cutscenes, occasioanlly solving a puzzle or 2 to trigger more cutscenes. somewhere towards the end of second hour, fighting becomes a chore you do to get to the next part of the story–because you want to know whether or not Raziel will kill Kain, and you want to hear more of Kain, and you have a million questions, and you. Need. More. Story.

    Other games, like Deus Ex, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : CoP tell their story by giving you the setting, the goal, and a world so well-crafted, it feels immersive and real. And in this world, you make the story. You can do everyhting or nothing–you can breeze through the storyline, caring nothing for anyone, leaving a trail of corpses in your wake. And you will be telling a story of a ruthless SBU operative, who came into the world of the Zone, as harsh as it was, and who cared nothing for it, except the mission. And this will still be a compelling story, when placed in a narrative, because the setting, the characters whom you will ruthlessly leave to die–they will still have an emotional impact–because the game will tell you their stories, of what they weren’t–because of the actions of your character.
    Or, in the case of JC Denton, where you must choose a path for humanity–the story will still be told. Only your methods will change, but all the major turning points will still be there.

    These stories may not be your “classic literature” material, but that does not mean they won’t be compelling, that they won’t reach you on the same level a good novel, that’s not necessarily considered a “classic” by literary critics would.

  31. DrMcCoy says:

    Games that are “great examples of literature”?

    http://ifwiki.org/

    BAM.

    • b0rsuk says:

      More like puzzles. The vast majority of IF has only one solution to everything and no unpredictable events.

      That being said, Anchorhead has very good writing.

    • DXN says:

      Oh man, I didn’t even think of that. I’d count the best IF games as literature, no doubt.

      Saying they “aren’t games” is seems to me like a No True Scotsman fallacy. No true game would be mostly concerned with telling a story! So what’s a “true” game? One that doesn’t mostly concern itself with telling a story! Of course it’s easy to say that games can’t do great stories if you approach it that way.

      Maybe it would be good if there was a word for telling an interactive story using a computer that didn’t imply that the “”"gameplay”"” is the be all and end all of it. But at the moment, there isn’t, so “game” will have to do even for Dear Esther and Journey and Asura’s Wrath and Interactive Fiction and.. wait, maybe we should just call it Interactive Fiction, without limiting that term to text adventures?

  32. Rikard Peterson says:

    Did anyone else read the thought bubbles in the voice of the secret agents from the Milkman level?

    (I’m not entering the discussion on the actual topic. At least not without first having agreed on a definition of story. I’ve made that mistake before.)

  33. Bruins_Beat says:

    What a terrible article. This is completely subjective but you’ve presented it like fact. Are you so full of yourself John Walker or is this just how you stir the pot? I don’t want to get my video game news from someone so completely jaded– you sound like you’ve completely burnt out.

    It must be tough reviewing and playing video games all the time. I hope you manage to make it through something as tough as E3. We’re all really pulling for you. (Sarcasm)

  34. Stepout says:

    To me, stories in games only become interesting when I as a player can have a great affect on them. Fallout NV is the only modern RPG I can think of that I played through the main quest a couple of times to make different decisions and see the outcome. But not many developers make games like that. This is why I can’t really play linear RPGs anymore, I have way more fun with open world games where I can largely ignore the main storyline (after playing through it once) and just have fun in the sandbox.

    Also, I feel like some games make the story too complicated. While playing Deux Ex HR I remember halfway through the game just not caring at all what they were talking about, I just wanted to shoot people in the head with my silenced pistol.

    edit: Also, the pics in this article are hilarious.

  35. ChiefInspectorLee says:

    disagree

  36. Farsearcher says:

    Take heart John.

    Many of us do care about story, all of my favourite games – The Longest Journey, The Witcher, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid Three, Half Life 2 are my favourites because of the story.

    And even at E3 the last of us was a major feature of the Sony press conference, winning massive critical acclaim in a large part BECAUSE of it’s story. People have the desire for it.

    Games don’t have to tell stories by any means many are fantastic with only the barest thread- FTL, Dungeon Crawl Stonesoup and any number of sports games but the medium can be a fantastic one for storytelling.

    Comparing it to high literature and film will be difficult as a huge number of games are based around a great deal of player caused violence and perhaps due to the beliefs of publishers about their target demographics plots are often kept simple. This doesn’t mean the medium won’t mature. As the demographics widen and we have more older gamers I think the audiences will start to crave more developed stories and new ways of interacting. I’m by no means going to tire of fantasy and sci fi, or action games (these are my preferred genres in books too, I honestly find most classic literature painfully boring) but these last few years I have started to hunger for more depth, more complex characters and dare I say it… sometimes… I like to play games where I don’t kill things.

    I know E3 is depressing in many ways but don’t let it get to you too much. If you need cheering up there’s always Kickstarter.

  37. zeekthegeek says:

    *clears throat* The Walking Dead
    *mic drop, leave*

  38. Everyone says:

    Games are an excellent place for creating stories … you just have to read Oilfurnace to know that.

    Games are a poor medium to tell stories … you just have to play CoD to know that. If you want to tell a story there are better mediums; film, books, music.

  39. Penguin_Factory says:

    “My thought is whether this matters at all. Perhaps it’s time for us all to just accept that games aren’t ever going to be home to classic works of literature – it’s not what they’re for, and it’s not what they’re ever going to achieve.”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the word *classic*. Games aren’t well suited to trying to tell stories in a traditional way, hence why so many big AAA titles try to cram the plot of an action movie into a game and fail spectacularly. But they can be very powerful at telling stories their own way, playing to their own strangths.

  40. Jeremy says:

    I disagree with the core concept of this article, but I think there is validity to what is being said. Games are, in the broadest sense, a set of rules for a person to learn, interact with, and play. There is no getting around that, but it’s what we do after we’ve created the rules, and interacted with them, and played with them that leave their impression on us.

    I’ve been an athlete most of my life, and I have played a wide variety of sports, and there are a lot of parallels that I can see between sports and games. It is often in the midst of the interaction that we find drama, stories, and a reason to connect emotionally with “the game.” In sports, people do a great job of creating “storylines” to go along with each game. So and so is nearing the end of her career, will this be her last chance at winning a championship? This teammate doesn’t get along with his coach/manager/front office, will that impact how he plays on the field? We bring these stories into the mechanics and rules of the game, and that creates the drama, it creates story points. It keeps people locked in and fascinated day to day, it creates stories within the game. Nobody would claim that sports are a great medium for storytelling, and yet every day we see story after story about individuals, or teams, in sports, and people love it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, instead of trying to force games to tell stories the way movies tell stories, or books tell stories, people should find a way to create a story that fits the medium. In sports, it’s the external stuff that often brings the drama into the game itself. In a movie or a book, the author is allowing us to sit back and join along in their story. Sometimes it will be open ended, and people will view the story through the lens of their experience, but they aren’t interacting with it in the same way they would a video game. Why do we get attached to certain characters? Why did I reload my game so many times when Dogmeat died? He was just a dog that died too much, and yet for some reason I couldn’t continue forward without him. Eventually I just consoled him into immortality so I wouldn’t waste so much time reloading.

    We have examples of great storytelling in games, and we all probably have individual examples of a game that has impacted us in a specific way. In my opinion, the best and most powerful stories have been the ones that use their rules to imply greater depth, and allow me to fill in the blanks. That just doesn’t translate into books or movies, and vice versa, telling a story in a game without allowing me to interact with it’s rules isn’t really a game at all.

  41. sharthorn says:

    I feel that games are a great medium for story-telling. You’ve only mentioned a few games, but missed the huge blockbusters of this generation. For example, Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are both amazing stories that also have good gameplay and immersion. I feel that they could have easily been written as a book.

  42. Pan Vidla says:

    I’m surprised no one here mentioned Pathlogic, which arguably has the most interesting story I’ve been ever told through any medium.

    • kincajou says:

      Ah pathologic. I did not have fun playing it. it was a good game, a great one even but the choices! The narrative! the world!

      If they get round to giving it a good translation i promise i’ll try and muster the courage to try it once more

  43. DatonKallandor says:

    Here’s a fact for you:
    If your game revolves around shooting people, you’re never going to tell a good story in that game. It doesn’t matter how likeable the characters are – Uncharted – how you’re telling an epic tale – Bioshock – or how many dogs/evil russians/evil arabs – Call of Duty – you pack into it. At the end of the day your story is 100% undercut by the fact that everyone becomes a robot who exists only to murder or be murdered by the hundreds between cutscenes. You know, 90% of the game.

    It’s like trying to cram The Third Man or (cliché I know) Citizen Kane into a Porn Film. It just won’t work. Because no matter how much you try to be story telling and deep, it’s going to be undercut by the fact that 90% of it is going to be fucking and sucking.

    But somehow that’s become the goal in the AAA game industry. They’re all making porn because porn sells, but also claiming that this time THE STORY is going to be great guys! But we’re still going to have the fucking and the sucking, because you like that too right?

  44. dE says:

    Games shall not be games. It’s unthinkable to let games be their own medium. Games need to be more like something else and less something of its own. A game has no worth if it is not closer to something else. Those that think like this, are legion – for they are many.
    That’s the whole issue though. Games can’t mature while too many people want games to be more like this or that. For games to mature, they need to become games, a genre of its own, something that can stand up on its own with strengths of its own. All the whinge about games comes from that dissonance, it’s caused by people trying to cater to those that shout loudest, those that want games to be something other than games, like movies or books. It’s the young human argueing with its parents. Old enough to set out into the world, ready to make a path of their own they clash with their parents. Their parents want the young human to be like them, to be a duplicate of them. They tell the young one that this would be the only way to be mature, while the young one has realized that age and maturity will come, despite imitation.

  45. skalpadda says:

    Don’t you give up on games stories John, don’t you dare.

    Also, emergent narrative. While I know it’s not what you’re talking about and stuff that happens because of game mechanics may not be able to compare to finely crafted literature, it can create stories that matter very much on a personal level.

  46. Phendron says:

    This sounds a lot like the theater elite at the advent of the motion picture bashing the medium, saying that it will never be culturally relevant. Look where that ended up.

    Video games are still in their infancy.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      They’re certainly not.

      • malkav11 says:

        Absolutely they are. Forget the decades of arcade games and low-fi severely space-limited console and early PC games. They didn’t do story, or if they tried, they simply didn’t have the tech to do it. It’s not until the late 80s that videogames can really even begin to aspire to being a storytelling medium, and 20-odd years isn’t exactly a lot of time to figure out how best to use the medium for that purpose. Especially when you have constant naysayers saying you shouldn’t even bother and conventional wisdom that it is at best icing on a gameplay cake, a trivial afterthought to be treated without care or attention or budget.

    • BoredAstronaut says:

      Some of the oldest know poetry is considered, by many, to be the best. Even cave paintings are incredibly moving and beautiful. The age of an art form is not correlated to the quality the works in that medium. I think the quantity of drudge in games is caused by the sheer number of young, immature and/or artistically ignorant or just plain simple-minded people making games. It attracts a lot of idiots and/or emotionally shallow people to the industry (read: brogrammers). And at the same time, that drives away a lot of sophisticated people. Or, as they mature, they GTFO because the culture is so degenerate.

  47. Entitled says:

    If you define games specifically by how interactive they are, and how they are succifiently amusing you with FUN and GAMEPLAY, then obviously, that gameply is inversely proportional to storytelling, as they are in each other’s way.

    If the more of a “rael game” something is, the less story it has, and the more story it is interrupted with, the less of a “real game” it is, then a good game with a great, detailed, elaborate story is a contradiction.

    But if ALL interactive entertainment is games, then just the Visual Novel genre alone provides more high literature-quality narratives : Swan Song, Katawa Shoujo, Ef, Cross Channel, and Planetarian are literature. There are also plenty of movie-quality stories in cinematic-heavy games or “interactive movies”, and somewhere in-between the two mediums in adventure games.

    In this case, while Angry Birds is a worse narrative than Modern Warfare, and Modern Warfare is a worse narrative than The Witcher, and The Witcher is a worse narrative than The Longest Journey, and The Longest Journey is a worse narrative than Katawa Shoujo, that doesn’t mean that we should be snobbish about exactly how much interactivity is in our games, but just accept that whatever we call the digital interactive things with more story than gameplay, they can still be interesting pieces of art.

  48. Nate says:

    You know, English majors have developed some wonderful language that lets them talk about story along multiple axes rather than just good/bad :)

    When you look at some of those axes– say, plot, theme, setting, characterization– you see that it’s not so black and white. Video games handle setting exceptionally well. They’re hit and miss when it comes to theme (which is probably the most important element for the high art, cultural canon stuff you want to compare them with), but have at least demonstrated some ability. With plot, they’re definitely shallow, but then, plot is one of those things where genre fiction already outperforms high art (which has a better plot, Finnegan’s Wake or Interview with a Vampire?). But when it comes to characterization, they’re right up there with the worst action movies. Generally.

    “Story” wasn’t a word invented to talk about video games; it was a word invented to talk about sequential sentences. Even then, it proved insufficient for the task.

    • Captain Strychnine says:

      I mostly wanted to boost this comment because I think it’s a good one. I think this perspective really makes obvious the point that believing there’s a “right” way to make games is pretty bizarre and at best is merely an indication of one’s own taste (and only at a particular time at that). Even in the case of my own personal preference, I’ve found that most times that I think I’ve reached some decisive conclusion I end up changing my mind. The JRPGs I loved as a child just make me tired to think about now. Kentucky Route Zero and Super Hexagon could not be more different (almost complete opposites from the perspective of narrative, mechanics, and obstacles) and I am so glad both exist. The big question is whether a given game occupies a compelling pocket among the (presumably) infinite dimensions in gamespace.

      That said, I think there can actually be value in a designer taking on these types of prescriptive viewpoints because such an outlook can lead to interesting and focused design choices which in turn can lead to to interesting and satisfying player experiences which is the thing I’m most interested in as a gamer.

  49. bhlaab says:

    Games are a poor medium for telling stories to players, but they are a great medium for players to tell stories with.

  50. gekitsu says:

    im not entirely sure i agree on all counts here, john.

    saying that games wont ever reach the heights of good literature, yes. i agree because literature can achieve what it does by not doing something else. in its own way of doing things, it reigns supreme. how does literature compare with film, though? both are a medium that presents you story, but they do it in different ways. thus, a film can never reach the peak of grandest literature, but can very well reach the grand peak of film. id wager these peaks are equally high, they just happen not to be the same mountain. literature and film achieve different things. literature in turn couldnt stretch far enough to impact the same way a film does, even a mediocre one.

    as for games, i agree with you that interaction is a powerful (if not the single most powerful) part of HOW games impact. interaction with an environment and the ownership of action, consequence and meaning are damn cool things, and they can be leveraged in ways that may be technically simple, but can carry quite a lot of impact. just not the literature kind of impact. technically simple, but powerful implementations of making something impact with the player are shooting the boss at the end of mgs3 (after a game heavily divided between puzzles to take action in and cutscenes to be told narrative, the game forces you to take and own the action of killing the most important person in the protagonists life), the progress of story and gameplay in shadow of the colossus when you start noticing that the grand course of action might not be as desirable as you first fathomed, but pressured to go on by the prospect of not reaching the goal you set out to accomplish, or the very simple, utterly devoid of hardcoded narrative, re-discovery of your minecraft house after getting lost for a few in-game days in a world you know wont mollycoddle you back into home base.

    another pretty smart thing is the non-fitting tetris block part in dys4ia. or the way thomas was alone uses your action-ownership connection to small rectangles to make a few lines of narration weigh more than their literary weight.

    i agree that storytelling-the-literature-way is the wrong thing to look for in games. story-telling-the-games-way, very much not so. naturally, they differ. naturally, they excel at different things. that literature, theatre, film and games each have overlap in what they do and some of the means they employ doesnt make things easier to discern. but i do believe that

    a) games not only have great stories to tell, but grande, artfully profound ones that dont need to shy away the comparison with the profoundness of grand literature.

    b) discussing these matters, we do need to pay attention to the way HOW games impact and WHAT they impact with, especially when comparing with different media and their way of HOW and WHAT. nothing good comes from getting one of them reduced to an afterthought of the other or mashing them together.

    yes, games that have a hardcoded narrative element could do with better overall writing, because its an increase of quality in one of the parts they impact WITH. no-brainer. (and theres also nothing wrong with spinning up something just silly enough to hold everything together. 80s action movies are unironically awesome for that, and games can be brilliant while doing their analogue of it.) but saying that games are not the place for telling great story because their interactive nature doesnt allow the way literature does its thing, doesnt look like a fruitful way of discussing the issue to me.