Games Are The Ideal Place For Telling Great Stories

By John Walker on June 12th, 2013 at 8:00 pm.

There are some who have argued that games just aren’t the right medium for telling stories. Pointing out that scant few games have ever produced literary works comparable with other forms, the suggestion is that gaming just isn’t a suitable place for such narrative experiences. But this argument is entirely flawed, failing to understand that gaming is home to a completely new form of storytelling, and one that is perhaps more potent and powerful than any other.

The key lies with interactivity. Certainly this is a horribly over-used word, more usually associated with having to press a PC keyboard’s elusive “start button” seventeen times in a row, before bellowing into a microphone, “FIRE! FIRE!” like a broken Alan Sugar. But interaction is something as simple as pressing Space to make the story continue, and as complex as deciding the fate of a universe based on your actions.

Such interactive storytelling breaks down into three rough categories. There are games that wish to tell you their story, and ask you to complete tasks that allow it to be told. There are games that have stories which can go in multiple directions, and allow you to choose which of these pre-determined routes to take. And there are games that provide a template in which you can tell your own story. I’m arguing that all three are exceptional.

The first is perhaps the most easily criticised. But rarely is that criticism valid. A writer has written a story, and wants you to hear it. It is linear, it is not affected by the player, and its ending is the same no matter what you do. So why not just read a book, eh? Or watch the movie? Why force this into a game?

Because when such stories are told by a game, they become something more. Perhaps even something more special. Whether we’re talking about a point-and-click adventure, or a first-person corridor shooter, encountering a story through the medium of play is a significant factor. It is not the equivalent of “turning a page in a book” by any means – it’s about a personal involvement in the events, an agency, despite its not being one that has an effect on the tale. It turns out making a difference to the story is not nearly as important as people imagine when it comes to feeling engaged with the process.

The best adventure games demonstrate it neatly. Anything from LucasArts in the 90s, Funcom in the 00s, and so many others over the last 30 years have proven this. Your involvement is solving puzzles, having conversations that lead to new revelations, engaging with the world and learning its histories. Or look at, say, the Thief games. Their future was fixed, while your route through their world was loose. You don’t define the future, but it allows you to embrace the story, hear it in a multitude of ways, be a part of it and be the process by which it proceeds. This engagement cannot be dismissed, and has allowed many gaming stories to become far more potent as a result. No, those stories wouldn’t translate well to screen or page, but that’s because they’re created for this unique means of being encountered.

Second is the evolution of that idea (and of course like evolution, the development of hairless apes does not mean there are no longer monkeys) – the story with multiple paths, and especially multiple endings. Here we unambiguously escape the notion that such things could exist better (or even equivalently) as film or novel – here the player defines her own experience. A choose-your-own-adventure perhaps is the nearest, but is really not comparable.

Here you are still ultimately bound by the stories the creator wishes to tell, but it’s essential to not consider this a bad thing. Being told someone else’s story is the very essence of storytelling, and has been for thousands of years. Standing up and booming instructions to a live play is generally frowned upon, but watching a live performance is still a great pleasure. Here we can influence the direction in which that play is heading without being asked to leave through the fire exit.

Take Dragon Age, or Knights Of The Old Republic, or all manner of BioWare games. Or Deus Ex, The Witcher 2, Fallout 3, and on and on, primarily RPGs for sure. There’s nothing that occurs in these games that wasn’t pre-determined, but enough variety is available that you can carve your own seemingly unique path through their story. Such that your decisions do directly influence the direction, and often the climax. You can talk to someone else after and be surprised by their experiences, what they saw or found that you couldn’t have known, and vice versa. There’s nothing else that can offer you storytelling like this other than games, and while it is again true that not all of those stories would be to a high enough standard to achieve classic status in other forms, it is simply disingenuous to try to judge them when removing such a massively key component – you.

Which brings us on to the third type, perhaps the most recently emerged and certainly the most exciting and full of prospect: the sandbox worlds. The games that provide a set, a cast, a genre and the all-important limitations, and then leave you to write the script.

The list of these grows ever-larger, perhaps never more starkly popularised and understood than through Minecraft. This one example captures every aspect, from the simple single-player game or wandering aimlessly, encountering situations, adapting, building, creating and exploring, to the heavily modded games-within-games, where players build their own systems in which to experience a gaming narrative, its power is perhaps too easily forgotten thanks to its overwhelming success. This is a completely new type of storytelling, something that other mediums cannot and will not ever attempt to emulate, shared only with gaming by the incredibly imaginations of children.

Games like Minecraft, in fact, return to us that precious time when we could conjure a fictional world around us, and then experience it according to our own desires. It’s a form of storytelling we all knew, then forgot. And now it’s back.

Or take Eve Online. Whatever its original intentions as a game, it has become something far greater. A space – quite literally – for telling our own elaborate epic tales. Machiavellian plots the likes of which scriptwriters would never conceive, played out in user-created circumstances with a cast played by thousands of others imprinting their own stories onto yours. It’s bewildering that it’s possible, and utterly unique to gaming. These are stories that film, literature, etc cannot even conceive of a method to tell, let alone produce something “better than”.

Such games provide us with a palette and canvas, and just enough borders to give us the courage to start painting within. Both single and multiplayer, they are a new space that has barely been explored, growing ever larger and more popular as more developers begin to understand how to provide such arenas. They take ridiculous buzzwords like “emergent” and give them meaning.

Games are the ideal place for telling great stories. These can be stories as classic as the most sustaining fairy tales, as epic as the most sprawling of fantasies. Or they can be a completely new form of story, which the player tells to himself in hindsight, as he pieces together the events he has experienced. Which, funnily enough, is the same means by which we piece together the narratives with which we interpret our own lives. Gaming is tapping into something truly human, that other media cannot even comprehend.

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216 Comments »

  1. povu says:

    I like it when games generate stories instead of telling them. Day Z, Dwarf Fortress, Eve Online, etc. It’s the player’s story, either through interaction with other players or through completely random things that happen in the game.

    • Bobsy says:

      Spot on. Games like Civilisation or Crusader Kings generate huge stories over and over, and they are invariably a hella lot more compelling than anything pre-written. In CKII my dynasty’s rise from minor earldom to king was a story spanning 400 years, and still makes me shudder with delight.

      It is sad then that these sort of games have to share the medium with pre-written nonsensical dreck like Final Fantasy, a series that feels increasingly like a fifty car pile-up of bad anime sliding inexorably into a sewage farm. (I write the best analogies)

      • Keirley says:

        Kind of disingenuous don’t you think to put well-made games like Civilisation and Crusader Kings on one side and then to put one game that you really didn’t like on the other. There *are* well-made, interesting games with authored stories, and there are poorly-made, uninteresting games that focus on ‘emergent’ stories.

      • MasterDex says:

        I was with you right up until the point you started slamming Final Fantasy. Sure, the series has declined sharply (especially since it leaped into the abyss with XIII), however the series does have some great story telling in it.

        Take a look through Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy X. While the overarching plot could often be boiled down to save the world from great evil (which I’ll add is also the overarching plot, albeit in varying flavours, to many of our beloved works of literature and film), it has also often had some of the best character development and mini-plots in the industry, in my opinion.

        *spoilers ahead*

        Whether we’re watching Cloud wrestle with his guilt over a lifelong lie, Sephiroth’s battle against his true nature, Jecht turning his back on his son for the greater good or Vivi struggling to find a sense of identity only to discover that he has none and that the few of his kind left in the world are fated to die; it’s not trivial sewage with no literary value.

        • Asherie says:

          That was beautifully written. I shall now go and play my first final fantasy game!

          -edit-
          I always read spoilers. I usually enjoy something more ‘spoiled’ *shrug*

          • DerNebel says:

            Play 6! It’s the best! There is a giant moving mechacastle in the desert, the villain is a mad clown and the story is genuinely good, at least imo.

            It is slow though. Glacially so, as is the curse of all RPGs. This is also one of the reasons they’ll never be able to compete with litterature, the pace just flies out the window. So yeah, you’re in for a long, funfilled awesome haul if you want to finish a Final Fantasy game.

            P.S Did I mention the ghost train? There totally is a ghost train.

          • MasterDex says:

            That was beautifully written.

            Thank you kindly. That really means something to me. :)

            I shall now go and play my first final fantasy game!

            As suggested, take a look at Final Fantasy VI. If your modern self can’t cope with the less-than-contemporary gameplay and visuals, I’d recommend Final Fantasy IX as another good starting point – or VII for that matter considering it’s readily available on PC!

          • benkc says:

            Yes, yes, play 6. 7 is good too, in different ways, but I strongly recommend 6.

          • Synesthesia says:

            oh! oh! Final fantasy tactics! Do it! Beautiful turn based tactical combat and a fantastic political plot. It goes to the shitter on the last 2 or three hours, but trust me, most story arcs are closed beautifully before that.
            Man, delita is the best character ever.

        • DerNebel says:

          You forgot Celes attempted suicide after she’s lost her friends, the world has been torn to pieces and reshaped by a mad jester and her saviour and caretaker just died.

          I’m just saying that To the Moon is standing on the shoulders of giants. Oh, did I say To the Moon? For many people I know, it’s the only game that ever made them actually cry because of the story.

          • MasterDex says:

            And here I was trying to save some surprises! :D

            I have yet to play To the Moon but after reading the opinions of the people here in the last article, I’m now really interested in checking it out.

            For me, the game that made me cry was Final Fantasy VII. It sounds a bit cliche now but that famous moment from that game hit my teenage self like a ton of bricks. I didn’t pick back up the game for almost a year if I remember correctly.

            As many said in the comments section of the last article, and which John has more or less regurgitated here today – that’s the power of games as a story-telling medium. We have the chance to experience the narrative rather than just vicariously view it.

          • Asherie says:

            @DerNebel – I was actually hoping someone would recommend one to play first n considering your enthusiasm, which is totally infectious (in a good way haha) I’ll take your advice :) thanks!

            @MasterDex – I’m one of those people that enjoys a story more the second time around, which is about as spoilerific as it gets lol

        • Asherie says:

          @MasterDex
          “…your modern self…” *chuckle* I’m sure my modern self can handle it, don’t worry. I’ve copied your recommendation paragraph down just in case though :)

        • Drinking with Skeletons says:

          No love for FF XII? I admit that the team–also responsible for Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story–favor sweeping statement over intimate characterization (they’re rather like Christopher Nolan’s films in that regard), and XII has some serious problems–most seriously it has a terrible, boring secondary character masquerading as the protagonist–but it had some great ideas that were well executed.

          Ashe, the dethroned queen desperate to obtain the powers of the gods to save her people from being crushed between two uncaring empires? Vayne and Cid, who steal the power of the gods to free humanity from their eternal grip? Venat, the god who betrayed its kind to grant that freedom to humanity? The fascinating accounts of the rebellion of the Espers, scant shreds of backstory that nevertheless reinforce the ideas I’ve already outlined while simultaneously clarifying the plot of Final Fantasy Tactics?

          It really is one of the more ambitious entries in the series, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as the precursor to FF XIII. It’s abuse of the word ‘marquis,’ however, is inexcusable.

          • benkc says:

            I liked 12, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I liked it specifically because of the way that it allowed you to build AI scripts for each of your party members. That appeals to me quite a lot, but I don’t know if a stranger on the internet will care for that.

          • bduygand says:

            And if you want more examples, look at Dwarf Fortress as probably the best of the bunch at doing this. Go read any of the DF Let’s Play’s and you’ll see it’s far from just “doing whatever you want.”
            http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/03/05

          • MasterDex says:

            Apologies! You’re right! XII is not to be dismissed. I suppose I left it out because subconsciously, I mark X as the last of the Final Fantasy games that we grew up with. I guess the other problem I had with it, as far as story-telling goes, is that it felt like they took very strong cues from Star Wars.

            You’ve got the down-n-out boy looking for adventure (Vann), the loveable sidekick (Penelo), the princess and her rebellion(Ashe), the handsome rogue and his wookie (Balthier and Fran), the battle-worn old knight full of regrets (Basch) and the maniac that wants to mess everything up (Cid).

            It still all makes for a compelling game and it’s actually the game that I’ve spent the most time with in a single sitting (73 hours), but at the same time, where story-telling is concerned, I feel it falls just below the others I mentioned.

            Oh and the PSP version of Tactics is another great example of good story-telling in games. The original had a good plot already in place but the rewritten script for War of the Lions sealed the deal for me. I still believe it has one of the best scripts of any game I’ve ever played. And how could I not with lines like this:

            [Just inside a decaying building, Gustav and Wiegraf stand opposite each
            other, swords drawn. The marquis is on the floor, as are a few unknown bodies.]

            Wiegraf: You’ve taken leave of your senses, Gustav.

            Gustav: Have I? What hope does your fool revolution hold? Dreams do not fill a
            man’s stomach or make soft the packed earth on which he beds!

            Wiegraf: You see naught beyond the end of your nose. The Crown strays, Gustav.
            It must be led back onto the path.

            Gustav: And you think yourself the man to do this? More the fool you, Wiegraf.

            or

            Milleuda: How can you nobles live as you do and yet hold your heads so high? We
            are not chattel! We are humans, no less than you! What flaw do you hold there
            to be in us? That we were born between a different set of walls? Do you know
            what it means to hunger? To sup for months on naught but broth of bean? Why
            must we be made to starve that you might grow fat? You call us thieves, but it
            is you who steal from us the right to live!

            Argath: You, no less human than we? Ha! Now there’s a beastly thought. You’ve
            been less than we from the moment your baseborn father fell upon your mother in
            whatever gutter saw you sired! You’ve been chattel since you came into the
            world drenched in common blood!

            Milleuda: By whose decree!? Who decides such foul and absurd things?

            Argath: ‘Tis heaven’s will!

            Milleuda: Heaven’s will? You would pin your bigotry on the gods? No god would
            fain forgive such sin, much less embrace it! All men are equal in the eyes of
            the gods!

            And how can we forget this zinger:

            Wiegraf: Ha! No spoony bard could spin a sweeter tale! You say your brothers do
            not want this fight? Tears then, for the world you see is one beyond my weary
            sight.

            Source: http://www.gamershell.com/faqs/finalfantasytacticsthewarofthelionsgamescript/FFT/

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            dogs barking pseudo-literary sounding noises

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          Sorry but just having tragic plot twists, and characters spewing hammed up dialogue does not make something great. Rather a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

          • MasterDex says:

            Shame no one told Shakespeare that. Oh wait, they did. And not a fuck was given.

            Please though, O great arbitrator of all that is great, please tell us peons, all, what makes a thing so great?

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Ooo, I love my new promotion. The FF games just have little substance and a following akin to the followings of pop bands, like the Spice Girls. I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with them, they fill a niche and have a following that’s easy to pick on because it’s supremely self conscious. You have to admit though that the above dialogue which *has* been touted as something great, is awful. The closest comparison in terms of other media I can make to the FF series is that they’re rather like the game equivalent of the Star Wars prequels.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            To be a bit clearer. Shakespeare is not regarded as a great and important writer because of the syntax he used, or indeed because of the tragic, comedic, or romantic content of his plays – which were nothing special. Most imitators manage to imitate only style and incidental details and miss entirely what makes good literature, good. You only need to read a bit of fan fiction to realize the gulf between people who can emulate the style of a great writer and people who can write something great. The dialogue you posted earlier (where not a single line can be read without frothing at the mouth) would be ok if it were pantomime or parody.

          • MasterDex says:

            Shakespeare was, at the time, criticized for how he wrote; parodying the upper-classes for the amusement of the lower. It upset quite a few people and entertained many more. Also, were Shakespeare alive today, it’s quiet likely that he’d be making TV shows more along the oh-so-highbrow lines of Community, etc rather than great political commentaries like The West Wing et al.

            Shakespeare gained notoriety for breaking boundaries that other writers of his time were less willing to do. He wrote on the edge of what was acceptable at the time, sometimes crossing it. Contrary, too, to what you believe, he is praised for his tragic plots, comedic quips and romantic intrigue – many of which have become the prime frameworks for our modern day tales; hence why all of that stuff is ‘nothing special’.

            Your comments are essentially “You’re wrong.” without any attempt to answer why. Why is that? Can you not come up with a convincing argument to back up your opinions or do you just hope all of us slow children will just nod along like sheep?

            I won’t admit that the language used in the WotL script is bad because it is not. You can disagree but be aware, there are those of us that can see something for what it is. In WotL, the script is a tool to further engross the player in the world of the story, harking back to the days of Shakespeare by brightening up the language each character uses.

            Then again, mayhap I’m just some spoony bard, enamoured as I am with the English language; catching sight of the beauty where you cannot.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Shakespeare is the reason why these days, a lot of writers of fantasy and historical games and stories dress up the speech of their characters in that manner – The Ultima games are an example where it isn’t overdone. Tolkien used it too, but he used it very cautiously to emphasis the different backgrounds and statuses of some of his characters. In most cases it’s misappropriated. You’re right that Shakespeare is noted for some of those ways in which he challenged the norm and that he wasn’t doing anything special in his day but mostly Shakespeare is held in high regard for his influence on the English language, and on subsequent literature – however you want to argue that, that came about you can’t argue that it did. So we hold him in high regard.

            I suppose I’d better retort with some dialogue that I think is of literary merit. You like Keates right?

            A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
            Its loveliness increases; it will never
            Pass into nothingness.

            Now that makes you think.

            The opinion I have of the generality of women–who appear to me as children to whom I would rather give a sugar plum than my time, forms a barrier against matrimony which I rejoice in.

            I can’t even process that one in one reading.

            Sometimes we are less unhappy in being deceived by those we love, than in being undeceived by them.

            Ok, that was Byron. But my point is that literature is seldom regarded as art unless it has some depth to it. There is no depth of meaning in any of the examples you chose from FF. Sure the dialog might occur at pivotal moments in a complicated and emotional plot but the language is direct and obvious and somewhat over-earnest.

            It’s dark for dark’s sake and tragic for tragedy’s sake. This is great, and obviously where a lot of gothic music and literature gets its energy too. There is nothing wrong with it. I’d have no qualms about making and selling such a game or even enjoying it but I’d never pretend that it was something more than entertainment. When I was a teenager my perception of what was deep, was whatever was highly emotional – but mostly 1-dimentional and exaggerated by the condition of being a teenage boy.

            This is how I feel about the content of FF games and why I associate their appeal with children. I have also never met anyone who came to the games as an adult, and feels strongly about them… And, indeed, I’ve noticed a similar thing with the original Star Wars trilogy.

          • elderman says:

            I can’t quite make out what the disagreement here might be about, but that’s a bit of Keats if ever there was.

            Oh yeah, plus: computer games!

          • MasterDex says:

            Thank you for that reply, honestly. I feel I understand where you’re coming from now, and I believe we’re on the same page as far as Shakespeare goes.

            Your point then, and correct me if I’m still mistaken, is that as an adult, the language used in War of the Lions, and the various arcs, plots and themes in the Final Fantasy games, don’t serve as sufficient literary nourishment for you. Am I right?

            If that’s the case, then my only retort would be that it should be expected. Contrary to your own experiences, I do know people who have picked up the Final Fantasy games as adults and enjoyed the stories they told. I believe that something like Final Fantasy should be viewed within the prism of its time – that is to say that games were still being aimed primarily towards children/teenagers and it was a conscious concern during the development of the series. Harry Potter and many other children’s books are no different. I wouldn’t slam every one of them as having no literary value however.

            Not every piece of writing needs to have a deeper meaning. I mean it’s great when it does and it’s beautiful when it does so in a way that makes you happy that English is your first language but writing can still hold literary value without it. I don’t believe that text without subtext is pointless.

            I’d also like to add that I believe there are times that the Final Fantasy series, including War of the Lions, has what you’re looking for, even if it isn’t throughout every moment.

            Let me leave you with this quote. It’s from a novel intended to entertain more than anything else, and you may not like it but it’s a good example of clear text with literary value, I believe.

            “Soldiers live. He dies and not you, and you feel guilty, because you’re glad he died, and not you. Soldiers live, and wonder why.”
            Glen Cook, Soldiers Live

      • malkav11 says:

        I disagree. Not that I don’t enjoy the emergent player-driven narratives of your Civilizations and your Dwarf Fortresses and whatnot. But very few of these games have all that much meat or detail to that narrative (Dwarf Fortress being the closest to an exception that I can think of), and certainly none of them reliably offer the exquisite timing, perfectly turned words, or deliberately emotional impact that a handcrafted narrative can. I’ll take the latter any time.

        • Runs With Foxes says:

          and certainly none of them reliably offer the exquisite timing, perfectly turned words, or deliberately emotional impact that a handcrafted narrative can. I’ll take the latter any time.

          Then you’d be better off watching a film, and I don’t say that dismissively. There’s just no way a videogame, with interspersed bits of play, can ever achieve that ‘exquisite timing’ you mention. The structure of a game actively works against what you say you want. And games that do try achieve ‘exquisite timing’ are invariably hand-holding, unagentic, tedious crap.

          • malkav11 says:

            I also watch films and read books. But that doesn’t excuse games from delivering authored narrative, nor does that mean that I will ever prefer random emergent narrative to the authored kind. They need to approach it differently than movies or books do, certainly, but it works and plenty of games do it well.

            I certainly don’t agree that the structure of games works against authored narrative or that games that employ it are invariably tedious crap. If anything, that would more be my description of sandboxes.

        • Nixitur says:

          I suppose I can see where you’re coming from. The point about words is a particularly interesting one, as a story does not necessarily need words. Sure, there are plenty of stories that work better with words, but there are also a lot of stories that don’t need words at all and, in my opinion, that is where sandbox-type games actually excel.
          Basically, this is about the difference between the story itself and the way a story is told. From my experience, sandbox-y games like Dwarf Fortress might be good at creating stories, but not all that good at telling them. The stories may be emergent and extremely engaging, but the game isn’t gonna provide you with some wonderfully written text telling them. Piecing together and experiencing that story is, to some players, part of the fun, but I suppose it’s not for everyone.

      • Focksbot says:

        “Games like Civilisation or Crusader Kings generate huge stories over and over, and they are invariably a hella lot more compelling than anything pre-written. In CKII my dynasty’s rise from minor earldom to king was a story spanning 400 years, and still makes me shudder with delight.”

        This sounds to me rather like stories about what you did when you were drunk, or about the dream you had last night – almost invariably boring for anyone who has to hear you relate them. Whereas arguably, the measure of a good story is that it can be passed on, that it stands retelling.

        • Tatourmi says:

          That is, I think, a very strong argument, and probably one that encompasses the whole problem of stories in gaming.

          Let me get something out of the way first: Some of these emergent stories are worth telling and are worth listening to. The prime example being EVE online and the strange relation a lot of people, including me, have with that game. I’ve never ever played EVE, nor even considered it. However I know some personalities, some events, because the stories this game creates are so potent that they are regularly passed down to us, by friends or the media. And I like these stories, a lot actually. I like to imagine people infiltrating mumble or teamspeak clients, I like to imagine the treason, the tension and I like the originality of the setting, this “fake kingdom” governed by outside forces, which more often than not shed war in that outside world of theirs. So some emergent stories CAN have a value to others. Even some general media feels it is interesting once in while, to non gamers.

          However, and that is where I feel you are right, these are the exception rather than the rule. These grand stories are seldom what we experience in the like of Minecraft or Crusader Kings 2, or even your average pen and paper role playing game for that matter. And that too we can experience, one of the moments I dread the most at “geeky” meetings, or even just in a regular conversation with a geeky friend, is the moment where people try to tell others these stories. Tell us about their castle , tell us about the amazing prowess of their techmarine and their fight against all odds, we, outsiders, are just not interested in it. But does this really reduce their intensity as a story? No, because we feel it, we live it. Sure, it is not something of interest for anyone else, but it doesn’t make it any less potent for us. The comparison with dreams is probably right, these are stories that are not only enjoyable only for us (Mostly), they are also enjoyable only at a set time. Erotic dreams, for example, are usually quite stale when you think about it the next day (At least in my own experience). But I like having those dreams, I like living these stories. And that is all that matters, the only real token of a story’s quality: Your appreciation of it.

          • iridescence says:

            I think if you enjoy and get something out of a story it’s irrelevant whether anyone else will be interested in it. Why does it matter? These kind of games allow us a grown up version of what we did as children. using our imagination and creating our own little stories. Yeah most of the stories fit in the “had to be there” category but why does that matter?

          • Focksbot says:

            “I think if you enjoy and get something out of a story it’s irrelevant whether anyone else will be interested in it. Why does it matter?”

            Because it’s a fundamental feature of stories – as opposed to experiences or stuff that happened to you – that they have social relevance, that they can be passed onward and between people because there’s something memorable or insightful about them. If we don’t think our experiences are interesting for other people to listen to, we generally don’t think of them as ‘stories’ at all.

            That’s why it’s a mistake to think of all enjoyable game experiences as ‘stories’, just because one event leads to another and you get a kick out of it. That’s not a story – that’s just an experience.

          • iridescence says:

            I don’t agree that whether a story is interesting to a large group of people determines its validity as a story. People craft coherent narratives out of these games and the popularity of let’s plays and AARs show there is at least a niche interest. If you’re saying that anything that doesn’t really appeal to the average person is not a valid story you’re also excluding a large section of literature and many art films.

      • JamesTheNumberless says:

        Oh come on, Final Fantasy isn’t that terrible. It serves a purpose because not all kids develop at the same rate, and the ones who are a little slow need something to play too. Just so long as they don’t think they’re playing a proper game, or actually roleplaying, it’s harmless.

        • MasterDex says:

          Can you be any more insulting? You’re here in these threads saying it’s a load of rubbish, insinuating that its players and lovers are no more than stunted children yet you do nothing to provide any salient reason as to why this is the case.

          Highfaluting fools, such as you appear to be, are no more different to those that turned their nose up at the like of Keats, and later, propelled the charlatan Warhol to undue fame.

          I take a small comfort in that however, knowing that with time, it will be the works that will be remembered, and the voices of their detractors will be lost and forgotten; replaced with the admiration and respect that such works deserve.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            You know, you talk a bit like the guys in that script you posted :)

          • MasterDex says:

            And hence we get to the crux of your issue – You dismiss anything that doesn’t sit right with you as below you. Bravo! You have an inflated opinion of yourself.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Well, yay me then. I guess :)

            I don’t have a a problem with the fact that you’re into Final Fantasy, goodness knows they’re well made and fun games but I think their fans are a bit unrealistic about where they sit in the spectrum of role playing games and even jRPGs as a sub genre. I think your producing the script examples above, as you did, and holding them up to be a high standard of writing was asking for them to be shot down. That kind of writing is painfully trite but it’s the kind of writing and drama that enthralled me as a youngster. So I quip, FF games are the lactose of gaming sugars, a surprising number of adults can still digest them but they’re in a global minority.

          • MasterDex says:

            You more or less cemented my point. Thanks. :D

      • AngelTear says:

        I wouldn’t say Civ or CK generates a story. It generates a history, maybe, but it has little to no human value at all. It’s like saying that playing Risk generates a story. It doesn’t. It does if you use “story” in the most literal sense, but not a story in the sense of “the story of a book”, not a story I am particularly interested in experiencing as a human being

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          As a big fan of 4X strategy games I’m not sure whether to agree with you. One of the best features of the older Civ games was the ability to replay the world map and watch the rise and fall of empires over the history you played a part in, pausing at key moments to remember wars, alliances, great achievements in arts and science and all the events that befell your people. In many ways watching these replays was a retelling of the story of the game you’d spent a long time playing. What the best of these kind of games do, is provide you with a world and events abstract enough for an active imagination to create a concrete story from. But it’s a purely personal thing and looking over somebody else’s game of Civ is a bit like trying to see somebody else’s dreams by studying their brainwaves while they sleep.

          Also, your comment makes me think of Rimmer’s Risk Campaign book from Red Dwarf.

          “I threw a five and a four which beat his three and a two, another double six followed by a double four
          and a double five. After he’d thrown a three and a two I threw a six and a three.” ….

          “I jotted it down in my Risk campaign book. I always used to do that so I could replay my moments of glory over a glass of brandy in the sleeping quarters. I ask you, what better way is there to spend a Saturday night?”

          • basilisk says:

            Let me just chime in to say that this was eventually patched into Civ V as well. Can’t imagine why they shipped without it, but it’s there now and it’s as relaxing to watch as ever.

          • AngelTear says:

            I’ll rephrase then: please show me the ethical value of that story about your game of Civ or whatever, or why it should interest me as a human being (beside *mere* entertainment), because I can’t see any.

            You did 2 sixes. Cool. If you word it well, it’ll even be suspenseful, but still, why should I care at all? Even COD’s “storyline” is more interesting than that.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Angel, that’s exactly my point. It’s not engaging to anyone else :) That’s why I said I’m not sure whether to agree with you. Because I enjoy the story of my own Civ games but can’t imagine a worse hell than a bunch of men sitting around recanting their Civ games to one another – I think the emergent story in strategy games is something personal and in the imagination of the player and not something with anywhere near the same value to anyone else. Sure, one could make up a good story around what happened in a game of Civ, or Risk but then the game itself is just feeding the imagination with inspiration and not telling the story through gameplay.

            EDIT: and the character I quoted is both hopelessly detatched from reality, and in constant denial :)

            EDIT: I think it was my phrasing that was bad, It’s because I’m such a fan of the genre that I’m reluctant to agree, but I have to agree while attempting to distill what makes these games so personally powerful – perhaps it just boils down to escapism into a world with relatively few and straightforward rules.

          • mouton says:

            @AngelTear

            Civilization and Crusader Kings 2 game stories can be very well engaging to other people due to their historical context and how they subvert it. Of course, first your interlocutor has to be interested in history to appreciate such stories, but it is true with any kind of story – if you are not interested in vampires and romance, someone relying a story of vampires and romance is unlikely to engage you.

    • WrenBoy says:

      I agree completely with this and it is an obvious example of games being great at story telling but everything in the article up until that point is annoyingly weak.

      Thief is a dreadful example of a game as an ideal medium for telling a story. While the first game is deservedly a classic the second is almost universally considered better as Looking Glass abandoned their strategy of building the level designs and the some of the game design around the story and instead concentrated on interesting levels and then tied them together with a story which was purely a vehicle to provide the game with a set of objectives.

      Interactivity is certainly what games are good at. It is very limiting to view it as something that can help games tell good stories.

      Dragon Age: Origins? Ah come on.

    • shagohad says:

      warning dayz love ballad coming:

      DayZ has been one of the best experiences of emergent worlds for me. Myself and a few others have formed lasting friendships (over the internet) and have created some wierd gaming community of friends of friends that exists in a skype call. However if this one guy had just shot me in the head when he saw me, it would never have happened. Thats amazing, he could have killed me easily and I wouldnt even know these guys who I know play with almost all the time. We joke about it a lot, how close we came to never being friends.

      And thats only one experience. Another is a server we played on with a relatively small group of players on a modded server. The server was a sort of power struggle between each group of players, and it got to the point where you intamitely know your enemies tactics, what weapons they like to use, where they like to lay ambushes, how they behave in combat. It became some wierd meta warfare map, with guerrilla factions, backstabing, temporary alliances, sharing of resources with other player groups with similar goals, a desperate fight to control military vehicles. It was amazing while it lasted and hands down the most fun ive ever had gaming, thats the kind of thing where even when you are not playing you are considering where to place an new ammo cache, where to set an ambush, how to take down that huey, just a fantastic environment that seems totally unique to me

    • Zwebbie says:

      Talk of player generated story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Gameboys from Hell, the Solium Infernum playthrough of the Hivemind and the best thing to have appeared on Rock Paper Shotgun yet.

  2. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m ANGRY.

    • Knufinke says:

      The pictures aren’t as funny as in the first article therefore I’m not convinced.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Did I say reasons? No. ANGRY.

        • Continuity says:

          Hmm, i’m feeling more… deflated? disarmed? All I know is I don’t feel strongly about the subject any more, and I was very angry at the first article.

        • Meat Circus says:

          You’re angry because he didn’t mention Dark Souls, the sine qua non of video game storytelling.

          • MasterDex says:

            The sine qua non? Really? Dark Souls?

            lol

          • GameCat says:

            Dark Souls? Yup.
            In terms of “games that are telling story without copying movies and/or books” Dark Souls is in the top.
            And I find this story better than EVERY RPG I’ve ever played, because, you know, it’s told in game-y way.
            Not by watching cutscenes and/or reading tons of dialogue trees aka “things we should go away from to make unique game storytelling that is not just copy of other mediums with adding ‘choice’ gimmick”.

      • benkc says:

        It’s true, they aren’t, but I did rather enjoy the “Walking out is like choosing your own ending.”

        Perhaps because Save the Date is still fairly fresh in my mind.

    • Bhazor says:

      CUSTARD SMASH !

      … actually that sounds dirty.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      I don’t think we should get Lord Custard Smingleigh angry. I don’t think we’ll like Lord Custard Smingleigh when Lord Custard Smingleigh is angry.

  3. Brun says:

    The best video game stories are the ones that evolve naturally from playing the game. Forced narratives just get in the way of these stories, which is why sandboxy/open world games are, IMO, the best way to tell stories with video games. I think some developers/writers have a problem with those games because they can’t tell THEIR story very easily in that format, because the player can ignore it or mess it up. But video games shouldn’t be about telling the developer/author’s story. They should be about telling the PLAYER’S story, and nothing does that better than giving the player the freedom to make that story happen.

    • zin33 says:

      ive seen plenty of eve “stories” but ive never seen that from another game (say minecraft) and anyhow i dont see how those are comparable to the longest journey for instance
      you also say PLAYERs story but normally i dont see any, you just do whatever you like. its pretty much like watching my young cousin play GTA
      i mean can you even deliver a message when youre just doing random stuff? a story is normally good because it tells you stuff from other persons perspective and to me thats why its more interesting when its all already pre set

      • Brun says:

        Approaching a game with this mindset requires a bit more work for the player which is why you still see developers writing narratives – not everyone is creative enough or has the will and patience to “make their own story.” In other words, playing a game that truly embraces the concept of telling the player’s story means that the player will need to do some roleplaying to really make it work.

        Another way of looking at the concept by comparing it to a pen-and-paper RPG. In that setup, the Dungeon Master typically provides a location, some limited backstory (“lore”), and throws events and challenges in the players’ way. But the events of the adventure and how it ultimately plays out are driven by the players’ successes and failures and their decisions – the story being told is theirs, not the DM’s. For the kind of game I’m describing, the video game is the DM – it provides the framework for the story, but lets the player drive it.

        EDIT: And if you want more examples, look at Dwarf Fortress as probably the best of the bunch at doing this. Go read any of the DF Let’s Play’s and you’ll see it’s far from just “doing whatever you want.”

        • zin33 says:

          yes definitely. i guess im just not the type meant for those kind of experiences / games

      • DerNebel says:

        Minecraft strikes me as a sort of “I remember when this was all fields” story generating game. You’ll build stuff, and the order you did it, the farming for resources, the ideas for placement, what building got consumed in a fire, that time when three creepers conspired to blow a hole in the main building etc. etc. will stick in your mind.

        If you build a town with all the things you need, carve yourself out a throne from the mountain, make a temple for your worthless people to worship you, make farms grow just to burn them down, send a plague of TNT on the parts of the town that displeases you, then it won’t just be building stuff. It’ll be your world…

        Or is that just me?

        • vivlo says:

          Yes and no, you could definitely do it, but maybe i lack the imagination for it then, but as the world of Minecraft is vast and beautiful, a part of me want to visit it for itself, as jsut a visitor, and as such i could never create my own universe in it, imagining that a statue of cobblestone i made is that of a god worshipped by the villagers of the game, because they do other things. I mean, it’s between those two areas ; whereas Dwarf Fortress (from what i understood) really generates a story. Minecraft should be both all in your mind, and already an engaging experience. It’s stuck between those two zones. I liked particularly wandering in a jungle with jsut shears to cut and replace liana, and i wanted to believe i am Indiana Jones when i discover a temple hidden in it, but when i discover that it’s just a lame 9*5 empty room it ruined the fun… same when i discovered a big giant nether fortress, but i was in creative mode (because it’s nigh impossible to discover one if you’re in survival – or very much time consuming) and i could go fast, but it was just big and empty, it had a kind of beauty in it, but i wanted to imagin it as beeing the headquarters of the 7th circle of demons of hell, i just couldn’t – it was empty. It’s a kind of uncanny valley.
          (Or maybe it’s just an unfinished game…)

        • nearly says:

          dunno, I’ve only made it a week or so and then I fall in a pit or starve to death or stumble onto an abandoned mine full of spiders and skeletons and the world ends up deleted because I’m on hardcore

        • fish99 says:

          Why can’t the adventure side of minecraft create a story? Those ten hours you spent exploring that huge cave system and the diamonds you found in it etc, or that time you made a boat, picked a random direction and went off and found a new continent?

          I kinda get fed up of people talking about minecraft as if the only element is building. It’s just as appealing to players who want adventure and excitement.

    • Skabooga says:

      Speaking from personal experience and preference, while I’ve played my fair share of open-ended games including classical roguelikes, DayZ, and Dwarf Fortress and greatly enjoyed them, those games tended to have little emotional impact on me. However, non-sandboxy, set-path games such as Cave Story, Eternal Daughter, To the Moon, Bastion, and Grim Fandango (especially Grim Fandango) all had a huge emotional impact on me, and that experience of being moved is something I value and want to continue to have with future games. But again, it is personal preference.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t want to write my own story. If I wanted that, I would be an author, filmmaker, videogame creator, etc. I want to enjoy one delivered by people who are good at what they do.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        Are you being deliberately obtuse? Agentic games are not about ‘writing’ your own story. They’re about PLAY. That thing that games are actually all about. No one is doing any ‘writing’. The created story (a troublesome way to phrase it, obviously) is comprised of the actions of players.

        • malkav11 says:

          So I used a different word than the one you prefer. My point stands. I do not want to write, create, author, or in any other way be the source of the game’s story. I want to vicariously experience someone else’s imagination and talent. If I didn’t, I would be making games, not playing them.

          • Fred S. says:

            I’d say “then read a book or watch a movie” but even then you’re putting some of your own imagination and experience into a personal understanding of the story. Playing a game, any game, is always going to involve you in the story. Yes, you will vicariously experience the events of the game, but as a part of it, not as a disinterested observer.

          • malkav11 says:

            Well, sure, there’s always going to be some level of engagement required to appreciate any narrative. The fact that games all but force you into direct contact with it is one of the standout things about games as a narrative platform. But there’s a huge difference between connecting with an experience someone else has crafted, and being the one to craft it. I want the former, not the latter.

            And again, I do read books and watch movies and certain television programs and all of that also. They’re great. But games are a different sort of experience, one which I find can deliver authored narratives just as compelling as anything I experience through books or television – if they bother to try, and people quit trying to limit the possibilities of the medium by deciding that only the kind of games and game narratives that they personally enjoy have any value. (Which, for the record, I am not doing. Just because *I* want authored narratives and am bored to tears by sandboxes and most emergent “narrative” doesn’t mean I begrudge the existence of those games. Heck, sometimes I even like them.)

  4. Continuity says:

    Damn it John

  5. RedViv says:

    Good John, that’ll show that nasty John what’s really… HANG ON A MINUTE.

    Well played. Crushed us, just to rebuild us. Nicely done.

    • thrawn says:

      Are we sure he’s not just actually arguing with himself? He may need psychological help. <_<

      • Hmm-Hmm. says:

        It’s all for the page views, I reckon. That or he’s bored? No? John, stop muckin’ about.

        • John Walker says:

          Yeah, if there’s one subject that’s guaranteed to bring in the massive pageviews, it’s counterpoints on the role of story in games. You got us!

    • Continuity says:

      I can never tell if he’s being sarcastic, contrarian, or just plain acting out… I always enjoy the articles though.

      • DerNebel says:

        He’s like a hermit desperately searching for someone to talk to and just ends up debating with himself.

    • darkChozo says:

      And now I regret not posting about the inevitable counterpoint on the original article.

      Here’s holding out hope for “Mirror’s Edge was actually a pretty good game. Discuss.”.

    • Thompy says:

      I don’t get it. It seem like exactly the kind of thing he was going to do and it was clear to me the points in his last article were to raise discussion only and not his true opinions. No one else else seemed to get it though and he got an unjust amount of personal attacks :(

      • John Walker says:

        Both articles contain my true opinions.

        • RedViv says:

          The dialectic approach is utilised far too few times when it comes to solving one’s own point of view, I think.

          • Thompy says:

            Thinking from other point of views to work out my own ultimate view is something I do a lot. I very rarely end up with an extreme point of view (which is not always the best thing).

            For some reason I can’t get across what I mean so one last try. John did not come and say, “Hey guys! Games suck at telling stories and they shouldn’t bother in future. Ok, bye!” but that is how some people took it. Even without the second article it seemed to me that was writing a muse piece. Based on his true opinions, sure, (I phrased that wrongly before) but done in a manner and tone that made it clear that they weren’t the be all and end all of his opinions…

        • Doomsayer says:

          Both articles also contain your untrue opinions.

        • darkChozo says:

          Are you suggesting that your opinion on an issue as complex as human experience is multifaceted and impossible to be summed up as a simple yes or no?

          Nonsense, everyone knows that “opinion” is a codeword for “side”. I demand an easily-digestible headline.

        • TheThinkTanker says:

          INDECISIONFACE….? Maybe…

        • Continuity says:

          You know you could of just put it all in one article.

  6. Farsearcher says:

    Not for the first time I’m really glad RPS does articles like this. Not many gaming sites make me THINK about my views and make attempts to justify them.

    As to the player generated v stories told to the player divide I happily sit in the middle enjoying both sides.

    Thanks for writing this John.

    • DerNebel says:

      And this is why we miss Rab’s Eurogamer articles! This is the exact reason!

      He was there to make you think. He wrote the article, deliberately to make people think. He would exaggerate, throw around accusations, make points out of occurences that noone were really talking about, all in the name if making people think. He even said it, in the very first column: “My name is Robert Florence, and we’re going to have a fight.”. Ohhh and we did. Vile commenters called it clickbait, because, well, it was. But it was beautiful, confrontational clickbait, some of the best journalism I’ve read.

      And then they shut it down. Because he picked a fight with his colleagues. Because the majority of them didn’t like what he wrote.

      So here stands now poor John Walker, alone and left to argue with himself only. Poor, poor Mr Walker.

      • John Walker says:

        That absolutely is not what happened. Rab quit the column because it was edited after lawyers got involved, and that went against his principles.

        EG were hugely supportive of the column, and expressed how sad they were to see it go. In public and private.

    • vivlo says:

      You did not understand the message then. You should be happily runnng around, jumping, singing and laughing along with everybody in both sides. Actually, in circles, not even caring that there are sides. Mocking those who stay sit, anywhere they might be, and soon they will rejoin you and you will sing and jump and soon everybody forget there are acutally sides ! just the Universe !

  7. kud13 says:

    Well done, John. Writing something controversial to provoke a response, and then use those responses to reframe the original issue from the other side.

    Kudos.

    • Biscuitry says:

      Agreed. I have a great deal of respect for Mr Walker’s writing at this point.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      That seems a little generous. The first article’s argument was nonsense, as everybody pointed out in the comments. This article is basically the same as what everybody pointed out in the comments and concludes that, yes, the first article was nonsense – i.e. what everyone in the comments section, the RPS readers, proved they were already aware of. So, uh, what did we learn?

      I’m honestly not sure what John’s trying to prove here.

      • SpaceBrotha says:

        I think he’s trying to say that games are a great medium for telling stories, but lately they’ve been doing a poor job at it, instead focusing on just gameplay.

        • Keirley says:

          I feel like the first article was arguing that games are bad at ‘traditional’ storytelling, and this one is arguing that this is irrelevant because games don’t do ‘traditional’ storytelling, and instead play with new kinds of storytelling. But my problem is that I don’t think there’s any such thing as ‘traditional’ storytelling.

          All media, from novels to poems to films to theatre, tell stories in vastly different ways, so to say games don’t measure up in the storytelling department seems kind of meaningless.

          • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

            Oh yeah I get that – it’s just that’s what everybody basically said in the comments section, so I dunno what the ‘big reveal’ is here ‘cos we kinda already said all this.

          • Nogo says:

            Tell E3 the answer was obvious.

      • Chris D says:

        What I think we learned from this is how much people really care about stories in games. Currently it’s about ten pages worth.

      • darkChozo says:

        Socratic method, assuming you believe that John planned this from the start (I do, but that’s just, like, my opinion, man).

        • DerNebel says:

          I guess, ideally John would have liked another person to make counterpoints, but he’s fine with making them himself on the site.

      • DXN says:

        Got to agree. I read this article with less interest and attention and more resentment, because I felt manipulated by the dishonest nature of the other article.

        Bad show, less of this sort of thing, please. Leave the trolling to Jim Sterling or Slate; I think it’s far more important to feel that I can trust that RPS articles are written in good faith. If you wanted to do a point and counterpoint, it seems more in the spirit of the site to put a note to that effect at the start.

        • John Walker says:

          Both pieces were reflective of my thoughts. Neither was dishonest. Both are flawed.

          • lijenstina says:

            I was thinking about this dialectic approach (obfuscated term for making pro and contra arguments about a subject) a bit and got into a conclusion that is the reason why there is so much media that is affiliated with an political party, ideology and world view that pick only one side of the issue.

            The whole truth is boring (nobody is right) and quite dangerous for the individual because it needs the all spectrum of arguments for and against which doesn’t generate the usual mechanism of followers and the opposition defending or attacking the point of view (one of us is being attacked/they are attacking us – this means war!) and relativise the common wisdom of the ideological stipulations.

            Instead of the conflict being between groups, we are always alone in front of the truth which in a society, similar to the scene from Kafka’s Trial, just attracts the ire from all tribes and factions without the support of one side. Well played, who knew that is this a nice social commentary after all.

          • JamesTheNumberless says:

            Debate would be so much more productive if people who have made their minds up beyond doubt on something were banned from participating in debate on the subject.

          • mouton says:

            @lijenstina

            Yes.

            Reality is genuinely scary, complicated and morally relativistic. Clinging to simple views and preferably finding clear opponents brings solace and peace of mind to most of humankind since the dawn of ages.

          • DXN says:

            If you say so. In that case I stand by my comment on the other article, strongly disagreeing with it to the point where it’s I think the only RPS article I actively disrespect.

            I acknowledge that the pair of articles has provoked a lot of interesting debate, and prompted me to consider my own thoughts. I still find the approach sophistic. If you were going to intentionally post two “flawed” articles in order to provoke debate then I think it would have been better if at least the articles had been posted at the same time, or with a note that made the intention clear. More honest and transparent, which to me is the foundation of RPS’s style.

            To put it another way, I respect what I take to be your motivation in posting two differently slanted viewpoints in order to highlight or suggest a true position somewhere between them. The whole dialectic thing. Fine. But I don’t think that changes the fact that it involves or at least comes across as arguing in bad faith (twice!). If it had been presented differently rather than just being dumped on the front page without comment, I’d feel differently. Of course there are plenty of other RPS articles that are sarcastic or jokey or indirect in making their point. But these ones strike me differently. Maybe it’s just me, being too sulky or missing the point. :P

            (EDIT: finished editing).

  8. kament says:

    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comes to mind.

  9. Hyetal says:

    I expected you to do something like this. You’re becoming predictable, Walker. Watch your step. For no particular reason, obviously. Safety first.

    Great read.

  10. thrawn says:

    “Take Dragon Age, or Knights Of The Old Republic, or all manner of BioWare games. Or Deus Ex, The Witcher 2, Fallout 3, and on and on, primarily RPGs for sure.”

    Ya, I’ve had this month off, so I’ve been replaying through the Mass Effect series. While it obviously could have been much better (especially the ME2 and the last part of ME3), it’s perhaps a great attempt at this, and it has really made me think about how great this narrative could potentially be. I think everyone only cared about how bad the ending was because we had that glimpse of how great the story was. Honestly, I thought Dragon Age: Origins, Witcher 2 and KOTOR (both of them really) were good enough to be considered great story-telling. Sure they may not be as good as the best literature, but literature has had thousands (or hundreds if we want to limit it to more recognizable narrative forms, but still) of years to produce great works, so it’s not really a fair standard.

  11. Bloodoflamb says:

    Yes, you can say that games have a different METHOD for telling stories than film or novels. That doesn’t mean that you cannot compare them. You can, and you can do so fairly. All you have to do is look at their parts: dialogue, character development, narrative structure, and writing in general (I.e., is this scene good/interesting independent of the reason that the characters are here at this moment, the quality of the dialogue, etc.? Basically, is the scene NOT ham-fisted?)

    The simple fact of the matter is that the BEST games when it comes to these things do not even come CLOSE to the best films and novels in these areas. And gamers that argue that games DO, are doing the medium a huge disservice.

    Please note, I’m not trying to say that games are INCAPABLE of doing these things well. I’m simply saying that they currently DO NOT.

    • Nogo says:

      It still blows my mind that that vast majority of cut scenes work better as radio plays than they do as films.

  12. WrenBoy says:

    Goddammit! I was sure that Walker would include Crusader Kings and that I would be able to lord it over Chris D.

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

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

    You win this time Chris D but Ill be back.

    • Chris D says:

      Hah. If it’s any consolation you were right about everything other than John mentioning it by name. Some forces in the universe are just too strong.

      • WrenBoy says:

        To be perfectly honest when I wrote that I was thinking he might clarify his argument in the comments rather than write another article.

        Dont know what to expect now. An article on why you should be sceptical of all hand waving statistics, especially when they appear to back up your own beliefs?

  13. nagmine says:

    100% agree with you John. Ive been arguing this on forums forever. We need more games where the gamer makes his own story. Its the reason I got into Dayz, loved Minecraft and why I am now playing Eve Online.

    • RProxyOnly says:

      Lol.

      You are crediting and agreeing with John on a point that even he isn’t fully commited to, and is simply a neutral thought exercise.

      He just finished an article which was the diametric oppposite of the views stated here.

      He’s playing both ends to the middle. It’s the very definition of trolling.

      But it’s funny though.

  14. Knufinke says:

    Games are maybe not art at all.
    Games are definitely art.
    DISCUSS!

  15. engion3 says:

    flip flopper

  16. skalpadda says:

    I feel better now. Thank you mr Walker.

  17. Shieldmaiden says:

    “It is not the equivalent of “turning a page in a book” by any means – it’s about a personal involvement in the events, an agency, despite its not being one that has an effect on the tale.”

    This, in my opinion, is why we need to make such a big fuss about games that remove the agency, or even the illusion of agency. It’s why Half-Life is a great game and 90% of modern military shooters aren’t.

    • Nogo says:

      I feel these two articles could be summed up with “good design is good,” but it’s a bit more fun this way.

  18. Wednesday says:

    A lot of people like to rag on video game stories because they’re looking to prove what clever dicks they are.

    Presumably as soon as they’ve hit the “post” icon they return to their Voltaire.

  19. TechnicalBen says:

    I’ve not read the article yet, but I’ll start with a “no”. Because games do not tell stories, the player of a game tells a story. A story teller tells a story.

    While it seems I’m picking at straws, the difference is massive. There is agency in a “game” or “interaction”, where as there is none in a “story”.

    That’s the difference. Between someone telling you a story, you telling someone else, and both of you sharing a story (or decision). Most games try to do all 3 and mess it up. For example, a QTE that’s nothing more than an illusion of agency/interaction. It’s best to concentrate on one or the other IMO though.

    • GameCat says:

      All games are based on some sort of illusion. These few polygons with gray texture are making rocks. Grass is flat 2D picture hanged in faked 3D environment.
      Behind these hills you will find only a void.
      You can open a chest and obtain an item, but you will see it only as a string of text saying “potion” in your items menu.

      But it’s enough for our brains to think that there’s nothing wrong or odd here.
      Same with QTE. (I don’t like it either)

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Thanks. I don’t disagree with that. But I’d see that as a game telling a story with the “illusion” of agency.

        The part where the player tells the story, is the part where the player fills the gaps. Take Minecraft or any other open world/sandbox game. The player tells the story there. Even in SimCity I could probably make an internal narration to the events. :P

        Then in games like DX and FTL or Xcom (the new one), I would add additional story to the gameplay that is not covered. Think of the soldiers in XCOM. The new recruit who dies was expected. But what about those 2 well trained snipers you leave out back. They’ve been through 30 missions together and one takes a plasma rifle to the chest. Did they survive? No?! How is the other going to carry on alone. Can they hack it without their side kick and friend?

        So there seems to be a difference between what the game tells you in the story, and what you as a player wish to say. These things can work together, or against each other. For example in DX:HR I was NOT letting a certain character get killed easily without a fight. I had no idea if the game would let me. But I was determined to break the game if needed just to shove it’s attempt at removing my characters agency/choice (even if others say they did not care if the character died). Turns out they allowed that choice, and that really lent to the games appeal and ability to keep you engaged in both telling your own story, while it delivered it’s half.

        Then you have the other side where you get little agency and ability to tell a story. COD perhaps or something else riddled with QTEs. Battlefield 3 made me give up very quickly. The “press X to stab/shoot” without any ability of choice just made it a fancy novel to me. Something I see someone else doing (the writer, the character, the game) and not “engaging” at all in “gameplay”. Especially when here it even does not include a game of skill with a story. How can you mess up THAT bad?

        Some manage to balance it well, most seem to fail to play their strengths. A book for instance wins you over even though you don’t have an ability to make choices or changes. Games don’t need to pretend your choices can effect the characters, why? Because a book already excels at that and a game CAN contain a book. So really any game that adds QTEs or similar is just shooting it’s self in the foot. It fails at the engagement a book provides and the agency a game provides.

  20. lijenstina says:

    So… Do You have any political aspirations, John ? :)

  21. b0rsuk says:

    Minecraft is not a game, it’s a toy. Just like with LEGOs, there’s no win condition, loss condition, goal or even preferred state. Yes, it’s interactive and it’s fullscreen, so what ?

    • BTAxis says:

      The lack of said things is a big reason why I struggle with sandbox games. I need a goal to keep me interested.

    • Brun says:

      It’s a sandbox. Remember when you’d go out to your backyard and play pretend as a kid? That’s what Minecraft, and Dwarf Fortress, and Kerbal Space Program, and most other true sandbox games are. They’re frameworks for players to have their own adventures, rather than the ones written by a “Creative Director” at some dev studio.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Yeah, I’d hate to see how some people do in the real world if they cannot cope with a game that has no “goals” spelt out yet. Generally the context provides the basis for a goal. Then you build from there.

        I’ll not stoop to the jokes, but I wonder if those Producers with alternative intentions could grab a few easy gimmes if they told people the goal was to send the money and significant others to them. ;)

    • Keirley says:

      Oh god, let’s not have this argument again.

    • GameCat says:

      And Dear Esther isn’t a game either. ALL ‘GAMEPLAY’ IS WALKING THROUGH LINEAR CORRIDORS
      That’s just silly, you know?

    • Continuity says:

      You have a narrow definition of what makes a computer game, emphasis computer. I would say that the usage and therefore meaning of the word “game” has broadened considerably with the advent of computer games, to not acknowledge that is.. odd.

      • malkav11 says:

        Words mean things. Calling something like Dear Esther or Minecraft a game occasions expectations and parameters that they do not meet. Describing them with other, more accurate terms is not an attack on their value, merely an attempt to reframe the dialogue, ultimately to their advantage.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Common usage has dictated that “game” in this context can refer to any kind of interactive entertainment software. I don’t like it myself, but the world has spoken.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        They’re two different usages of ‘game’. From a perspective of design, Minecraft is designed as a toy, and Crusader Kings 2, for instance, is designed as a game. (And players can basically create their own games within Minecraft by setting their own goals.)

        Then there’s the more colloquial use of ‘game’ as a piece of software installed on your computer.

        It would be foolish for designers (and critics) to abandon the distinction between toy and game, because it reduces the terms available to explain what they’re doing.

        • Shieldmaiden says:

          I agree, but I feel that ship has already sailed. As I said, I don’t like it. I dislike ambiguous language and I don’t want to live in a world where the statements “Dear Esther is a bloody awful game!” and “Dear Esther is a brilliant game!” can both be uttered by the same person and both be completely true.

          Interactive fiction seems to have gotten out and established itself as its own thing though.

  22. SpaceBrotha says:

    I think that games have a lot of unexplored ground left to them in regards to storytelling.
    For example, I really want to see a game where you can just completely derail the plot in the first half of the game and it evolves into a completely different story. Like accidentally destroying the macguffin everyone is trying to get and now the game isn’t about who can obtain it, instead it’s now about everyone trying to cope with the loss of this priceless artifact… and you’re enemy no. 1 now.
    Massively time consuming, yes, but it would be damn awesome to see.

    Indeed I believe that the above was something people expected to see in ME3, radical differences to the way the story plays out depending on your actions or inactions in the previous two games.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Dwarf Fortress.

      It can really have just about anything happen in it. Some of the bugs it had included the Goblin race not being given the tag “eat” (or “farm”) in their descriptions/programming. Caused the race to go extinct very quick. Or the “Titans” all get killed before you even start playing by some other hero that the AI has made and lived a long successful life with.

      Change any other thing in the game, and you can literally destroy/change the universe you play in. To some extreme degrees.

      Even without mods, you can get some amazing stories generated by the game. Plagues can wipe out entire civs too (AFAIK in the new version), you could even spawn as the only human/intelligent creature in the whole game left to fight nothing but zombie carp. Or alternatively the only Dwarf with nothing but Fuzzy Bunnies left.

      Add to that the persistent worlds as you mention, like in ME. Really DF would be the best game ever made had it some [slightly] better GUI/graphics.

  23. Fred S. says:

    I’m trying to think how to put this idea down concisely, but probably without much success, so here goes anyway.. When you play a game there are three different stories happening. There is the story the author wrote. There is the story the game tells as you play. And then there’s the story of the player playing the game. Dwarf fortress is an example of where the second and the third interact in very interesting ways. Starcraft, on the other hand, is one where the third story is much more interesting than the first two.

    The third story can contradict the first or the second. I’m thinking in terms of some shooter where the gamer is having fun shooting up the place but the author was trying to write an anti-war story.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Yep. Those are some good examples. Though the opposite seems just as likely, the shooter where the player wants to run and parkour. :P

    • nemryn says:

      And on the other hand, EarthBound has the *same* story on all three levels.

  24. LennyLeonardo says:

    Dear John: Is Dancer in the Dark good? I keep meaning to see it.

  25. persopolis says:

    Here is an idea:
    What if we stopped comparing media in the hope of finding the ideal way to deliver a story and just accepted that each of them has their pros and cons, and that any attempt to find the “best” is a pointless exercise.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      But painting is art and sculpture is not.

      You can tell a story in a painting but not in a sculpture…
      You can tell a story in a book but not in a game…

      /sarcasm

    • skraeling says:

      Thank you.

  26. Mhorhe says:

    Outstanding article. I applaud the author, framed my own ideas perfectly.

  27. nimzy says:

    A-ha! I see your newfangled video games and raise you the good old fashioned Choose Your Own Adventure books! Have at you!

  28. amateurviking says:

    Oh John, don’t ever change.

    x

  29. Bluerps says:

    Great pair of articles! The second one hits pretty much exactly how I feel and think about stories in games, but there is truth in the first one too. They go very well together.

  30. Freud says:

    You tell stories in games through playing.

    The original X-Com had hardly any narrative, but told a great story over the 20-30 hours it took to play through it. You even got attached to your squad members despite not knowing anything about them.

    I don’t like it when games try to be movies but I like when games create worlds that give us enough snippets through playing so we can create our own story.

  31. Totally heterosexual says:

    I don’t get why games should be restricted purely to certain kind of storytelling. Im totally fine with both creating my own tales for my poor soldiers in xcom and being shown the tale of the poor soldiers in spec ops: the line.

    And punch of other games telling hella great stories though variety of methods, some embracing player interaction more and some less. It really just depends on what kind of a game it is.

    Woo, being positive.

  32. Shooop says:

    It’s all about presentation.

    How do you tell a story but at the same time make sure the player is actually playing a game? A game like the Walking Dead short series to me doesn’t really qualify as a game because the decisions you make are only tied to a handful of buttons. But what it did so right was make the decisions matter so much so even when you reached the end where all roads had to lead by design, you did have have a hand in deciding how to get there.

    In my book, The Witcher series are the games that get storytelling closest to perfect so far. Like the Walking Dead, the conclusion is roughly the same no matter what you’ve done up until that point and the entire game itself changes based on some of the decisions you make. A single decision determines how the entire second act plays out – where you go, who you meet, and what you get to choose to do. But instead of making “Hey press a button now to get a different outcome in this scene!” the decisions of the Witcher are done mostly through dialogue selection which is only part of the game. Make a decision, and then play the game to see what kind of effect your decision had – sometimes the full effects aren’t even presented until much later! It’s a rare series you get your story and can play a game too.

  33. Christo4 says:

    I think that John tried through these articles to explain that not every game needs to have a deep, disturbing story to be good. I mean games like SR3 and Bulletstorm. On the other hand games can also be a good medium for storytelling because of the level of interaction, especially when you have a choice(TWD).

    What i think the message of these articles was is that you shouldn’t put stuff that your game doesn’t need. If it focuses on story, then you don’t need a complicated combat (TWD shooter?) and if you want to focus on gameplay you don’t need a “deep” story. Some games have it all good, but it’s very hard to balance and most of the times one of them goes to sh!t.

    Well at least that’s what i got from it, specialization instead of generalization.

    • Viroso says:

      This is why I welcome F2P. Most of the fun action I’ve played, fast paced 3D world action, came from AAA games. They have the money to blow to create a big spectacle. And then they trap it to a story. The story limits how fun the game can be, for an instance it forces a character to act reasonably like a human, and the stories are rarely any good, gameplay forces it that way.

      So I wish AAA companies just forgot about the story part and tried to create gameplay only. F2P games are perfectly suited for that. Stop wasting all the resources they have limiting their games with dumbass stories.

  34. zachforrest says:

    John’s DVD collection suggests he only has about a 50% chance of identifying anything decent. Can we trust him?

    Yes.

    Good articles.

  35. DrScuttles says:

    John. Nicely done. Also, you have provided a very interesting cross section of your DVDs. You even own the Citizen Kane of films!

  36. Kevin says:

    Is this John aping on Kieron’s Boiling Point review on Eurogamer?

  37. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    No mention of simple length? It’s easier to care about characters when you spend a lot of time with them, and video games have an advantage over books in that your interaction–as pointed out–can smooth over narrative problems. You aren’t merely watching the heroes triumph, you are facilitating it, and it’s easier to overlook plot holes and logical leaps if the writing focuses on the characters you like.

    Of course, the flip side is that players seem far more likely to become upset–to feel cheated, even–should a plot fail to reward them sufficiently. After all, it’s no longer merely the character who reaches the end of the story, but the player. For instance, I thought Red Dead Redemption had a fantastic ending; in fact, I thought it was really the only way it could have ended. Looking around the web, however, I sometimes think I’m the only one who thinks so.

  38. Runs With Foxes says:

    The fundamental problem here is framing all these games in terms of their stories, which is hilariously reductionist. I know the article is about stories, but you can’t seriously explain the appeal (or lack of appeal) of the games mentioned without deferring to the thing that’s actually unique to games: play.

    The problem is most stark when you give Thief as an example of your first kind of game, the one that wants to tell you a story. In no way is Thief about telling you a story. It does that, but using it as an example of a ‘storytelling’ game gets us so far away from the game’s actual appeal that it doesn’t serve your point at all. The appeal of Thief is the great degree of player freedom within each map, and the story, such as there is, merely structures the sequence of maps. That’s not to say the story is completely unimportant — it wouldn’t be there if that were so — but it’s simply not where the appeal lies. You wouldn’t string together the game’s cutscenes and watch them as a movie, because that would be dull. The story does not stand on its own, so it’s a really bad example of what you’re trying to argue.

    Deus Ex is structured the same way as Thief. You use it as an example of a branching narrative, but any branching is minor (characters appears later on or not) until the last couple of maps. Essentially the game has a linear narrative that, like Thief, structures the sequence of maps. And again, while the game has a better story than the vast majority of videogames, it’s still not something you’d sit down and watch. The appeal of Deus Ex lies in the affordances of its mechanics. Its appeal is play. That you label ‘emergent’ a ‘buzzword’ suggests to me that you have a lot of thinking left to do about this stuff.

    The third type of game you mention you call ‘sandbox worlds’ but this, again, is reductionist, and you seem to focus on 3D environments, which makes games like, say, Crusader Kings 2 and other strategies an awkward fit, even though they give players an extraordinary degree of freedom. Further, I would say games like Thief and Deus Ex actually fit well in that ‘sandbox’ category, because each map is essentially a detailed playground.

    The problem with the way you’ve categorised games here is that you’re focused solely on storytelling instead of play, instead of the thing that makes games appealing, the thing that’s made them appealing since the dawn of humanity. This obsession with story in videogames (and even when we discuss its problems the discussion is still framed around it) is a bizarre and modern obsession. It’s a response to the perceived low status of games, of play. It’s a desperate attempt to legitimise videogames, to raise them up to the level of film and literature, because — perversely — we see videogames as more akin to those media than to the form that still remains in their name: games.

    • Viroso says:

      Oh, should’ve read your response before posting mine. I like that last part a bunch. Not that games aren’t fit for telling stories, I think they are, it is just that I don’t understand why’s that the end all be all.

  39. Viroso says:

    You know what’s the problem, is the “telling stories” thing. Why fixate on that? Why look at everything through these lenses. What matters is what you take away from something, and really call me shallow here, how entertained you are, which I think can be gauged as “for long does it make you forget about everything”. This goes for 1984 or Tetris, what you take away from it and how much it distracts you.

    Let’s stop gauging the worth of things based on the stories it tells.

  40. Burky says:

    As a barely literate narcissist who plays videogames for a prescribed narrative that demonstrates my avatar – and therefor myself – to be cool, sexy, powerful and incredibly masculine; I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Bravo good sir.

    • Burky says:

      Those sad games are great too; as seen by the tears that flowed when I played a visual novel about wanting to have sex with a computer. Truly I felt one with the human conditions. It was epic.

  41. pocketlint60 says:

    I had recently begun thinking that there’s just so much bullshit in this industry that I was considering giving up on my dream to make games myself. Then, I read this article.

    This is why I don’t just play, but love video games. Specifically number 3: As much as I’ve loved linear stories and branching ones, the idea of a story that is literally made entirely from the player combining sets and props given to him by a developer is the reason I want to make video games: to tell stories and to allow others to tell stories. Thank you for reminding me where my passion came from.

    P.S. if anyone is looking for more of those “type 3″ stories, the literally emergent stories, I highly recommend Crusader Kings 2. In an age where most AAA games are extremely constrained shooters, CK2 is a procedurely generated lie-em-up. Seriously, you’ll be deceiving vassals in CK2 about as much as you’ll be firing bullets in the Call-a-Doots.

  42. Igor Hardy says:

    I knew that first article had to be a set up. :)

  43. trajan says:

    Games are what movies should have been.

  44. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    Funny thing, I’ve been doing some Doctoral research in this area and you wrapped some of the spectrum fantastically John. Great stuff.

  45. skraeling says:

    Okay, so games can tell stories that are as meaningful and as rich as any other medium. I’m right there with you. But, why take the next step and claim that games are /better/ at telling stories than anything else? Who benefits from that egotistical perspective. I mean, that way of thinking isn’t going to make games better, it’s not really going to accomplish anything tangible. When did it become so important for games to be “better” than other mediums? What happened to games being awesome because they’re the most funnest of all the stuff ever? Many of the best games ever made were made with the goal of just being fun.

    So anyway I actually have an absurdly lengthy response to your article, John Walker. Your core point in the article, similar to points that have been made many times by many people, seems to be that games are different and better at storytelling than other mediums because 1) they let the player create his/her own personal story (player choice), 2) they are nonlinear, 3) they are interactive.

    There are some flaws with this perspective one of which you yourself brushed upon when you wrote, “…[it] is the same means by which we piece together the narratives with which we interpret our own lives…” That’s right, because the “storytelling” attribute you mention, being able to tell your own personal story through interactivity, is an attribute shared by /everything that exists/. That kind of “storytelling” is universal from eating chocolate pudding to sports. We all create our own personal stories in the real world because that’s just the nature of reality. Even a book allows us to create our own personal story as we experience the events in our own way. “But wait!” you might object, “Books don’t let you create new stories /within/ the fiction of the medium the way video games do.” But neither do video games:

    I’ve seen a few people say something to effect of, “games tell stories by letting players tell their own stories.” And they are telling their own stories, but those stories are being created in the real world based on the players real world decisions. The player’s personal narrative in SimCity is a real world narrative told with the help of digital props. Players are not actually creating a new story /within/ the game. I know that sounds crazy but let me finish! The idea that you are “creating” anything in a computer game is a cognitive illusion. Within a game, or book or film, you can only access content that the author has placed into the media. If you choose the fate of the universe in a game you are not creating a new story you are exploring a preexisting story, you are exploring preexisting variations of a story that were created long before you first started up the game. You didn’t create those stories. If you choose to use a flak cannon instead of a razorjack to subdue your enemies (or if you choose to avoid the enemies) you are still exploring a preexisting situation which was simply waiting to be accessed; if the author didn’t want you to access that narrative he could have made it so. It really is exactly like turning a page in a book even though the way it’s handled makes it seem otherwise: you are accessing a new physical portion of the medium (turning to a new page/accessing a new part of the game’s code) in order to access new conceptual content of the media piece. This is even true with something like Minecraft: you cannot create anything that the designer hasn’t allowed you to create, so you’re not actually creating anything, you’re accessing something that already existed within the game. If you actually /could/ create something new then you could marry someone in Morrowind, negotiate peacefully with the Covenant, use a jetpack in Myst, or seek asylum in America in Tetris.

    Not only that but the linearity of the storytelling in video games isn’t any different than any other medium. Stories are things that only exist in our minds and because of this they are always nonlinear. The way we access the physical parts of mediums like books or films is traditionally very linear (page after page, frame after frame). However, the way we cognitively interact with the story can be very nonlinear as we alter our knowledge of past events with new information, combine narrative clues to form a deeper understanding of what’s happening, or project the story into the future to see where it might be going, etc. Even the way we access the physical parts of a video game is very linear. If you’re playing Minecraft you can’t just have a house, or have a shovel; you have to go through a rigid, linear progression in order to reach those gameplay states.

    “Ah, but I have you now,” you might be thinking maybe. “If in Minecraft I’m working towards building a house I can change my mind and build a bridge or something instead. Or not build anything. The course of the narrative can change. You can’t do that in any other mediums.” Yeah, you kind of have me there. I mean really what you’re talking about is that you’re changing your own personal narrative in the real world while playing with digital toys. The narrative nature of the game isn’t really changing. The presence or absence of a house does not alter the fictional narrative of Minecraft, it only alters your own personal narrative in reality.

    But still, it’s true. Video games are physically less linear than other mediums. Video games are the only media that have you rearrange physical portions of themselves to explore their content. However, other mediums could do the same but it would be clunky, time consuming, and monotonous. Can you imagine what a pain it would be to read a book that required you to rearrange its content to explore the story. Digital interaction makes the whole process easier and faster.

    Really, the argument about the differences in storytelling between video games and other mediums is a matter of tradition not ability. All mediums tell stories and all mediums are /able/ to tell stories in the same ways. It’s just that each medium has it’s traditional, maybe even natural, way of physically presenting stories and that’s what is most familiar, efficient, and comfortable to most audiences and most authors. The only difference might be that video games haven’t developed a tradional method of physically presenting stories quite yet. They are developing one though and it’s called first person shooting and it’s everywhere even when you’re not technically shooting.

    There’s a lot I haven’t said or addressed or expanded on as much as I would have liked, but I’ve written too much already. I’ll leave you with one last thing.

    Video games are often touted as being a new form of storytelling, with interactivity, emergent narrative properties, player choice, and all those other things we’re familiar with already. But let’s consider two children playing “robin hood” with sticks they found on the ground. As they sword fight each other while running up and down the playground they shout what they’re doing (“I sliced your arm off! “No! I’m wearing armor!”) and feed off of each other’s storytelling. These children are actually creating something new with no restriction placed on them by an author. Even physical and temporal reality can’t restrict their narrative (“I’m climbing this ladder but you have to wait because I actually jumped all the way up because I can do that. You can’t though.” “Okay, but I can shake the tower really hard and make you fall down.”). But let’s leave that aside and just focus on how these children’s play exhibits every aspect of storytelling that is given to video games. There are rules, obstacles, goals, which can be modified by the players. They are interacting with a story created by a separate author but within which they can create new story options: robin hood can convince the sheriff to be good, the sheriff can corrupt robin hood, robin hood and little jon can have a falling out and become enemies, etc. The children’s play even exhibits emergent properties that they must adapt to and incorporate into their story such as a stick/sword breaking in half or someone tripping and falling or a new friend joining into the game. Similarly, action figures, wooden building blocks, dolls, legos, and other things found in toyboxes can be used to create personal stories the same way video games can (which if I remember correctly is where we got the term “sandbox games”, but maybe I’m wrong). A major difference is that video games can store huge amounts of props for playing, but a toybox can only store so many toys, and the toys in a video game can behave all on their own.

    The point however, is that if video games are a storytelling medium because of their interactivity and player choice then it is most definitely not a new form of storytelling. It goes all the way back to when some child decided that he would be Gilgamesh, his friend decided that he would be Enkidu, and their third friend decided he would be Gilgmesh’s secret twin brother who is as strong as Gilgmaesh except he can shoot fireballs from his eyes. And then they went and had fun.

  46. Fenix says:

    Why are people acting as if this piece contradicts the previous one he wrote? They are not mutually exclusive.

  47. Laurentius says:

    Are games a medium to tell stories and have narrative, absolutly, not every game can be tatris or SuperHexagon, most of them would be quite boring. We like stories an we need them in games, but is this a medium to tell great stories, just NO ! Sure many books and movies dosn’t tell great stories and that does not automaticly mean they are failures, so it works the same with videogames, they won’t be telling great stories ever, we have to accept this limitation. I know that people mention PS:Torment or BG2 or Deus Ex, these are great games but do they tell great stories ? For me it is obviously – No. Even game that long ago i thought it tells a great story , probably only game that i have this feeling – FF7, but looking at it now ? No it doesn’t tell great story, it’s still great game but great story ? No.

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      What do we mean by a great story though? Do we mean something of literary merit, or something that takes you on a journey that causes you to reflect, think, or just experience some emotions? Or something that entertains you with its narrative? If a critically acclaimed writer decides that their next book will be delivered as a text adventure, rather than a novel, is it impossible for it to be a good story just because it’s a game? Or is it not really a game because it has a good story? I don’t accept that there are any limitations on story telling in games and I don’t think there has to be good writing to have a good story – a ballet can tell a story without words, as can a piece of music, a painting, or a diorama.