When I decided to write a post about storytelling within games, I tried to think of an overarching theme to go along with, such as: ‘good storytelling makes a good game’ or ‘bad story telling can ruin a game’. But the truth is, it’s really not that simple.
You see a lot of reviews or rants about how a game had a terrible story line, (think Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2) and also how games had fantastic stories (KOTOR, The Last Of Us). The latter has been heralded by many as the best story ever told in a game, and comparable to Hollywood movies. But this doesn’t cover the game as a whole, and some of the reviews I read of games are too focused on story, when the story shouldn’t have been the driving point of the game.
Let me give you an example:
No Man’s Sky wasn’t well received, and in part that was due to its lackluster ‘lore’. Some of the reviews I read focused heavily on the lack of a driving story and reading them I couldn’t help but think: ‘right, but that’s not what this game is about’ it’s like criticising a hardware store for not selling bread.
To me what it boils down to, and some people seem to forget this, is games are designed for different purposes and it’s very difficult to try and encompass every aspect, let alone do it well.
This is why a general overarching theme regarding storytelling is so difficult, it depends on the genre of the game and whether it’s supposed to be story driven.
Rocket League, for example was obviously never meant to have a story and is incredibly successful, nobody expects it to have a story, just like nobody expects it to sell a loaf of bread. But this leaves the question as to why games get a bad rap for story telling when they should be in the same boat?
Storytelling games of course should be judged on.. you guessed it, their ability to tell a good story and there are some games that do this fantastically: The Last Of Us, Heavy Rain, Freelancer, to name just a few.
But what makes a good story in a video game? The plot, right? Well yes, but also no.
Obviously a good plot is fundamental to a good story, but the two are not synonymous. A good story is immersive.
As I studied maths university we looked at how key conditions affected results. Bare with me. A sufficient condition is one which on it’s own will provide the desired results, whereas a necessary condition is one which, without it, won’t give the desired result, but it isn’t enough on its own.
We can apply this to good story telling in games. A good plot is a necessary condition, but isn’t enough on its own. The other condition is emersion. By this I mean good voice acting, good animation, believable characters, and for many games these days; good graphics, (Amongst other things).
There are of course exceptions to this rule. Go back a few years when the technology wasn’t available to give great animations and great graphics, we still had great stories (Final fantasy VII, Planescape Torment). But this I what I’m getting at:
In my useless opinion, now that the capabilities are there, it’s expected that good story telling should have these components… It’s tough to argue that The Last Of Us would have had the same shattering impact on your soul if it had the graphics of a potato and the animations of a….Potato.
But this is a good thing! The immersion is just going to get better as technology progresses, and this ties in to my last post about complexity.. this is where that extra computing power can rarely be overspent.
So the future is bright.. of course there will come games with fantastic graphics and awesome animation, but plots that rival ‘The Room’ in it’s uselessness, it’s inevitable. But we also have more games like the majestic ‘The Last Of Us’ (if you hadn’t noticed I’m a bit of a fangirl about this game) to look forward to. So next time your playing a game and maybe the story let’s you down, take a moment to think, ‘wait, is this what I’m supposed to be looking for?’ else you’ll end up balls deep in that hardware store with nothing to hold your bacon, lettuce and tomato between.