So you’ve got your favorite game playing on your next-gen console, smart phone, tablet or computer and you’re making your way through each stage. But what is it that’s really moving you through each stage and pushing you towards the thrilling conclusion? Is it the unique gameplay, endless supply of ammunition, stunning (or not so stunning) landscapes, digital surround sound or over-the-top (or simple) effects?
All of these are definitely reasons that a videogame is a good game or even a great game.
But think about it for a minute. What is it about this game that makes you want to see it through to the end? Go ahead and think. I’ll wait.
When you start a game for the first time and play it for a few minutes, what is it that sucks you in and makes you play for hours on end over a few weeks, months or longer? It’s the story, the writing, the narrative that makes a game truly worthwhile and I’ll tell you why.
Let’s focus on Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series for the first example:
Take the story out of it and you have a game that is visually stunning and filled with characters and weapons that are so finely tuned it feels like you are controlling a movie.
Now this is good for online multi-player (which is awesome, by the way). But where did the characters, environments and overall look-and-feel of the multi-player experience come from? That’s right: THE. STORY.
Without a well-crafted narrative that develops all of the characters ( including Nathan Drake ) in their journey to either save or destroy whatever world they exist in, none of the other parts of the game would or could exist.
Now given, all (or most) of Naughty Dog’s games are well-crafted in every facet. But what about games that are not as obvious when it comes to a well-crafted narrative? Say, for example, Playdead’s Limbo .
Limbo is the polar opposite of games like the Uncharted series. There is absolutely NO dialogue and there is nothing, text-based, that drives you from the beginning to the end. At the heart of it, it’s a 2-D scroller (like Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo) and is as dark as any survival horror can be.
So what is it about this game that makes it a truly wondrous title? It’s something I like to call inner-narrative ; it’s that little voice in your head that keeps you asking “Where do I go next?” or “How do I solve this puzzle?” or even “Why is that huge spider, or those kids up there in that fort, trying to kill me?” .
Games like Limbo drive us from beginning to end because they speak to us without talking. Through the mood that they set in our heads with their art style, visuals and sound, they capture our imagination - which is a story in of itself.
And like Uncharted 3 , Assassin’s Creed 3 , Halo 4 or even the pixelated adventure FEZ , they pull us in because we want to know what happens in the end, the middle or even right around the corner which could reveal something waiting to kill us, help us or reveal nothing at all.
A third and final example for now (because I could go on and on here) is Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim .
Time and time again, I’ve said that my favorite game type has and will always be the “Sandbox”; i.e., a game where you can (almost) go anywhere and do anything. Skyrim, which is a Role Playing Game (RPG) set in the massive land of Skyrim, let’s players create their own character and then develop that character overtime as they progress through the game – the standard RPG game flow.
But how do they progress and develop their character through such a massive world where they could almost walk (or run) around for days on end traversing fields, mountains, caves and castles without talking to a single person or creature? That’s right! They FOLLOW A STORY that develops around their character and their character’s actions.
Without the narrative that tells them that they need to get to the top of the mountain to get trained as a wizard or the narrative that pushes them to walk from town to town interacting with other characters in order to follow through with a quest to seek vengeance for a fallen comrade (or to acquire a really powerful weapon or ability), they wouldn’t progress to the game’s conclusion.
Games really are about the story. They give us protagonists (heroes), antagonists (villains) and a conflict that must be resolved. Without these REALLY important aspects to each game we play, video games really wouldn’t have the appeal that they have and have had for over 30 years.
Note: I would like to add that I am REALLY looking forward to my favorite franchise of all time ( Metal Gear Solid ) finally releasing Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes ; which will be a huge, INCREDIBLY life-like game where you go anywhere and do anything to progress through the game – a game that, like all of the previous Metal Gear Solid titles, has always had a great story behind it.
Thank you for reading, and please keep playing video games and experiencing the stories behind them. Writers, and the game companies (large and small) that employ them depend on your support.