Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Sorry CNet. Video Game Stories Do Not Suck.

Though I'm mostly certain that this CNet piece was written to be click bait, it does propose a  question that is worth discussing: Do video game stories suck?

The obvious answer is no, not all of them. Some do, but most do not. The CNet writer seems to think they all do except for Bioshock Infinite. A game that's riddled with it's own narrative dismissals, plot holes, and an unfortunate female trope where Elizabeth is a glorified door opener. Seriously what does she go in the game other then get captured, hand Booker items, and open doors? She doesn't fight, doesn't defend herself, and has to use her tears to get you new items. Wow. Great story-telling there! But the writer is more focused on mechanics are what make video games fun and stories are all B-grade at best.

But let's break it down further. What compels us to play a video game? Is it the story? The characters? The mechanics of the game? Pokémon, for example, is a fairly straight-forward narrative. You're a kid. You like Pokémon and you want to catch them all. So you venture out into the world and try to become a Pokémon Master. We enjoy the game not because of the story but the game play. It's fun to go hunting for rare pocket monsters, capturing them, and then fighting or trading with our friends to help complete our collection. Until the more recent iterations of the game, the characters we interact with were atypical. Nothing made them stand apart from each other, with the exception of Professor Oak and some of the gym leaders. It wasn't until the anime became popular that the developer put more emphasis on world building. Since then, the games have been full of enjoyable stories that add to the Pokémon mystique.

On the other end of the spectrum you have The Witcher. A franchise that is steeped in story, character development, and more story. While it is more of a "choose your own adventure" style, to say the story sucks is short-sighted. The game is all about the story. The shortfalls of The Witcher is in it's combat system. I was never fond of it and found it restrictive at times. More often then not I would change the settings back to easy mode so I could power through obstacles and get to the story. The mechanics was never the point of the game. It was about telling this over the top, dark-fantasy epic in a way that only works in a video game. Sure there are books, but what the books don't cover and don't allow you to do, the game does. Are there some tropes in there? Sure! But pit this franchise against any A-grade movie and The Witcher will have more originality by leaps and bounds.

Another similar franchise that falls into the "what the hell is this combat" pit is Dragon Age. Again, another series that is all about world building, characters, and a stupidly detailed plot. What makes the games so much fun to play are not the mechanics. It certainly isn't Elfroot gathering. And just to make it through the first game I had to mod it to create a super powerful character so I could speed through combat. Fighting Darkspawn was annoying. It prevented me from completing the game the first few go-throughs until I modded it. Once the combat was bearable and I could see the story, it was really good! So good I went back and started another character to try a different story-arc and see where it leads. Combat in all of the Dragon Age games is downright painful at times. It cleaned up a bit in Inquisition (at least being a mage wasn't a chore), but that's not why we play these games. It's all about the story and the characters...which you need to make the story happen.

What compels you to play a game can be for a myriad of reasons. Story is one of them. So I don't know if the crew over at CNet haven't played any decent games, or if they are more focused on Mario - a game that is all about the mechanics and not as heavy on the story. But to say all video game stories suck is cynical and unrealistic. There are a load of great stories if you're willing to play the games.

1 comment:

  1. video games have been going downhill for years. there hasnt been anything good in a long time. its the same crap over and over again but with better graphics. thats the only thing devs have been doing right. graphics look better every time. but i cant tell whats special about horizon or stupid nier. its all the same stuff! game stories are getting worse.

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