Storytelling and Video Games

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While struggling to find the time to play the next game on my list of reviews to do, I started to look back at my previous reviews and notice how the story of each game impacts my overall attitude and therefore score of them. When I first began to write reviews, I decided to include the game’s story as one of the major points to talk about, because I have always believed that a good story is important for a good game. It is interesting to note, then, that out of the games that I have been playing, some of the games with little to no story have been getting the better scores.

That’s odd. Has my attitude toward story changed over the last couple months without my notice? Perhaps it has a little, but I still value storytelling in video games at least enough to continue to include it as a topic in my reviews.

As it turns out, how much story matters depends on each individual game. I’ve rated The Sims 4 highly in spite of the lack of story, because I found it to be plainly and simply fun (and addictive) to play. As much as my mind wants to disagree, some games are good simply by virtue of their gameplay. I feel the same way toward Monster Hunter.

So then how much of an impact does story really have when it comes to how good a game is?

Game of Thrones TT

Telltale’s Game of Thrones gives a really good example of how a game can be boring even with a fairly good story element. The setting and the characters are interesting, but the gameplay is not. The story alone just does not carry the game as a whole.

On the opposite side, one game that was carried by its story is Gone Home.
Gone Home

Admittedly, Gone Home’s gameplay was not very exciting at all. It was limited to wandering around a big empty house with a few puzzle aspects thrown in. What made it such a good game, though, was its atmosphere and storytelling through a compelling (and well-voiced-acted) narrative. Some of that may be due to the fact that I had no idea what Gone Home was prior to playing it and that the atmosphere initially lead me to believe that I was playing a horror game, but then that just makes the storytelling that much more impressive.

I also think it is important to make a distinction between story and storytelling. While I label the respective section in my reviews “Story,” what I really look at is each game’s storytelling ability. This is because I believe that even the most mundane story, such as a trip to the grocery store to buy milk, can become interesting if told in a compelling way. The actual (main) story in Gone Home, while cute and romantic, is extremely simple. In fact, it could probably be summarized in two or three sentences, but the pacing and the way that it’s told keeps it interesting and cathartic. On the other hand, a complex and otherwise interesting story can be ruined if told in a boring manner.

Dragon Age: Inquisition does well to exemplify my point of storytelling. The different branches of story, from the main plot of the Breach, to the tension between Templars and mages, all the way to the histories of the religion and each of the races are interesting and well-developed. The way that these stories are told are often exceedingly boring, though, because they are usually just explained to you by one particular character or another. It then becomes a godsend that most of the story is optional, and you have to actually ask around to get information, so the story becomes less of a classroom lecture and more of a reward for inquiring.

Anyway, I’ve droned on too long about this, but to anyone reading, I’d like to know what you think. Is story something you look for when you play your games, or do you prefer to skip all that fluff and just have fun playing? How important is story or storytelling to you?

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