Okay, I’m back after a brief absence. This time I’m going to go on a somewhat short rant about the importance of story telling within games. This is partly due to the release of Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us (which is an outstanding game by the way, check out what Adam had to say about it) which reminded all of us what a perfect medium for story-telling video games are. Without the depth derived from compelling characters and authentic yet clever dialogue, it is much harder to lose yourself in a game. No matter your average K/D on Call of Duty, or how much time you spend blowing the hell out of each other on Halo, it’ll never be the multiplayer or gameplay that will make you fall head over heels in love with a game.
We only have to look at some of the highest rated games of this year so far, Bioshock Infinite, The Last Of Us, Injustice: Gods Among Us and Tomb Raider, to see that this is the case. People like to go on a journey, get lost in an imaginary world, or get to know interesting characters. Escapism is a powerful thing. It’s the reason we all spend so much money on films, TV and games. Everyone enjoys the thrill of seeing something new and experiencing the extraordinary, it can take us away from the humdrum of regular life. And you can only experience this when what we see and hear are plausible (at least to some extent, floating cities aren’t exactly scientifically accurate). We get lost in the story and feel for the characters because we can relate to what is happening on screen.
None of this happens with games like FIFA 13 or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. And to some extent we don’t expect it to, they do what they say on the tin. They are fleeting, one off thrills. But that’s why they’ll never truly be the games we remember for decades, that we talk about for hours or that will win all the game of the year awards. If we look at two of the biggest success stories of 2012, The Walking Dead: The Game and Journey. These are not just amazing games, they are pieces of art. Not just because they are visually exciting, but because they are immersive and capture our imaginations. They may not be games that everyone played (you should have, but hey, we all make mistakes), but their ability to tell a story made those who did play the games remember them above all the other multiplayer extravaganzas and one off thrills out there.
People always say, “sex sales”. Well, I’ll tell you what sells better. A good story, rememberable dialogue and compelling characters. Even if we take a second and look at another form of media, film. Films like The Avengers sell lots and lots of tickets and do very well at the box office, but in 10 or 20 years time when you have to re-buy all your films again because everything is holographic and you can’t use Blu-rays anymore, will it be a film that’s at the top of your list? I doubt it. It’ll your Blade Runner’s, your Pulp Fiction’s, your Star Wars (original trilogy of course, a good bit of classic story telling) that you go out and purchase once more. In the long run, and often in the short term as well, it’s the story that sells. Not the destruction of a city or big robots fighting each other (I’m talking to you Michael Bay). It is no different with games. Especially as we’re already starting to see a shift to digital distribution and the re-release of old games in HD.
But that’s enough about sales. Let’s talk about your money. Your hard earned cash. The stuff you hand over in exchange for entertainment. Surely a story that you can’t stop thinking about and that you keep going back to over and over again is worth a bit more than the repetitive shooter. Simply put, if it takes you six hours to complete a game, is it worth your money? Or is something that will take days to complete more worthwhile? I think the answer is obvious. Even if you spend a longtime reaching prestige level or maxing out your skills in multiplayer after completing the single player (or not starting it, as seems to be the fashion these days), are you entertained? More than likely your just doing a bit of stress relieving or wasting a few hours between work and time at the pub. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but surely you shouldn’t have to pay £40 to do that. For that price you should be so blown away and so stuck into the game that you stand up your friends who are waiting for you at the pub and you have to call in sick for work the next day. Only a well written story will do that.
And I think I’ve made my point there. Story wins over spectacle every time. It’s part of the artistic nature games, it’s the reason we get addicted to them, it’s what creates conversation and what deserves our pounds and dollars. Without it the games industry would shrivel and die, and would be much less interesting. Much like how fairy and folk tales once helped people take their minds of the grim conditions around them hundreds of years ago, stories still do it today. And games are one of the best the mediums to tell our stories, to express our ideas and to introduce us to exciting new worlds.
Agree or disagree? Leave a comment.