Why Stories In Video Games Matter

Some time ago, Maddox, the man behind The Best Page in the Universe (seriously, that’s what it’s called), put up his thoughts regarding how much he hates modern video game stories. In both his post and his video, he criticizes a lot of things wrong with modern video game stories. He mentions how some video games have really awful stories that either are just outright dumb or just are plain unnecessary. He rails on unskippable and long cutscenes as well as how actually writing these stories makes the endeavor of developing and publishing video games even more expensive!

Here. Let me link the video for you… there we go!

Now, I do have to say some of these points are valid (why does Tetris need a story mode?). And, in the strictest sense, I have to agree with him when he said modern video games don’t need stories to be enjoyable. However, I cannot get behind the idea that they are totally unnecessary. I also do not agree that they should be eliminated altogether. Because that would be a holding back the entire genre.

During the early days, video games didn’t need to tell complicated stories. Sure, there would be some semblance of plot with some games. In Missile Command, you play as a guy defending a bunch of cities from a missile raid. In Berzerk, you play a human trying to escape and blast robots. In Pac-Man… hey, what is the story behind Pac-Man? Like I said, story was far from people’s minds when they were creating games then.

Ms. Pac-Man was the one with cutscenes. Not Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man was the one with cutscenes. Not Pac-Man.

Why? Because the mere fact they were playing video games was exciting enough! They’ve never experienced anything like video games before! This was a totally unique experience and wasn’t something they’ve experienced before! During that time, just the ability to control those little blips on the screen was enough to entertain someone for hours and hours.

But as time went on, some of the people that make these games decided to add a little more depth than just telling gamers the overall plot. We then got games that were actually driven by the story and the interaction between the heroes and the world they inhabited. Text adventures such as Zork started popping up. Role Playing Games mirroring the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop games became hits. The stories were relatively simple but they did add depth to the game. But they made these games more memorable because there was more to it than just “rescuing the princess.” Gamers actually wanted to know what was going to happen next. Soon, even action games, such as Ninja Gaiden, told rather complex and cohesive stories with cutscenes in between the stages. Sort of like a reward for completing the stage. And gamers loved them!

But why? Why do we love them? It’s not like games needed them before to be fun. And there are still a lot of games that don’t really need stories to become massive hits. So, why? Because it feels like we’re getting more than just a game. We’re also getting something more. Oh, sure, there are games that are miserable and just feel tacked on (Really? Why add a story mode to Tetris?). But when the story is told right and meshes well with the gameplay, a game just feels more epic in scope. In fact, some games rely on the narrative to push the game along.

Take one of the pioneers of “crazy” storytelling, Metal Gear. It’s generally just about a man who sneaks into an enemy base to destroy a prototype weapon of war. However, throughout the game, we get a lot more than that simple outline. It’s a game with a story of betrayal, conspiracies, the horrors of war and… well, lots more. If the first Metal Gear was just all about getting to the end, I don’t think it would be remembered! But it was the story that made it more than just a game.

The translation could've been a teensy bit better, though.

The translation could’ve been a teensy bit better, though.

This is what games need to be; they need to be more than just games. More than just a childish pastime. More than just a twitch experience. Because if that’s all video games will ever be, then video games will never evolve like other mediums. Movies used to be seen as simple entertainment. So has television shows, cartoons and comic books. But those forms of media have evolved and now tell mature and controversial stories. The stories they tell make us think and actually question what is right and wrong. They’ve progress to a point that even they can be touted as, dare I say, art.

I look at games like Silent Hill 2 and The Last of Us and they tell really powerful stories and dive into the psyche of people and how a relationship can build between two people who have noting in common. I play games like Grand Theft Auto which shows us the humanity beneath even the ugliest of criminals. I go through games like Gone Home and The Stanley Parable which successfully shows people that a story doesn’t have to be totally linear and can be told in pieces. While I’m not sure if I can call them art or if I can call video games art for that matter, I have to say we’re pretty damn close to it being true.

Sure, not all video game stories need to be all serious; there’s always going to be some time for irreverent fun. But there should be room for somber tales. And not all the stories told will be good nor will all video games actually need to weave a story at all. But if we deny telling stories in video games, video games as an art form will stagnate and grow stale. We need games to grow as we, as a society. grow and mature as well. And video games have been doing just that.

So keep on putting stories in video games. Keep allocating money into the development of stories in video games, developers and publisher. We may not totally need it to enjoy them. But we do need it if we want video games to evolve and be respected.

What’s your take on video game stories? Let me know what they are in the comments section!

2 thoughts on “Why Stories In Video Games Matter

  1. Great article! I personally need a good story to enjoy a game and I think that game stories are crucial to the future of gaming. The only games I excuse for lack of story, or at least lack of good story, are games that are generally only played for the multiplayer (like Battlefield or Call of Duty). Otherwise, I cannot enjoy a game that has no story or a bad story. That being said, I’m not insanely critical of stories, I don’t need perfect, but I need some effort on the developers part.

    Stories are just so critical because they give a game its substance. I mean, no one likes poorly written movies and given that games are much more expensive, longer and more interactive I think we should expect a well done story to make it worthwhile to purchase and play a game. There’s definitely a place for story-less games in the future, but as we progress I think a focus on better stories is so very important.

    • Yeah, nowadays, I do believe that most games need to have some form of narrative to tie all of it altogether. I think we should expect more from games these days and a Triple-A that doesn’t have a decent story is just ludicrous.

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