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Cool Story Bro – The Importance of The Narrative In Game

So how do you like your story; well done, raw or somewhere in the middle? There’s no denying that during this current generation of gaming we have seen an increase in narrative based games. I have always been a “gameplay first, story second” person and always will be. However, that’s not to say I don’t love a good story in my game, it can definitely add a lot to the experience, it does amazing things for Metal Gear Solid and God of War for instance. However, is story becoming too important in an area where the entire point behind the medium is interaction?

When gaming was beginning to take off, with games like Pac-Man, Tetris or Space Invaders, they had virtually no story. What was on screen was just a visual representation of the programming. As technology advanced, the opportunity for telling stories in gaming greatly expanded, an early example being the Metal Gear series, you spend more time watching the story unfold than you do actually playing the game. But does that make it a bad game? Of course it doesn’t, but does it take too much interaction away from the medium; you could easily argue that it does. I imagine you’ve spent far more time playing your favourite game than you have watching your favourite film, the gameplay part of a game is different every time you play, whereas the story will remain the same.

An enjoyable story can easily compensate for a games’ shortcomings, once again, using the Metal Gear series as an example. The original is the only one where the gameplay wasn’t completely behind the times, but the depth and detail of the story made up for that. People allowed these shortcomings because the story was so interesting. This works exactly the opposite way also, the gameplay in Metro 2033 is severely behind the times as far as shooters are concerned and it doesn’t have a really gripping story to keep you hooked. While Metro does have a very well realised world and settings, there isn’t anything there to really make up for the gameplay, a story can easily fill this void.

There aren’t many games that have the best of both worlds, a game like Ninja Gaiden, which has some of, if not the most responsive gameplay in existence, has virtually no story to speak of. But again, the sheer quality of the gameplay and interaction more than excuses it. In a game like Ninja Gaiden it is clear that the team spent their time fine tuning the gameplay to make it as perfect as they possibly could. There are games that strike a very strong balance between the two, games like inFamous or Shadow of Rome. The story is the main thing motivating the protagonist, and the gameplay becomes more immersive because of that. You feel almost as if you’re taking on their persona and experiencing what’s happening. The cherry on top of these games is that their gameplay doesn’t suffer for it, and in these cases, the story adds so much to the package. The gameplay is just more fun because you feel motivated to progress on.

Not every game can have a good story, because sometimes it simply isn’t needed. Sometimes the core attraction to a game is the gameplay, but should this be the exception and not the rule? I would say if there is room for the story to be expanded without hurting the technical side of things, a good story is always welcome because it enhances the experience. However, the entire point behind a game is interaction (in other words) playing the game. For this to be great requires a lot of time to perfect, and in a medium such as games, that should take priority. Stories will always have a place in gaming, but gaming began as interactive entertainment, and if we take too much of that away, in the end the thing that made games great will (unfortunately) fade away.

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