article: should games even bother trying to tell a meaningful story

edited February 2012 in Story Games
should-games-even-bother-trying-to-tell-a-meaningful-story

obviously games in this context refers to computer games.

short answer from me? no, they shouldnt tell a meaningful story

They should offer the player meaningful (game changing) choices.

Comments

  • Define "meaningful".
  • Posted By: TomasHVMDefine "meaningful".
    I know what I mean by meaningful. What they mean by meaningful is, I assume, any story at all beyond something like: 'princess peach has been stolen and mario wants to get her back'
  • Define "developer-driven story". The games referred to in the article certainly have such "developer-driven" stories, in my view, even though they are really thin.

    The article is full of claims that don't hold water, in my view. Nothing much to say about it apart from that.

    Sleep tight!
  • Games can't tell stories without players. Do players tell stories about games? Almost universally.
  • Define "game."
  • I think this post is quite relevant, from Deeper in the Game: Narrative is not a Mechanic
  • Define "TomasHVM"
    Define "Ben Lehman"

    And to make sure that we understand what it means to understand something, define "define"
  • edited February 2012
    Mcdaldno: I don't understand what you mean by " " "
  • For video games, I would definitely disagree with him. Because games rely on participation, the potential to draw the audience in and deliver a powerful experience is enhanced. I would say there are three ways to "tell a story" in video games.

    First is the classic movie style. The game play itself focuses on the action, while the dialogue scenes provide context. I still vividly remember playing Metal Gear: Solid the first time and how awesomely fun that was. I made no meaningful choices that I can remember, but the game play was fun and the story (even with it's flaws) entertained me. One of the important elements was that the character did very little action type stuff in the cut-scenes, except what flowed very naturally from what I had already done. In this kind of game, the player has to control all the cool physical stuff, if you take that out of their hands, the experience is definitely lost.

    Second is the directed story with input from the player. Again, most of the game play focuses on the action, but during the dialogue scenes the player gets to make choices that effect the course of the story. Usually these end up being 2-3 paths to a choice and there aren't many branches (or if there are many branches, the results are not heavily scripted, but just short texts which completely falls flat). Bioware probably has the best record with this (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect), but sometimes the story can feel heavy handed or that player input isn't that extensive.

    Third is the player created story. You give something as close as a living world as you can to the player and just let them do what they want. You can direct the impact of the environment and reward/punish certain types of actions to give a sense of consequence to engage the player with certain types of behavior. I would also include MMO's in this category, as the game designer creates the setting and methods of finding players to band together with, where they are responsible for their own game play.

    A couple years ago, I was disappointed that Six Days in Fallujah was not released. I felt it had potential to take a current event and allow players to experience it. If done honestly and executed well, I feel it could change how we look at what games are capable of. Similar to a how Saving Private Ryan felt real to people to watch, trying to navigate through a game like that could give people a similar experience.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?
  • Should football even bother trying to tell a meaningful story? Basketball? Darts?
  • Posted By: Bad SantaFor video games, I would definitely disagree with him. Because games rely on participation, the potential to draw the audience in and deliver a powerful experience is enhanced. I would say there are three ways to "tell a story" in video games.

    First is the classic movie style. The game play itself focuses on the action, while the dialogue scenes provide context. I still vividly remember playing Metal Gear: Solid the first time and how awesomely fun that was. I made no meaningful choices that I can remember, but the game play was fun and the story (even with it's flaws) entertained me. One of the important elements was that the character did very little action type stuff in the cut-scenes, except what flowed very naturally from what I had already done. In this kind of game, the player has to control all the cool physical stuff, if you take that out of their hands, the experience is definitely lost.
    This is the style the game dude was complaining about - 'story' as a throw away bolt-on to the game. I think its 'nice to have' (as long as you can skip it or fast forward it if you want to), but as a use of resources its questionable - voice actors, animated cut scenes etc... If this is adding a significant increase in the purchase cost / delivery scedule of the game, do you still want it?

    I see what you mean by context though. have to admit I did like 'half life' - that used the in-game graphics to script-animate short cut-scenes as context for the next shooty-shooty. That felt about right in terms of 'story'. But thats more of a 'this happened and then that happened' thing. There is no concern for characterization, relationships or moral choices, so its not much of a story. All scientists looked and sounded identical for instance.
  • Posted By: TomasHVMPosted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?

    You just won this game.
  • Posted By: stefoidPosted By: Bad SantaFor video games, I would definitely disagree with him. Because games rely on participation, the potential to draw the audience in and deliver a powerful experience is enhanced. I would say there are three ways to "tell a story" in video games.

    First is the classic movie style. The game play itself focuses on the action, while the dialogue scenes provide context. I still vividly remember playing Metal Gear: Solid the first time and how awesomely fun that was. I made no meaningful choices that I can remember, but the game play was fun and the story (even with it's flaws) entertained me. One of the important elements was that the character did very little action type stuff in the cut-scenes, except what flowed very naturally from what I had already done. In this kind of game, the player has to control all the cool physical stuff, if you take that out of their hands, the experience is definitely lost.
    This is the style the game dude was complaining about - 'story' as a throw away bolt-on to the game. I think its 'nice to have' (as long as you can skip it or fast forward it if you want to), but as a use of resources its questionable - voice actors, animated cut scenes etc... If this is adding a significant increase in the purchase cost / delivery scedule of the game, do you still want it?

    I see what you mean by context though. have to admit I did like 'half life' - that used the in-game graphics to script-animate short cut-scenes as context for the next shooty-shooty. That felt about right in terms of 'story'. But thats more of a 'this happened and then that happened' thing. There is no concern for characterization, relationships or moral choices, so its not much of a story. All scientists looked and sounded identical for instance.

    I would agree, it can often feel tacked on or doesn't fit the game well. I would also agree that dialogue scenes or context information that happens while I'm actively playing/controlling the game can work well. I think it's definitely a good thing that this guy is talking about the subject. Game designers do need to constantly reexamine what it is they're doing and why.

    If the story isn't the main focus of the game, I think the context it provides is to help make the space you play it in more interesting. Another Valve game is a great example, Portal. The first Portal game would be very interesting without context, I remember playing Narbacular Drop and hearing a studio had picked it up to make a full game and being very excited. It was the context of the play space though that made the go from being an interesting novelty to one of the more memorable games of the past decade for me. Yet there are no real choices to make in the game. There's the famous "choice" but if you choose no, you might as well just turn it off, cause nothing will happen.

    I'd also recommend listening to some of the commentary from the designers about the process of making the game and the changes they made. They had to adjust the surroundings and context to make the game easier to understand and help guide the players more efficiently.
  • Games create experiences, not stories. In this way, it's closer to life. Which is a different sort of problem than storytelling. You can take experiences and turn them into stories. And you may set out to experience something that will be a great story, but in life you can't determine what that story will be, though with enough control you can rule out most alternate possibilities (e.g. planning a wedding).

    Games that push to tell particular stories are doing it wrong.

    I think they both can tap into "meaning," but of different types. Games like Half-Life, Medal of Honor, Bioshock, do a great job of putting you in a situation and giving you an experience of it. To varying degrees, they have other events going on, that make them story-like, but usually they're only pieces of other happenings (often, "How this situation came about" and/or "How to fix it") giving just enough information to give greater context to the experience.

    There's a long history and acceptance of games that brute force tell a story (especially from Japanese designers). And I'm sure there were great stories here too. But they're like watching a movie, and after every action and visually stunning scene, they take a break and read passages from a book (some early movies were almost like this, and even today there are movies that use a narrator in a completely useless way for the medium). What I'm saying is, just because they exist and are enjoyable, doesn't mean they're doing it right. I think Square proved (twice) how deep and rewarding their stories are when you strip away all gameplay.

    Games that have done story the best usually aren't telling the story you're experiencing. Doom barely has a story. But it's an exploration of the experience of an experiment gone very wrong. Half-Life's story is very similar. You're not going through Gordon Freeman's story, mainly because you don't have any meaningful choices (the choice at the end isn't meaningful, as Half-Life 2 makes clear). You are experiencing Gordon Freeman's rise to heroism. Your skill level (or use of cheats) can make that experience very different from anyone else's, and that's why its a game. Dead Space's story is similar again. But here there's room for exploration (as in Bioshock and Doom 3), you can decide how much you discover about what went wrong in the first place. You can navigate yourself out of ignorance and come away with a story with a richer background - and the pace of it is somewhat slower and quieter - or you can ignore scattered data files and run through guns blazing. The main difference is you can uncover other stories, but you never play through those stories you uncover (though they might hint at what's to come, and certainly add tension and mood). Ultimately, it's the same story, different experiences.

    Games give us experiences. We create stories.
  • I always wonder what articles/critiques like this are trying to accomplish. Surely the people who are making video games, especially big budget video games, make their decisions based on their preferences and goals, not on critical standards.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoPosted By: TomasHVMPosted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?

    You just won this game.

    Nope. Not until he can define "love."
  • Posted By: UserClonePosted By: McdaldnoPosted By: TomasHVMPosted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?

    You just won this game.

    Nope. Not until he can define "love."

    What is love?

    Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI always wonder what articles/critiques like this are trying to accomplish. Surely the people who are making video games, especially big budget video games, make their decisions based on their preferences and goals, not on critical standards.
    I think mostly they make decisions based on "this type of thing made some money last time, lets do more of that" until it stops making money. then they hunt around for something different someone has done that made money, and copy that.
  • thread: should gamers even try to use words

    answer: what do you mean by "words"? what is "use"? what is "try"?

  • Posted By: JDCorleyI always wonder what articles/critiques like this are trying to accomplish.
    Pageviews.

    The original article is a pretty decent troll - nebulous and contentious heresay. Slender, too. Nice and quick to write. I give it a B-. The one where the mean girl bagged on the magic champ was better.
  • edited February 2012
    The play of the game, and more specifically, the player's decisions, is the story. In any kind of game. Story is more graspable by humans in a game that has fictional conceits as opposed to a pure abstract game (Castle Ravenloft as opposed to, say, Hearts, or that book of calculator games that I saw today), but it's there in either one. And it may be true that every game has fictional conceits.
  • edited February 2012
    edit: n.b. quickly devolves into rambling

    True! Except in cases where the game itself becomes a tangible and well-mapped part of that person's reality. If I tell stories about something I did in a computer game, it's typically not within the setting bounds of the game's internal stage, but rather about what was going on in the outside world. e.g. I could have got a perfect Tetris thing but got the one block that screwed me over and I lost. Outsmarted a particular boastful individual in Poker. And so forth. These are still stories generated by the presence of games, and may be just as meritorious as stories from story-games. These stories, though, are not fiction. It seems to me that in order to be a 'story game,' a game needs not only to generate narrative, but to generate fictional narrative.

    On a related tangent, we have devised a few card games to play in-character at the central tavern in our ongoing fantasy game. This could be played in isolation, and I think it would still qualify as a story game, even though poker doesn't. People would recognise stories from 'story cards' as being from inside the game and stories about poker as being from the real world. So whether or not the game has its own internal space and place seems to matter too.
  • Posted By: JDCorleySurely the people who are making video games, especially big budget video games, make their decisions based on their preferences and goals, not on critical standards.
    Counterpoint: Duke Nukem Forever, a game where every design decision was clearly neither based on critical standards nor on any recognizable preferences or goals.

    I honestly don't know what drove any of the decisions made in that game, unless it was some kind of morbid curiosity about how much worse it could be.
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanPosted By: UserClonePosted By: McdaldnoPosted By: TomasHVMPosted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?

    You just won this game.

    Nope. Not until he can define "love."

    What is love?

    Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more.

    *smashes head through car window* DAMMIT! Broke another one.
  • Posted By: Accounting for TasteCounterpoint:Duke Nukem Forever, a game where every design decision was clearly neither based on critical standards nor on any recognizable preferences or goals.

    I honestly don't know what drove any of the decisions made in that game, unless it was some kind of morbid curiosity about how much worse it could be.
    Well, that's kind of an outlier. I really suggest that everyone play DNF at least once. It is an amazing game. There literally is not a single good decision in the game - there is absolutely nothing good about it whatsoever. After 1,000 mediocre first person shooters, to find one that was as relentlessly badly designed as DNF was actually a very educational experience.

    But in most games, even AAA, if you listen to the people talking about their product, they have real desires to make what they're making. Michael Bay really does like explosions and loud music, guys. Not even ironically.
  • I don't know, it's about as critically awful as BulletStorm was.

    Actual Counterpoint: One of the lead developers of Morrowind and Oblivion thought he had burned out on video games for good because of how soulsuckingly mediocre Oblivion was by design. When he was able to make games he wanted to again (after quitting Bethesda), he realized it was just creative frustration.

    AAA video games are absolutely designed by committee in reference to metacritic scores and genre standards instead of personal tastes. (Why are there guns in Mirror's Edge if some producer didn't say "no one would play this game without guns, just slap some in there.", why was Deus Ex: Human Revolution even made?)
  • Maybe I just read different interviews. Anyway, I still don't see the point of the essay. Like, if it's such a great idea, okay, prove it, get to making a shitload of games by your theory and blow all those other inferior games out of the water.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyLike, if it's such a great idea, okay, prove it, get to making a shitload of games by your theory and blow all those other inferior games out of the water.
    Exactly. The best game design theory is a game.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyMaybe I just read different interviews. Anyway, I still don't see the point of the essay. Like, if it's such a great idea, okay, prove it, get to making a shitload of games by your theory and blow all those other inferior games out of the water.
    Because sharing ideas, talking about different points of view, and critical analysis of those ideas is why this forum exists. The point of the essay is very clearly a question. A person's voice is not invalidated because they lack the ability or resources to prove a point by making it profitable. Government and commerce does enough of that for us, thank you very much.

    Your counter points would be much more interesting to read than how pointless you think having a conversation about it on a forum is. And much more illuminating for us all. I don't think anyone cares what the author intended. Certainly, the OP doesn't seem to be concerned with critiquing the essay as much as exploring the idea the essay presents.
  • JDCorley, I don't even agree with the premise of the essay, I just think that your particular critique is coming from completely the wrong angle and is so incredibly false that I couldn't believe someone lived in such a rose tinted world.

    People do, however, make the games they want, often abandoning the strict hollywood style narrative that a AAA budget justifies. That doesn't mean anyone will pay attention. More people will watch Transformers and Battleship: The Game: The Movie than will watch Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives or even Drive. Likely, more people will read an essay that takes 5 minutes of their time than invest in a 2 hour film or a 10 hour game.
  • Posted By: Pulp PoetBecause sharing ideas, talking about different points of view, and critical analysis of those ideas is why this forum exists. The point of the essay is very clearly a question. A person's voice is not invalidated because they lack the ability or resources to prove a point by making it profitable. Government and commerce does enough of that for us, thank you very much.
    Hmm? Well, phoo, why didn't you read what I meant instead of what I wrote?! Good point. What I meant was that basically this guy is just expressing a matter of taste. Tastes differ.
  • Posted By: UserClonePosted By: McdaldnoPosted By: TomasHVMPosted By: McdaldnoDefine "TomasHVM"
    Love?
    You just won this game.
    Nope. Not until he can define "love."Love is the feelings that leads us to protect something;
    - the love for our world (life in general, places, phenomenons and things)
    - the love between friends/family
    - the love between sexually attracted individuals

    True love shows itself in the full acceptance and selfless protection of the object of our love.

    Have a nice day!
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