Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby Segatarious1 » January 22nd, 2014, 6:48 am

This is a discussion topic on why narrative  in games continue to fall flat, and why any kind of 'progress' is realistically impossible. This is not criticism of games, I tend to like games, but of the stories that often go too far, become too intrusive, and are invariably a hindrance to the game play and therefore a drag to the overall experience.

-These are just polygons. You are constantly reminded that you are playing a game, it does not matter how 'advanced' the graphics are, or how advanced they will become. How far can you walk in this world? Only as far as the dev lets you. In a movie or a TV show or a book, this suspension of disbelief is never ended, because they can 'cut' at any time, they can take you somewhere else in the next paragraph. You never see that there is only a false front behind that saloon entrance, because you are never allowed to go behind there.  You have no control over where that narrative goes, so you never have a chance to destroy the narrative by seeing its limits, inconsistencies, failures, and dead ends.

-What is that non playable character doing? Only what he is programmed to do. Never more, never less. They have no real depth, just artificial depth. In a book or a movie, you never have a character frozen in time,  programed to say the same thing over and over again, or walking on the same programmed route, waiting for you to advance the story. It does not matter how much effort is put into the NPC, the effort is only skin deep, you will see the patterns quickly. In a book the character is there, for a reason, to advance the plot. When they are done advancing the plot, you move on to another, etc, etc, - in a game they are left hanging in limbo, they cannot leave the stage, just left to be false and shallow. Again, your freedom to navigate and manipulate the level by loitering, or exploring, or simply trying to find out what do I do next??? -  breaks the dignity of their supposedly autonomous character.

-What are we, the main character, doing between cut scenes? Jumping form ledge to ledge? Looking for a generic switch to pull, or a block to push? Find NPC 'X' to give him message 'B'? For a story medium, this is ridiculous. In fact, it is outrageously cheap and shallow.  What does Links 'lonely childhood' or 'political beliefs' or 'personal morals' have to do with him solving a block puzzles? Utterly nothing. If Talon would wonder in and solve the puzzle for him, what difference would it make to the overall narrative? None whatsoever. It allowed you to advance into the next room, it did nothing to advance the plot. The game play is engaging because there is a mental effort or the game play hook that makes it so, or makes it not so. But to delay narrative for such trifles is an unforgivable sin. Would you enjoy Indiana Jones if the movie was 16 hours long, and 14 hours of that were spent watching Indy trying, through trial and error to solve a puzzle, or re-explore an area because he missed something the first time through? Hell no. But for games, it is acceptable, if you are engaged in the game play and the game world.

-The narrative is cheapened because it is in a game. In conscious ways too, not the unconscious or unavoidable listed above. 'I am not a talented enough developer to advance the story through the game play itself, so I insert quick time events, button presses, into the cut scene, to stand in for game play'. And if you fail, it resets. False choice.  It is dummy work, trial and error, reflex gaming. And it is sad.

Games can have great atmosphere. Great atmosphere can survive story intrusions if they are not intrusive - if they come from a narrator or over a headset, as you are playing. Or if they are brief and to the point, or even if they give you the option to explore the story only as much as you like, and control how much of the story you see.

But failing this, they never mix...the story interrupts the game play, which should be the pride and the point of the game, and the game play fouls, delays, and trivializes the story, it can never do otherwise.  Take Citizen Cain, cut the film up and insert game play sequences, QTE's or not, into the movie. You have just destroyed and cheapened a work of art.  Art cannot cheapen itself and remain art.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby Atarifever1 » January 22nd, 2014, 9:03 am

I was all set to ignore this topic because of the negative way it is set up (especially in the title). However, there are a lot of great points here.

I think books are the best story telling medium, because your imagination fills the world in and leaves no holes. The author says there is a giant redwood tree, and it exists, bottom to top, roots and all. I see a tree in a game, and it's cover or an obstacle to walk around. Picturing it now, I'm tempted to say the trees are basically tree textures on empty boxes.

However, I would phrase the topic differently. How about "why do games differ from other story telling mediums, and how do they succeed when they get it right and fail when they get it wrong."

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby ActRaiser1 » January 22nd, 2014, 9:08 am

If the only games one plays involve Mario jumping on Goombas then of course the stories fall flat.

Ones taste in games will drive whatever resonance will be found associated with the medium.  Citizen Kane is a good example.  If you don't like old movies or in particular black and white films (my wife being one) one will completely miss out on how great a film it is.  There has to be a certain level of appreciation for those types of media.  

For example, I can't stand plays and normally snooze through them.  However, my wife on the other hand can get quite a bit from them.  I get annoyed, bored, and sleepy all at the same time.

From what I've gathered over the years you like your games fast paced, with minimal breaks from the action.  Of course, you won't find stories that resonate with you if all you play are arcade style games.

That's fine. I don't enjoy plays and for me they have zero emotional impact other than boredom.  BUT I can appreciate and understand that someone else actually might.

For me I enjoy a good story and if it's interesting and makes me feel something then all the better, Bioshock, Knights of the Old Republic, and ActRaiser are pretty good examples of games that resonated and made me feel something.  

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby Sut1 » January 22nd, 2014, 9:43 am

You state your opinion well Sega I agree with some of your points, but cannot agree with you.
I recently started looking back at early motion pictures as I hate the fact I may have missed some great films. But I just cannot connect with silent movies, I find the reviews on IMDB pretentious for giving 9 and 10's out of 10 they are just not enjoyable anymore (at least to me). I think you have the same issue with stories in games. I don't like silent movies you don't game stories.
I know I keep throwing Bioshock out , but it was a great experience discovering how Rapture came to be and how it fell into insanity plus the choice if you harvest or save the little sisters affecting how the story unfurls, it was mindblowing.

You state your case well, I just can't agree with you.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby velcrozombie1 » January 22nd, 2014, 10:35 am

First, just an odd question: are you intentionally misspelling Citizen Kane?
I wouldn't ask, but you've brought it up before in these type of discussions
and spelled it the same way. Are you doing that to make some joke or
satirical point, as when you call Assassin's Creed "Ass.Creed"? Also, you
should watch it if you never have; not only is it a good movie, but it gets
better every time you watch it.

I do think that a lot of AAA games are overly enamored with cinema and
thus they do a clumsy job of telling stories by jerking control away from
the player. Movies had to go through the same "growing pains", though:
compare a movie from, say, the 70s to a movie from the early talkie era
(where a lot of films looked like stage plays) and you will see just how
big a leap films made in their own visual and storytelling language. I do
admit that games have a bigger leap to make (since stage plays and films
both allow for passive consumption, and are thus closer to each other than
games are to each of them).

I think the Portal series has done an excellent job of seamlessly blending
gameplay and story, although the second game has a few set-pieces that
occasionally detract from the immersion. The second game does an especially
good job of allowing the environment to tell a story, as you get a virtual
history lesson of Aperture Science and their rise and fall just by moving from
room to room. I think the first 3 Silent Hill games do a really good job of telling
their stories through the environment as well, although in their case it's just
as much about mood and atmosphere as specific details. I will admit that the
cutscenes in those games are pretty hit-or-miss and can help to break
your immersion.

The idea of "being taken out of the story because I'm looking at pixels" doesn't
hold a lot of water with me, personally. I love reading, but I'm never not aware
that I'm flipping pages or that the words on a page are deliberately organized in
a certain manner or that a piece of a dialogue or narration is meant to transition
me to a new line of thinking. I love movies, but I can never completely shake the notion
that I've seen Steve Buscemi play a dozen different roles in various time periods,
or that the camera is moving or that the special effects that I'm looking at are
from a specific time period (bad 90s CGI, for example). I enter into a pact with
whatever piece of media I consume where I consciously accept the limitations
of their format. I'm not the guy watching Night of the Living Dead saying "This is
fake! I'm not scared!"; I'm the guy watching Night of the Living Dead saying "I
know this isn't real, but I'll play along. Now scare me!".

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby darkrage61 » January 22nd, 2014, 3:21 pm

My response to your points:

So what if you're reminded you're playing a game?  With other mediums i'm always reminded that i'm watching a movie/TV show or reading a book, sometimes a game's story is so immersive that it feels like i'm really there and I forget that i'm playing a game, which for me dosen't happen with any other form of medium.  Also you DO have control over where the narrative goes in games like Mass Effect.

If a game is programmed well enough, nothing ever "breaks the dignity" of the characters for me.

I for one like my main characters to have some depth, I can see why some would find this stuff pointless and distracting and that's fine, but I find it hard to get interested in games with paper-thin characters with zero depth. I don't really see where you're going with the Indiana Jones comparison.

Inserting a narrative does NOT automatically mean the developer isn't "talented" enough, personally I find a good story compliments the gameplay, if the story is lackluster then it's a bit harder for me to be able to enjoy playing through the game.  Game stories can and DO mix well with gameplay, if they're done right they do not distract in the least, it's not "dummy work" in the least

i'm honestly not a fan of Citizen Kane, older films just don't really interest me that much, even Welles himself wasn't overly fond of the film, and again I don't really see what that film has to do with stories in video games.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby N64Dude1 » January 22nd, 2014, 3:37 pm

The problem with today's games is the same thing with most movies these days: They resort to grittiness or raunchy-humor in place of character development (or in the case of video games good gameplay too). And from there you get cliches

A great story can sometimes make-up for bad gameplay (rarely but sometimes),and a bad story (by this I don't mean an excuse plot) can sometimes nullify good gameplay (much more often I find). And together,you can get something that really stands out [Like BioShock or Tomb Raider].

As for Citizen Kane,that's just Orson Welles really selling himself and frankly I find it to just be mediocre. A movie like Casablanca or 2001: A Space Odyssey or King Kong would all be much better stand-ins for this discussion than Citizen Kane.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby scotland171 » January 22nd, 2014, 4:15 pm

Many of your comments, my friend, are common to any story telling method I can think of. All story worlds are limited, since the idea is to tell a story, not a meandering tale of unconnected episodes. The storyteller drives the story where it needs to go to impart the goal - to entertain, to moralize, to educate, whatever. What if Cinderella did not drop the glass slipper? What kind of day did the person about to be eaten by the shark have yesterday? What was Captain Ahab's previous whaling voyages like? We only get answers, if at all, if it advances the plot. Ahab lost his leg in the last voyage to the White Whale and thus motivates the course of the final voyage.

Video games differ because of the element of control the player has on their PC's actions. Yes, like the Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun" they only get what is necessary to create their world, and they cannot go beyond it. In that episode, the PCs notice some of the storytelling issues you mention, but have to play along anyway.

Being a game forces the PC into a mold, or else it would not be that type of game. Why do many platformers run to the right? 'Cause that's the way that type of game works. If you fail to beat the giant spider on level two, you have to go back to the last checkpoint and try again. That previous failure is forgotten because that is how that type of game works.

Let me bring up two other storytelling media. The first is radio. Many of you may never have listened to a 40s or 50s radio drama. Like books, because the listener has to supplement what they are hearing with their imagination, they can be quite captivating.  So by being video games, emphasis on video, they are linked to the great unimaginative wasteland that television is sometimes referred to as. 

The other is another mostly non-visual story telling medium with even more freedom of action - tabletop role playing games. Once again the world is limited, and NPCs orcs march back and forth waiting for the PCs to come and kill them, and negotiations are out of the question in the quest for gold and glory. Anyone who has played D&D, or read Knights of the Dinner Table comics understands that the storytelling is collaborative. While lead by the Game Master, the players can elect any action they want, even completely self destructive ones. Party members fall on each other, for instance, or kill that NPC before it can impart that vital clue to drive the rest of the story. If the players follow along and act reasonably, they are in for the planned adventure. If not, they can derail the story at any time, and the results are often not as fun as you might think. Yet what has a bigger reputation for being totally captivating as table top role playing games? That kid is not really Sir Donald of Dangermore with their +5 Hackmaster sword, but little 8th grade Andy. Yet, in Andy's imagination, wow, is Sir Donald the dragon slaying he-man of the entire province.


Video games are one more in the array of story telling media. I can understand someone not liking video game for their ability to tell stories. That is just as others here remarked on not liking silent movies or live theater. I think what draws the reaction is to hear that opinion from a passionate gamer. 

Perhaps it is like enjoying music for being fun, but not appreciating any form of storytelling music.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby Atarifever1 » January 22nd, 2014, 7:28 pm

Great posts guys.
Scotland, CBC radio still sometimes does new radio dramas. Afganada was the latest, and was a great radio drama about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. I really like The Shadow, and used to listen to it online. I should really download a run of them to replace podcasts for awhile. I agree that, like books, they require a lot of imagination, which is likely why I love them.
I have never played DnD, but I do listen to some podcasts of people playing. The penny arcade ones are pretty great, and there are a surprising number of similar ones. I am certain I would love DnD, but none of my friends were ever into it sadly.

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Reasons why game stories cannot resononate.

Postby Atarifever1 » January 22nd, 2014, 7:31 pm

[QUOTE=N64Dude]A movie like Casablanca or 2001: A Space Odyssey or King Kong would all be much better stand-ins for this discussion than Citizen Kane.

Me and my wife watched Casablanca for the first time ever a couple years ago. I could not believe how great it was. Absolutely impossible to oversell that movie. Incredible stuff.

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