Video Game Narrative

General and high profile video game topics.
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DaHeckIzDat
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Video Game Narrative

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 19th, 2015, 2:58 pm

I saw this topic come up in the Gamergate thread, but it was cut off for being off topic, so I'd like to bring it up again here. So... do you think it's possible for a video game to tell a great story? Not just good as in "entertaining," but something amazing that does more than give you an adrenaline rush to kill the bad guys. Here's my take on it:

As I've said countless other times on these forums, I play video games almost exclusively for story. I mostly play RPGs and JRPGs like Final Fantasy and the Tales Of series. These, I think, feature some of the best stories that I've ever heard, be they movie, book, or game. While action oriented games like Heavenly Sword (another favorite of mine) are fast paced and need to always keep the story moving forward, RPGs are slower in nature and therefor can get away with having slower, more thoughtful moments. Like in Tales of Xillia, when Milla gets paralyzed by the bad guy, and Jude has to carry her all the way back home where his father can heal her. There's no pulse pounding adrenaline laced action there, just a few random encounters with regular enemies. What it DOES have is a long, heartfelt part of the narrative where you get a true sense of how loyal Jude is to his friends. Even when the horse carrying Milla gets chased off by a monster, Jude just picks Milla up and finishes the long trek with her on his back. Then you get to the town, deliver Milla to the hospital, and find out you have to go find a certain type of item for Jude's father to make his magic gizmo work. Again, nothing fast paced, but I was hooked during every minute of it. So, in my opinion, yes, games can have great stories.

One thing that people will complain about in story heavy games is the cutscenes. They pull you out of the gameplay and force you to watch a movie. Personally, this doesn't bother me, but I totally understand how other gamers would be annoyed by that. I like to feel like I'm moving the story forward, bringing the characters to the next big event, taking down bad guys, etc. Like, say, I run Link all the way across Hyrule field to Zelda's castle, watch a cutscene of Midna breaking down the magic barrier, and then regain control to fight my way up to the throne room. Then I watch the cutscene of Ganondorf fighting Midna, blowing up the castle, and then regaining control again to fight him. I even love longer cutscenes like in Final Fantasy because it's setting the stage for an amazing fight. There is a line, however, Like in Metal Gear Solid 4, they REALLY went overboard on the cutscenes. Do we really need to a fifteen minute long scene just to introduce the weapons dealer? And this isn't just because it's a game, I would have been bored to tears if I'd been watching that in a movie or TV show too. The key is to know your audience and how much tolerance they'll have for watching videos instead of playing the game. Also, you have to keep things interesting, because it doesn't matter how pretty the graphics are or how "deep" the narrative is if all you're watching is a merchant give you an infodump on what's going on in the game's world.

Now, there is ONE thing I think books and movies have that games will never achieve: flawed characters. Pick a hero in any video game, and chances are they'll be a complete Mary-Sue. To those who don't know, that means a character with no flaws. And it makes sense, too. After all, when you play a video game, you're pretending to BE that character, and who wants to pretend to be someone with glaring flaws? Video games are meant to be an escape, not a reminder that nobody is perfect. The rare game that actually attempts to have flawed characters, like Final Fantasy 13, get blasted by critics for having bad narratives because of "annoying, unlikable" characters. But in books and movies, you're not pretending to be the hero, you're watching or imagining them do everything, which makes them distinctly separate from you, the audience. Therefor, people are infinitely more tolerant of character flaws in books and movies, which is something that I don't ever see happening in video games.

And that's my take on it. What do you guys think?

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ptdebate
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby ptdebate » April 19th, 2015, 3:37 pm

Great topic!

The idea that somehow videogame stories can't compete with the best films and novels is an unnecessary abstraction that acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, there are always ambitious and talented individuals who are able to disrupt the status quo.

As for your last point, I have to disagree that videogame characters need to be perfect. Take Wander from Shadow of the Colossus for example. His mission to save Mono is admirable if viewed in isolation, but what he (and by extension, the player) does to achieve this is horrendous and inexcusable. Booker from Bioshock Infinite is another morally compromised hero that has his fair share of flaws. Squall from FF8 can't trust anyone because he thinks his family abandoned him. Cloud from FF7 can't stand who he is so he chooses to believe that he's someone else. Leo from The Walking Dead, who despite his crimes is a pretty good person, has to make morally challenging choices without clear-cut answers on a daily basis.

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DaHeckIzDat
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 19th, 2015, 4:46 pm

ptdebate wrote:Great topic!

The idea that somehow videogame stories can't compete with the best films and novels is an unnecessary abstraction that acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, there are always ambitious and talented individuals who are able to disrupt the status quo.

As for your last point, I have to disagree that videogame characters need to be perfect. Take Wander from Shadow of the Colossus for example. His mission to save Mono is admirable if viewed in isolation, but what he (and by extension, the player) does to achieve this is horrendous and inexcusable. Booker from Bioshock Infinite is another morally compromised hero that has his fair share of flaws. Squall from FF8 can't trust anyone because he thinks his family abandoned him. Cloud from FF7 can't stand who he is so he chooses to believe that he's someone else. Leo from The Walking Dead, who despite his crimes is a pretty good person, has to make morally challenging choices without clear-cut answers on a daily basis.



True, true, but not QUITE what I meant. In SotC, you don't realize you're doing anything wrong until the very end when it turns around to bite you on the butt. I haven't played Bioshock Infinite, so I can't really comment on Booker. As for the Walking Dead, I actually think that's one of the few exceptions. Games like that or Mass Effect revolve around the choices you, the player, make, so when they do something bad or stupid, it's not them it's YOU. The same goes for characters in the GTA games, since the whole game is based around doing bad things, you go in knowing that you're playing as a messed up character. But imagine this: your hero comes home and finds his wife sleeping with another guy. He blows his top and kills them both in a fit of rage. Bad choice, right? Obviously, because that momentary lapse of judgment made him a criminal. It's okay for movies and books, but put it in a video game and suddenly YOU are the one doing that. You know it's a bad choice and it's something you shouldn't do, but the game's storyline requires you to murder your wife and her secret lover. Maybe it's just me, but that seems like it would be a serious turnoff since most people want to play as the hero who stands tall against evil and saves the day. There's rarely room there for flaws and bad choices. Am I making sense here?

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scotland
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby scotland » April 19th, 2015, 6:19 pm

I think its clear video games can be a storytelling medium, its just a discussion on its relative merits and shortcomings. Some might say the shortcomings are massive, but I think it has potential. Like motion pictures were once derided, video games, anime, manga, western comics and animation, and others can achieve something lasting. The trouble is at what cost to being a successful game.

A great story, say To Kill A Mockingbird, is neither a game nor interactive nor concerned about maintaining a frantic pace nor has easter eggs or boss fights or the hundred other things that make a great game. Games from Mario Kart to Mortal Kombat need no story...they can have one, but thats not the point.

Most video games have the same story. Go from here to there and beat or overcome the opposition. Its not about emotional connections or personal growth or any other meta concept, and for a reason.

Most video game protagonists are seriously flawed. They often resort to force, often lethal force, and often as a first option, without remorse. Why? Cause its a game, just like Bugs Bunny was a toon and violence in toon or video game world doesn't matter. In our world, it does...and so video games may be hobbled as much as Bugs Bunny is in storytelling.

There is promise though. Other media have begun to outgrow being only being easily digested escapist media, each with their own chains. (Look kids, comics! when comics try to push boundaries) Video games are allowed to be violent and sexual in ways comics are not, but comics have disturbing or powerful stories like Maus and Watchmen video games do not.

Vexer6
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby Vexer6 » April 19th, 2015, 8:02 pm

Hell yes games can have great story, dozens of games have stories that easily rival most critically acclaimed films and TV series, especially the Mass Effect series.

I personally don't pretend to be the character while playing a game(given that I always pick female characters when given the option in games like Borderlands and I play lots of games with female protagonists like Remember Me, that would be pretty awkward) and I think flawed characters in games can be very interesting, they're not really all that rare, they're quite common actually. Max Payne is one of my favorite flawed characters, an alcoholic ex-cop who's lost almost everyone he's ever cared about and is only kept alive because of wanting to exact brutal revenge, despite his flaws he's still a bad-ass and is fun to play as.

Some so-called "bad" choices can be quite fun to do, like the Renegade options in the Mass Effect sequels and some of the evil choices in the later Fallout games.

I'm fine with long cutscenes as long as I can skip them, but there's no excuse for not letting you do so.

One game you probably won't like is Spec Ops: The Line, as that game is all about trying to make the player feel bad for their actions, though I have to say it didn't work on me, as I felt like the game was trying way too hard to make me feel guilty and it ended coming across as narmy instead of disturbing like it's supposed to.

Also I disagree that games cannot have disturbing and powerful stories, there are several examples of that(Spec Ops being one, despite my issues with the game, it did indeed disturb me at some points), one being Rule of Rose for the PS2, it received a lot of praise for it's disturbing subject matter and how it was tackled(though not so much for the gameplay), I haven't played it myself(mainly because it sells for truly outrageous prices, going for a minimum of 150 dollars used on Amazon), but it sure sounds disturbing.

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Gentlegamer
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby Gentlegamer » April 19th, 2015, 9:08 pm

The only great story a video game can tell is that created by the player and his in-game actions. The agency of the player is the storyteller.

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DaHeckIzDat
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 19th, 2015, 10:50 pm

Gentlegamer wrote:The only great story a video game can tell is that created by the player and his in-game actions. The agency of the player is the storyteller.


I'm not sure what you mean by this. Are you saying that cutscenes and other in-game narrative can't be good?

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Rev
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby Rev » April 19th, 2015, 11:49 pm

Interesting thread. I have always felt that games were able to tell amazing stories. The main way that I've found them to be so immersive is the interactivity that the gaming media presents. Games like Journey tell a story without ever really saying a word. While other games (like Chrono Trigger or any other RPG really) tells the story through different scenes, gathering clues from townsfolk, or whatever. We also have cut scenes which are used heavily in games like the Metal Gear Solid series. Finally, there are games that really have little to no actual game play, like Radical Dreamers, D, etc that use a characters interactivity with the environment to tell a story. Gaming presents such a unique way of telling stories that no other media can really mimic it. I remember the last time a similar thread came up, there were several arguments about how gaming could never really be as strong of a story telling medium compared to writing or movies. I don't really remember the arguments made for that but I do know that I have always felt the immersion games provide really help me feel more connected with the narrative, likely due to way that games force you to interact with the story.

This is always an interesting topic; I look forward to seeing what other people write about.

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David
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby David » April 20th, 2015, 3:26 am

I don't think it's fair to compare gaming narratives to movies and TV, given how different they are and the needs they meet. Sometimes I debate with myself on whether to play a platformer or an RPG. If I do decide that I want to play an RPG, generally it's because I have free time and want to sink into a game with a strong narrative. But I've never thought, "I want to experience a good story...maybe I'll just watch a movie instead." Even the most movie-like games (Heavy Rain, Metal Gear Solid 4) feel way different to me than passively watching something.

As for flawed characters, how about Joel in The Last of Us? No spoilers, but the end of that game can be interpreted numerous ways that may be okay with some, and others not so much.

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DaHeckIzDat
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Re: Video Game Narrative

Postby DaHeckIzDat » April 20th, 2015, 5:29 pm

Okay, here's another question: what is/are the best video game stories you've ever heard?


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