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Why Should Game Stories Make Sense? 169

An anonymous reader writes "An opinion piece at Polygon raises an interesting question about how we perceive video games: why does so much effort go into having the plot make perfect sense? Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were fighting about? The article says, [Developer Jake Elliot] talked about the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. He argued that a puzzle has a solution, while a mystery may never be solved. A puzzle must make sense, but a mystery may well not. In the context of a game, the mechanics are the puzzle, while the theme is the mystery. The game play must be predictable, or the player will never master it. But the theme can be evocative and open-ended. A theme evokes the horrors of war; the mechanics remind you to reload your gun. The plot is stuck in the middle. It wants to make sense of a game, but the game play is already doing that. If we were watching a movie, the plot would provide the backbone, but games don't work like movies, and the plot can get in the way. It can feel awkward and unwelcome, while a looser thematic layer can be the most memorable part of the game.'"
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Why Should Game Stories Make Sense?

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  • by noblebeast ( 3440077 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @04:56PM (#46849555)
    The real plot problem is that not enough effort goes into game plot development.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @04:57PM (#46849565)

    They don't need to make sense in a universal fashion, they can be completely unrealistic/unbelievable. However they should make sense internally. Whatever rules are laid out in the game universe, it should make sense within that setting.

    Most people can easily suspend disbelief and accept another world. However that suspension can be shattered if nothing makes sense, the rules keep changing, and there's no internal consistency.

    That was, for example, one of the big problems in the Mass Effect games. I won't go in to details to not spoil it but the ending of the trilogy was bad in a large part because it had no internal consistency. It didn't make sense in regards to the narrative that had been going on in the games up to that point. It was a deus ex machinia kind of event that just shattered the story for many.

    So no game stories don't need to make sense in terms of the real world, but if they are to be good they should make sense in terms of themselves.

  • Polygon (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @04:59PM (#46849571)

    Is not a reputable source at all. The entire site is based on click baiting articles and opinion pieces.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:12PM (#46849639)

    Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were fighting about?

    Yes? I consider myself to have below average memory for plots and characters in stories in general, including books and movies, yet I can remember more than two characters from most stories, video game or not, that I've paid any attention to in the last 10+ years. Even stuff I was exposed to before that in high school I could at least give a quick paragraph summary. What if someone said:

    Think about fiction books you've read. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were doing?

    Just because you and some other people have bad memory or don't pay attention doesn't mean such things can be ignored. Hell, even if you have bad long term memory, doesn't mean you don't notice when you are in the middle of playing or reading the particular work.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:23PM (#46849669)
    In the games that were AWESOME, I do. And you know what made those games awesome in my opinion? Internally consistent plots (along with good gameplay).
  • The Cake is a Lie (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scowler ( 667000 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:32PM (#46849709)
    Portal / Portal 2 : Great games with both fantastic gameplay AND brilliant writing.
  • Fallacious premise (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:41PM (#46849761)

    What makes something "a mystery" isn't the fact that it doesn't make sense, it's the fact that it doesn't deliver a definitive answer.

    Far too many TV shows and "beach thrillers" rely on nonsense to move the plot along (internal contradictions, characters acting completely out of character and against their own interests to make some plot twist possible, deus ex machina "solutions" to holes the script writers dug themselves into, etc.).

    And, sadly, game writers tend to be recruited from, those ranks (i.e., people used to linear writing), which removes the only thing they might be good at (control over the story's flow). In a non-linear medium like a game (and even more so in shared-world multiplayer games, like MMORPGs), the result is frequently cringe-worthy. All the plot holes and nonsense stand out, and makes you wish the game didn't try to have a "story" at all.

    So yes, game stories (like every other story) do need to "make sense", regardless of any mysteries. And they need to make sense not just in terms of the plot itself, but also in terms of the game universe, player actions, and interaction between players. If you can't write a story that makes sense, don't write a story at all, just create an interesting game world and let the players make up their own stories.

    Game writers need to be more like J.R.R. Tolkien and less like Dan Brown / J. J. Abrams.

  • Half Life anyone? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:43PM (#46849771) Journal
    Anyone who remembers Half Life would probably understand the importance of a story within a game.

    Before Half Life, I played 2D console games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space-Invaders and other today classics, followed by 3D games like Wolfenstein, DOOM, The QUAKE series etc... no one of them had any decent stories IMHO. Then Half Life came along, it was a milestone in video gaming. Video games and actual VIDEO now merged into one, and games never felt this immerse and exciting. I remember literally jumping in my chair when the onslaught of surprises came to life in that game.

    When introduced as a worker in the Black Mesa research facility - I actually FELT like I was really working there, just to face a day out of the ordinary. We could walk around and "sort of" talk to people, and it felt ...real somehow. I wish games where that awesome, but somehow...the sequels plus a lot of other games have failed to pick up where Half Life left of, but I personally feel THIS IS THE WAY TO GO!
  • by loonycyborg ( 1262242 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @05:55PM (#46849827)
    The real problem is the lack of integration of plot and gameplay. In most current games 'plot' exists as some cutscenes and scripting forced on gameplay that otherwise exists in different universe. Instead gameplay itself should drive the story, not scripting.
  • by chmod a+x mojo ( 965286 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:23PM (#46850217)

    You are 100% correct in that not all games need a deep plot. FPS's for example just need enough plot to get you to the next slaughter zone.

    A RPG with little to no plot would be pretty much worthless though. Yet as we have seen with Square-Enix and the unfortunate butchering of the Final Fantasy series post X / X-2 a good plot can't help if you have a battle system that people hate because it radically deviates from the 11 prior main story-line games that literally grew your franchise and people loved. FF-13's story was decent, but the game play just didn't feel like the FF series people had grown to love... especially for those who cut their teeth on FF7. It just wasn't fun running through a map that was basically a curved tunnel ( FF-13).

    Same goes for the Tales of (____) series games, without the plot, and just as important, character interactions the games would just be doing boring repetitive shit for no reason.

    In other words, games have to have enough plot to drive game play ( how much depends on the genre of game), and good enough game play ( not deviating too far from prior games if in a series and pissing off long time fans ) to keep people interested.

  • by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @07:39PM (#46850289)

    They should make sense because I like stories that make sense, and I buy video games with stories I like.

    You can have an entertaining game without any plot or with extremely little (eg. Super Mario Bros.), but a plot that actually doesn't make sense is going to bother me exactly as much as a movie that doesn't make sense, and the fact that "games don't work like movies" is an additional obstacle to writing a coherent plot, not an excuse for not trying.

    I also suggest that he's probably talking to people who don't care about plots. The plot is the main thing I remember from most games. I can absolutely tell you what the characters were fighting about in any of my favourite games. I can list sideplots. I can't necessarily tell you what buttons you press to do certain actions.

    I also suggest that the "looser thematic layer" is important to movies, too. The Matrix didn't get by on the strength of its plot, and the early "twist" that they were all living in a computer simulation was absolutely not novel. But it had a strong themes and, at the time, a unique artistic stance that is often summarized with reference to "bullet time". How many people remember why Neo went to see the Oracle?

    Adventure games are nearly all plot. A strong subset of RPGs are like that too -- the Elder Scrolls games not so much, they are about theme, and I don't like those games and they bug me at every release by overshadowing all the RPGs I like. The Infinity Engine games had better plots, but not necessarily strong themes, although Planescape had both and is well-loved. The original Fallout also had strong theme & plot elements, but it strayed further into theme and away from plot as time went on, culminating in Fallout 3 (New Vegas backtracked a bit, to my delight).

    Mass Effect tried for both too, and with the controversy over the ending you can absolutely see how important plot truly was.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 26, 2014 @10:34PM (#46850879)

    Games need to get out of the way and stop trying to be focal points.

    It seems like part of the problem is everyone keeps framing this in some form of "Games need to stop ...", especially with things that some gamers like. There is a difference between games doing something virtually no one likes, and games doing something one particular group doesn't like. The problem is not that there are games with too much story for people who don't care about story, but that they want more games without the emphasis on story. While people who like games with story want more games with emphasis on story. Although arguments saying, "Lets have more of XYZ" instead of saying "Why should we even have stuff without XYZ" gets less attention and clicks.

  • by Richy_T ( 111409 ) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @01:44AM (#46851489) Homepage

    I call it cargo-cult writing. The writers know the elements that go into a great story so they ape them and add them to their scripts but when it comes into organizing it into a cohesive whole and wrapping it up nicely at the end, they have no idea. Thus you end up with a show which has a mediocre to good beginning, a fantastic middle and then it all falls apart towards the end.

    I used to be really upset when many of the shows I liked got cancelled. These days, I suspect they may just have ended up sucking and probably the writers were relieved they got cancelled before they got found out. There *are* writers who can pull it off (JMS, Whedon) but others like RD Moore are just fakes.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's