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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 Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:01PM (#46849863) Journal

    The real plot problem is that not enough effort goes into game plot development.

    I dunno - sometimes they over-do it, taking themselves way the hell too seriously.

    I think the coolest game I ever played is still an old-assed text-based game []. The game came with a scratch-n-sniff card, a 3D comic book (with glasses), and just enough 'plot' to get you started. The plot is is scare quotes because, quite frankly, it's intentionally stupid, silly, risque - but hellishly funny. The game itself required a ton of imagination on your part (because it was all text-based), and a lot of mental recall to avoid getting lost, killed, etc.

    Even now, 2+ decades later, I still get a smile when I think of the so-called "plot" (it begins in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, then instantly puts you on Mars, etc...)

    That aside, here's something else to consider: one of the absolute most popular games of the '90s was the Doom/Quake franchise, right? The 'plot' for Doom and Quakes I, II and III were thin at best, and let's be honest - it only got in the way of the real reason we all played Quake: Kill shit in realtime 3D and watch the gibs fly. The big 'plot' in the CTF/Team Foretress/WeaponsFactory MODs, and in CounterStrike and suchlike? Really - what plot?

    I guess what I'm getting at is this: a plot is only useful sometimes - not all games need one, and if a game really needs a heavy, complex plot, then maybe it's just trying to cover for crappy gameplay?

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday April 26, 2014 @06:46PM (#46850103)

    If they continue that, they will eventually reach the level of TV. That one I have up a decade ago, because I could not stand the stupidity any more.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:46PM (#46855713)

    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.

    Half Life, Deus Ex, System Shock and System Shock 2.

    Oh wait, you said most current games, PC games of yore had perfected mixing gameplay and storytelling by 2000. Even some modern games have managed it, Fallout 3/New Vegas had very short stories (main plot) but it was player driven and player influenced as well as having a crapload of non-essential tasks and info that can also effect the ending.

    May as well add KOTOR and Mass Effect into that list.

    The problem is with games that put a half arsed effort into making a story. Thinking of all your COD's here where they follow a generic story with overused cliche's and terrible scripting. A nameless, faceless musclebound meathead sent out to destroy an enemy that's perfectly designed to retard sympathy (Nazi's and Terr'ists). Few games manage to work moral ambiguity into their stories, not even the classics like Half Life (which is quite simple as stories go, but perfectly integrated into gameplay). Not all games need a complex story or even a story at all but a simple story (or a complete lack of one) is far better than a bad story.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982