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Is Story Important In Video Games? It is Not that Simple.

See where some stand on the importance of story in video games.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

PAX Prime this year had some interesting panels. One in particular focuses on story. The panel is called, “Does story matter in video games?”, and is lead by Greg Tito, The Escapist, and WarCry.

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Cut-scenes, friend or foe?

One topic of debate was cut-scenes and whether or not it is a crutch. Mike Laidlaw, Dragon Age series, put it best I believe by saying, “It’s good when it shows something the game play can’t.” This is absolutely correct, in my opinion. Cut-scenes in some games tend to take away from the experience.

Maybe the developers want to shows of their CGI, or perhaps they just use it as a way to get important moments in the story across. The fact is, when done incorrectly it takes away from the game and can cause people to “check out.”

On the other hand, they can be wonderful tools in the hands of a skilled craftsman. If there is a particular facial expression or moment that just can’t be done via organic game play, then a cut-scene is the way to go. The trick, I think, is to not overdo it. Too much exposition with little interaction is  bad combo.

“I don’t want to see a review about how good our cut-scenes are.”

Jake Rodkin, Telltale’s Walking Dead, explains the need for organic story telling, “I don’t want to see a review about how good our cut-scenes are.” He believes it interrupts the game play and that the keyword is “cut.” Something is sacrificed in the game in order to show this cut-scene.

Character Connection, aka, Why should I care?

“Game story fails when the game is beautiful, but there is no reason to care about the characters.”

It is important to note that a good plot and world are not the only things needed for a good story. Our connection to the characters might in fact be the most important. Robert Ferrigno, author, stated that, “Game story fails when the game is beautiful, but there is no reason to care about the characters.” How true is this? I have seen many stories that have a beautifully crafted plot and world, but I didn’t care or even like the characters. This makes it a complete failure?

A couple games that come to mind are Telltale’s Walking Dead and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. These games made me actually care about the characters I play through the game with and meet along the way. They feel like real people and even though they aren’t, I still want them to succeed.

I genuinely cared for Clementine’s well-being.

So, what’s the answer?

The answers to what makes a game story good or bad have been discussed in detail, but what about the main question, does story matter in video games? The best answer is, it depends on the game. I would say that most of the time it does, but sports, simulation, party, and a host of other genres of games do not need that.

Now, if there is any kind of plot to the game at all, the answer is a resounding yes. Some may argue, but I think Ferrigno gets the point across best: “Story makes gameplay more meaningful.” I believe he’s right. If I care about what’s going on in the story and what’s happening to the characters, I will find my play time more meaningful.

Do you agree with the importance of story in video games? Tell us what you think in the comments below.


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Author
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Synzer
After gaming for 25 years, Synzer leveraged his vast knowledge of RPGs and MMOs into a job as a games journalist, covering the games he loves. Five years later, he's still writing about Kingdom Hearts, Pokemon, and Knights of the Old Republic. Synzer has a bachelor's degree in English and creative writing. You can see him in action on his YouTube channel (https://bit.ly/2F97BrR) and Twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/synzergaming).