Storytelling in video games - why it may never reach the level of books/movies - hist Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Storytelling in video games - why it may never reach the level of books/movies

Whenever the topic of "video games as art" comes up (and don't worry, I'm not really going there, as I hate that discussion), one of the aspects used to prove how games have become art is the expanded storytelling that many modern games have. Games these days can tell some wonderful stories. Just take Mass Effect, for instance.

That being said, there is one aspect of video game stories that, I believe, will forever keep video games on a lesser level compared to books/movies, at least as far as storytelling goes. That is the ability of the player to choose in what order the story unfolds.

What's that? Some would say the ability for the player to write the story is what makes gaming an even stronger storytelling medium. I'm not one of those.

Don't get me wrong. I love many of the stories in today's video games. I'm not insulting them at all. Any modern RPG, most of the FPS games that have come out (I love me some Singularity), they all have great stories.

But too often there are huge logic gaps in the story that are caused by giving the gamer a lot of stuff to do, and the choice of what order to do them in.

A perfect example is in Dragon Age 2. In one of the quests, the person giving you the quest says to meet him in Hightown that night so you can do whatever it is you need to do. However, you can do every other quest in Kirkwall before doing this quest. On the main map, you can choose day or night, and different missions are open. So you could conceivably do a day mission, a night mission, a couple of day missions, a night mission, one final day mission, and then finally go meet the guy. Apparently five days later. That's a rather stretched definition of "tonight," isn't it? But he won't comment on it. You'll just start the mission as if you had done it immediately following your conversation with him.

Another instance. You tell a guard to meet you at the Hanging Man tavern. He actually leaves your presence and heads out of the building. You can go through that day/night cycle multiple times and he'll be waiting for you there next time you go into the tavern at night. Doesn't matter how many days have passed.

Other open-world games and RPGs have similar issues. That's all fine and dandy as a game-player. I love the choice that I get, and how non-linear it is.

But as far as pure storytelling goes, that's pretty much BS, isn't it? It makes no logical sense.

Don't get me started on the number of times where, if you do missions out of order, you might appear to be meeting somebody for the first time even after you've met them before, or finding out information about somebody when it would be more logical to have found it out sooner.

Another Dragon Age 2 example. The head Templar, Meredith. As Hawke, you've had countless dealings with Templars, many of them referencing Meredith. She's a pretty big name in the city of Kirkwall, and you've already heard her name pop up many times as you accumulate missions. You've been doing this for years (there are sometimes gaps of a few years in between chapters in this game).

Four years after I came to Kirkwall, I'm talking to a Templar about some other mission that he wants me to do, and one of the conversation options is "Who is Meredith?" You've been talking about for four years!!!!!!!! How could you not know who she is?

I may seem to be picking on Dragon Age 2, but that's because I'm playing it right now. These problems have popped up in many RPGs and open-world games. This game is not unique in that aspect.

As long as game stories have these kinds of logic gaps, they will never replace other mediums as a storytelling platform. They can tell good stories, and many do. Mass Effect 2 even tries to deal with this a little bit, by having various things happen to your kidnapped crew, depending on how many other missions you undertake before heading on to the final mission. But even that game has its logical fallacies.

That's not an insult to game stories. But it is a reality.

(I thought of this topic last night and was going to write about it eventually. But I'm writing this now rather than later as a response to Greendayfan's blog on Game Informer about the future of storytelling being in games. Needless to say, I totally disagree.)

 

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