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Trevor Wagner

Sometimes, less is more (but not always)

Rating: 3 votes, 3.00 average.
Ever since games progressed past the level of Pong, almost every game has some sort of a storyline. At the time of the NES, some stories were only briefly mentioned on the box or in the manual, requiring the player to use their imagination to piece together the story. Around the time of the SNES, stories were told through dialog, scripted scenes, etc. Since then, that's roughly been the way things have worked. Nowadays, cinematic cutscenes are added to the way that players experience the stories spun into video games.

Alright, that's enough of a history lesson, let's get on to the good stuff - my opinion. Storylines have an important place in gaming, but some games just don't need a story, and getting one can often just dull the experience (i.e., Rock Band, Peggle, etc.). But, for most other games, the story is the driving force, giving the player a reason to do whatever it is they're doing. But as gaming's narrative stlye has evolved, I think that developers have overlooked an effective method of storytelling: not telling.

In a game like Mass Effect 2, the storyline is pretty straightforward, being explained through all the basic ways that games explain a story. Things are explained outright, and the things you find out are repeated and clarified through dialog. And for a lot of games, that works perfectly. Contrasting that, look at the way that Demon's Souls tells it's story. The only thing that really gets explained to the player is that there's a bunch of demons tearing shit up, and you've gotta stop it. The thing that most people don't pick up on, though, is that there's a lot more to the story, being shown through conversations with NPCs, and through implications. The only issue with that is that it's really easy to miss if you're not paying really close attention, and with a game like Demon's Souls, if you stop paying attention to the gameplay, even for a second, you're dead. Many people thought that the game had too little direction, and that there was little to no story.

However, take the way that Borderlands tells its story. There is some narration, explaining the basic plotline of the game, but for the most part, the story is told through little things - audio diaries laying around in the wasteland, graffiti, and the flavour text for quests. You could very well play through the game without reading any of it, and you'd still understand the game's plot; but by reading and taking note of all these things, you learn a lot more about the world, and what led up to your involvement.

Summed up, the way a game tells it's story is just as important as the story that it tells. A straight forward, narrated story works sometimes, as does an incredibly vague, non-descript story. Both work, but sometimes each of these polar opposite have their problems - a story can be too straightforward, leaving nothing to think about; or it could be too open, not giving enough information to get any plot out of it. In my opinion, the mixing of the two styles, direct and indirect, is the way to go, but that's just my opinion. What do you guys think?

Trevor Wagner Writer

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Updated 13-08-10 at 09:55 by SteveSawyer

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  1. SteveSawyer's Avatar
    I think narrative, and perspective are innately intertwined. If you look at the example of Half Life especially. It's a game that never takes you out of that first person perspective for an instant. Everything that you see is within the confines of Gordon Freeman's Hazard Suit, and the game is arguably perfect for that one simple choice of making you a mute that is literally forced to embody that character. Any revelation made within the context of the game, or any type of "cutscene" takes place without ever displacing you from that perspective, and what's incredible is that it achieves the same level of emotional attachment, and impact as something like Metal Gear Solid, which is almost %100 cutscenes, but Metal Gear wouldn't work in any other context. Just food for thought.

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