The Committee is in session. We’re taking on various issues in gaming, and our word is final. This week, we look at writing and story in games.
Justin Last: There are some wonderfully written games out there as well as some horribly written movies. Games like Bioshock, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, and Uncharted 2 may not stand toe-to-toe with film greats like Schindler’s List and Inception, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who would rather watch Battlefield Earth or one of SyFy’s puppet-monster of the week made-for-TV movies. Just because the best movies have better writing than the best games does not mean that the worst movies have better writing than the best games as well..
Graham Russell: Game writing can be good. It can be very good. It can regularly exceed that of your average summer blockbuster. As far as the achievement ceiling goes, though, the very presence of interactivity keeps a masterpiece from being as carefully curated as the best films of all time. For a more modern example, look at the directing style of David Fincher. He films a scene so many times from so many angles, cutting hours and hours of video into just seconds and creating just the experience he desires. Storytelling is more than just words on a script, and these visual cues make for a powerful tale. Game writing has to take into account that players aren’t experiencing things in the same way or at the same times, and they usually don’t get through the story in one sitting. Games can have wonderful, immersive worlds and stories within them, but it’s just not quite able to do things a passive medium can.
Andrew Passafiume: Western-style storytelling generally offers more choices and plenty of interesting characters. A lot of Western games these days, RPGs especially, are incredibly non-linear, giving the writers room to explore many different possibilities. This alone opens up so many new ways for gamers to feel invested in the world the writers have created, and also care about the characters, rather than guiding them along a set path. Not to say linear storytelling never works, it can work quite often, but Western game developers/writers have taken more chances and had them paid off in big ways.
If you asked me five years ago, I might have said otherwise, but I feel Western games have really improved (and continue to improve) greatly in terms of writing.
Mike Clark: I’ve always associated Eastern-style storytelling with third-person perspective, while Western-style has been in the first-person. Where in Western-styled games more often you are the character, Eastern has had established characters that you watch grow and develop as you control them.
With that, there’s this sense of detachment from the character in Western, like in games such as Fallout 3, where immersion and story development doesn’t seem as important. In going with Eastern-style, you watch as a character grows and develops, much like a novel. While it doesn’t have as much freedom as the other style, the characterization and by assocation the storytelling, seem to have less detachment and more substance to them. While I may not be in that game’s story as an avatar of myself, I’m more immersed because of who I control during the course of the game.
Gerry Pagan: 8-bit and 16-bit games alone are proof enough that a game doesn’t need a good story to be great. We don’t play classics like Mega Man X or due to the engaging struggle between Reploids and Mavericks, nor does the recent Bayonetta’s flimsy plot reduce the quality of the top-notch visuals and combat. While it’s always nice to have a good plot to go with good gameplay, it’s usually a combination of awful aspects that bog down a game to the point where even its best feature isn’t enough to save it.
Graham Russell: Here’s my sticking point with this debate: while there have certainly been games that have succeeded with no story at all, a bad story, like any other bad thing added to a good product, is just this grating thing that pulls things down. Otherwise great gameplay, interspersed with inane cutscenes, painful dialogue or just poorly-translated text boxes, gets taken down one notch into “just good” territory. A great story is immersive. A bad one has the opposite effect.
We’ve weighed in. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.