Why Story Matters in Video Games
Image credit: Kojima Productions
From Our Friends at The Portalist
The first time I cried playing a video game was when I killed The Boss.
Not any boss in any boss fight, but The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3. The entire game's narrative is built around the pursuit of The Boss and why she, revered as history's greatest soldier, would betray her country and her protege (the player). The final fight of the game ends with some gut-wrenching reveals followed by a static scene of Snake, the hero, standing over the prone, injured body of The Boss. Snake's gun is drawn.
He just has to pull the trigger.
You just have to pull the trigger.
As a gamer, I'm accustomed to killing things in games, whether by shooting them, slicing them, jumping on them, or throwing objects at them. This simple action of pushing a button to fire a digital bullet wasn't different from any other time it's happened in the history of games, from 8-bit Contra dudes to modern Overwatch combat. But in that moment, all I could think about was the journey there, the narrative and characters that unfolded over 15 hours. Later, after I killed The Boss, I was talking with my soon-to-be wife about how good that game was, not so much the gameplay (which was top notch for its time), but for the story it wove. She replied with her own tale of Final Fantasy VII and experiencing the shock of Aerith's death.
These moments were what stuck with us - and still stick with us - years later, despite epic boss battles or cool stealth action or a stellar combat system. The story, above all else, outshined the delivery method.
Storytelling in video games has come a long way since the days of "aliens have invaded, fight back" or "someone has been kidnapped, fight back," narratives that acted as background scenarios for arcade style action and not much else. Today's modern gaming releases often spend as much on character and world-building as level design and gameplay mechanics, from Dishonored's bizarre steampunk world to the unique sci-fi universe of Mass Effect, which has its own in-game rich history and science. This had been a gradual shift over the past twenty or so years, as narrative has changed from a blurb in a paper instruction manual to something that often comes up as a talking point in reviews.
Despite all of this, the significance of storytelling to gaming is still debated - is it throwaway, is it a necessary evil, or is it simply the evolution of the industry?
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