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Question of the Week: Storylines

This week the writing staff tackled the importance of stories in video games. Given the rise of mobile gaming and multiplayer experiences as well as the rise in large-scale, single player epics and movie interpretations of video games, the balance between story and entertainment is a topic worth discussing. Here is the question I presented to the writers(Feel free to comment your own responses below):

"How important is the plot in a video game? What makes a good tale? What is your favorite video game storyline and why?"

Responses:

Renz Lorenzo

spyro

Although I find most of my enjoyment in party games, a genre lacking in the storytelling realm, I still have great appreciation for well told narratives. Like in movies, video games can thrive with just a focus on entertainment. However, like in films again, if developers want to transcend past the screen, they must master the use of gameplay and cinematics in order to create a space in which a story can prosper and be understood.

Entertainment and storylines should not be mutually exclusive. For a video game to tell a strong story it is essential for the gameplay to lend itself to the world around it. What I mean is that the controls, level design and even camera view, must have purpose in contributing to the overall story.

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One of my favorites, albeit simple, is the story of the original Spyro the Dragon. The game centers around Spyro’s journey to rescue his colony and rid the land of the dragon’s from an evil gnorc army. In the first scene, his entire clan is crystallized, thus unable to assist Spyro with this large task. The vastness of the worlds and the freedom to explore them without time limit creates solitary atmosphere and allows the player to connect with Spyro’s conflict on a deeper level. This connection of gameplay and narrative is the reason why Spyro is still one of my favorite stories ever told through gaming.


Liz Walcher

okami

Unless a game has really amazing mechanics, a game without any sort of plot really isn’t worth a lot of my time. Sure, there are a lot of mobile games that are addicting to play for awhile, but you usually don’t end up devoting the amount of time or emotional energy that you’d devote to a game with a plot. Plot is what drives my motivations as a player, and that’s important to have in a game. Ultimately, the kind of games that really affect people, the kind that make an impact on their players and on the world, are those with an interesting story and characters.

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Asking me to choose a favorite videogame storyline is like asking me what my favorite videogame is. All my favorite games have strong stories, but if I had to pick three games with great storylines, they’d probably be Kentucky Route Zero, Okami, and Half-Life 2.


Deva Gregory

mass

I think the need for plot is dependent on the type of video game.  For example, if I’m playing a MOBA, the plot isn’t important to me.  When I PVP, I’m there for the adrenaline of winning, not for a good story.  However, if I’m playing an RPG like Dragon Age, I’m paying money and investing time for a good plot.  Based off the other two questions, I’m guessing that these questions were formulated with RPGs in mind (whether the game be a FPS with heavy story like Halo, or an MMO like Wildstar).

A good tale has the same earmarks of a good movie or a good book.  Whatever the medium, we’re wanting a good story.  When I first started playing Mass Effect, the first comment I said was, “Holy crap.  I haven’t experienced a story this good since the Mistborn trilogy.  It’s like I’m playing a book.”  I said “playing a book” because that’s how immersive the storyline was to me.  A good story has all the principles of any other story: You have your hero, your antagonist, and your hero’s goal, which is continually thwarted by the antagonist (whether it be humanoid or environmental).  A good story also leaves me thinking about it long after the game’s over.  The story isn’t dependent on the game itself.  It’s timeless, but happens to take place in a fantastical or futuristic world.  For instance, Shakespeare’s stories have lived decades, not because where they took place was cool, but because the story and the characters can be interchanged with any time and place.

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That said, my hands down favorite video game storyline is Mass Effect (which I’ve been considering writing an article on, even though it’s more or less old news).  Mass Effect is possible too existential for traditional video game audiences, so much so, that after the final game was released, fans were so upset with the 7 different endings they could choose from because the ending wasn’t the perfect happily ever after – it was transcendental.  The developers then ended up making an 8th ending, in which the player had the option to say, “No, all these choices suck,” and then essentially ended up back at square one.

But I digress.  Why is Mass Effect my favorite story?  Because I fell in love with the characters and their plight.  I mourned the loss of Mordin when he sacrificed himself.  (My husband was with me, and can vouch that I was a wreck for the rest of the evening.)  I have never cried over the loss of a video game character.  And the emotions continued.  I felt that I was responsible for the lives of these people.  Yes, I was aware that I was playing a video game, but the stakes were so high, and each character so real and pure, that every time I sat down to play, I truly was Commander Shepard.


Steven Porfiri

bioshock

I find that if you’re going for a AAA release you’d better tell me a good story. Sure, I’m knifing dudes in the throat, but why am I doing that? Does it matter to the player character? Why? What kinda world are we livin’ in that this is okay? These are real important questions especially for game studios that want their experience to be like a film. It’s a talk the talk, walk the walk kinda thing.

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However, if the game is just fun as all get out then it’s a lot less important. It kinda depends on what the game is trying to be. My personal favorite story so far is a three-way tie between Hotline Miami, Bioshock, and Bioshock: Infinite. The Bioshock series is really good at weaving backstory into gameplay elements and it’s a great story altogether. I dig Hotline Miami cause the storytelling is a lot more cerebral and complex than anyone would give it credit for.


Devin Valdivia

mgs

For the most part, plot (when there is one to be had) is extremely important to me in games. Though there are certainly exceptions, I am much more willing to endure poor mechanics for the sake of a good story, than vice versa. I can get pure entertainment value out of many different activities; video games offer unique narrative methods that are simply not possible anywhere else, and I want to experience them.

Video games are about nothing if not about interaction, and beyond the depth and quality of a narrative’s writing, that’s really what a video game story needs to do for me to engage. Whether that interaction comes in the form of player choice and consequence like Mass Effect or The Walking Dead, a deep and detailed world to inhabit like GTA and Elder Scrolls, or mechanics that place the player in the role of the character rather than an overseer, like Dishonored or the Batman Arkham series.

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I have no idea what my number one favorite story in gaming is, but I have recently found a profound admiration for the storytelling of the Metal Gear series, having watched Giant Bomb’s recent playthroughs of MGS 1, 2, and 3. The story is way absolutely ridiculous, but not the impenetrable wall I had previous thought. The story isn’t that hard to follow, it’s just hard to follow completely. There are so many layers to it beyond what is placed directly in front of the player, that you are virtually guaranteed to miss parts of it the first (or second) time through — that’s exactly what makes it great. That’s what makes it feel so alive, and ultimately so realistic, despite its incredibly fantastic premises.

And the gameplay only reinforces that idea. Clunky mechanics aside, these games give Bethesda’s best franchises a run for their money with the wealth of possibilities and approaches you can take in just about any situation. In my actual experience playing Metal Gear Solid, it was at times overwhelming, but once again, it made the experience feel that much more whole. It wasn’t about figuring out what the game wanted me to do, it was deciding what I wanted to do in a situation, and then actually doing it. Many games make claims of that kind of freedom, but very few actually pull it off, and even fewer pul it off the way Metal Gear Solid can. So even though the player doesn’t get a say in how Kojima’s spy opera ultimately plays out, there is a real sense of connection to “your” Snake, though how you approach minute to minute gameplay decisions. Coupled with the dizzying scope of the storyline itself, MGS is beyond question a video game story to be recognized.


ascreed

A lot is important for video games. There are several aspects that go into making a great video game including, gameplay, controls, visuals, mechanics, and especially plot. There are games that can be good without plot yes, just look at the highest selling console game in history, Wii Sports. Sport and racing games are examples of games that can get away with not having plot as their focus is on mechanics and gameplay.

 

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However as I have matured and began playing more advanced video games, I am highly disappointed in a game if it does not have good plot. What makes a plot good if it features character development as well as progress. My favorite video game storyline is Assassins Creed 3 as well as the entire overarching concept of assassins vs. templars. The idea of fusing fiction with history has intrigued me since the day Leonardo DaVinci was making me weapons.


CJ Signorino

sly cooper

I believe a plot plays a crucial role in a video game. It gives the player a sense of purpose and persuades him/her to find out more about it. As the player continues, the story unfolds, revealing more surprises along the way.

If I had to pick my favorite video game storyline, it would have to be the Sly Cooper series, which is about a Master Thief who steals from criminals. In the first game, Sly has to obtain pages of an ancient book and family heirloom, the Thievius Raccoonus, stolen by the Fiendish Five. The second one (Band of Thieves), in which pieces of Clockwerk are stolen by the Klaww Gang, makes the gameplay more interesting: the player can switch between three characters: Sly (for missions that involve sneaking), Bentley (for operations and computer hacking), and Murray (for taking on tasks requiring strength). The third game (Honor Among Thieves) has the Cooper Gang recruiting more members (also playable) in order to gain access to the heavily guarded Cooper Vault (the highlight of the game for me would be Sly exploring the Vault and exhibits of his ancestors, including his deceased father).

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After a long time, a fourth game in the series was made: Thieves in Time. In this one, Sly, Bentley, and Murray reunite to travel back to various time periods and stop the mastermind responsible for the rewriting of Cooper history. Not to give too much away, it ends with a cliffhanger, so I’m expecting a fifth game to be released.

If there’s one thing I like about games with plots, they allow you to treat them as if they were specials you see on TV. They also entice you to imagine what could happen next. Every video game series has interesting stories to tell, and Sly Cooper is no exception.

Written by Renz Lorenzo

Renz is a big fan of multiplayer party games. Some of his favorites series' are Ratchet and Clank, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros, Pikmin and Mario Party. He loves playing with others and occasionally gets loud during intense moments of play.

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