Because it’s not that I think Adam is completely wrong about everything he said in his article. It’s that I know Adam is completely wrong about everything he said in his article. A great story has the ability to elevate a great game into a great piece of art.
Okay, I kid, I kid. Of course I do. I don’t mean that whole absolutely wrong about everything thing. I’m not that much of a dick. And, to be fair, he does have some good points. Old school games offer a pick up and play simplicity that the likes of Red Dead Redemption or Dragon Age just can’t. Super Mario Bros. didn’t need a complex story. It was about a dude jumping on other dudes and collecting coins while trying to save a girl. That was fun. Jumping is fun. Sonic is about going fast. Do we need the 300 ancillary characters created for the Sonic universe? No, we do not. Except for Bunnie Rabbot. Because she is a cyborg rabbit. And that is awesome.
So yes, I do freely admit, there are tremendous advantages to the old style of thinking, that stories aren’t needed in games for them to be fun. But you know what a good story does provide? Immersion. This is something you didn’t get in older games, or in the simple games of today. Its an emotional experience. Tell me, when playing Plants vs. Zombies or Super Mario Bros., do you feel anything other than the raw thrill of fun being had? No, you don’t, because it is a limited experience. Good, but limited. But the big, epic, story driven games of today, when done right, can provide so much more than that.
Example time: Red Dead Redemption. It’s one of my favorite games of last year. Rockstar completely nailed the whole cowboy mystique in that game. Just looking at the game world and the characters in it created a sense of awe and wonder that is hard to get in any form of entertainment. And this is before we even talk about the story. The epic saga of John Marston’s quest to reclaim his family and a simple life that everyman wants is something almost universal. What John is fighting for is the American dream. A house, a wife, a kid and a job that leaves him satisfied. That’s all he wants. Yet fate keeps stepping in the way and you have to help guide him to that. And through the numerous hours you spend in the skin of John Marston you get to feel a connection to the man. You want him to succeed. It’s not just the simple matter of saving a princess like it was in older games. Dammit, you want John to succeed because John is a good man. It’s rare for any type of entertainment to really get into your head like that, and only video games can really put you in the role of the protagonist you are so desperately rooting for.
Another example: the Uncharted series. If Red Dead represents the Coen Brothers, True Grit, classy style of game story, Uncharted is the summer blockbuster Indiana Jones type. It’s non-stop action, puns, sexy girls and beautiful scenery. But it still builds up a great story along the way. Or, more accurately, cool characters that you really want to interact with. It’s like all the action of an old school platformer like Contra combined with characters you actually give a crap about. I revisit that game from time to time, not just because it has great gameplay, but because I get to experience these characters again.
Now I do have to say that I agree with Adam in one regard. Sometimes interesting stories are used to mask poor or derivative gameplay. Homefront is a pretty good example. North Korea attacking and taking over America? Sounds cool. Oh, it’s just Call of Duty with a new skin? How…meh. How very, very meh. Oh look, Dragon Age 2 has an epic story. It’s just told in the same town with the same dungeons over and over again. This is a justified complaint. But most of these complaints are isolated incidents. I could name tons of games that would be considered much lesser products without the well done story components that were put into them.
But maybe this is just me. I’ve always loved a good story. Even when I was little and I rented games I loved reading the instruction manuals and getting what little story existed there. When I was playing in front of my little sister I would act out a story that made no sense at all. That Mega Man sure had some messed up adventures according to my little mind. But I just loves me a good story. Great games, with their hours and hours of gameplay, can provide that. And the best of the best aren’t an excuse to push buttons in order to tell a story. The story works with the gameplay, with each being unable to exist without the other. The open and epic world of John Marston, the fast paced interaction between Nathan Drake and everyone else in that game; a good game’s story does more than just thrill you. It puts you right there in the shoes of a character and gets you into their head. It makes you that character, literally. In what other form of entertainment can you do that? And that is the big advantage of this story driven period of electronic media. We’re gonna have misfires along the way, sure. But for the types of experiences we can have in great story driven games, I’d say its a fair trade off.