Earlier this week, our staff writer, Edward Love, gave his opinion on 2015’s greatest disappointments in gaming – naming immensely anticipated titles such as Halo 5, Star Wars: Battlefront, and The Order: 1886.
It goes without saying that games are like cocktails; there’s a delicate mix that defines a title from being enjoyable, refreshing, or, unfortunately, repugnant.
Of the five titles Edward pegged as his greatest disappointments, two of them resonated with me; namely, Halo 5 and Star Wars: Battlefront.
As John Carmack, one of the founders and technical directors of iD Software once said “Story in a game is like story in porn. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not important.” I’m glad, in a sense, that he once made that comment, because there are few things I disagree with as passionately.
If we run with the games as cocktails metaphor, narrative is the alcohol; the addictive substance that hooks us to a particular flavour and keeps us coming back for more.
“As John Carmack, one of the founders and technical directors of iD Software once said ‘Story in a game is like story in porn. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not important.’ “
To this end, I don’t mean to imply that multiplayer game modes or multiplayer games themselves are pointless; they’re great fun, and there are few things I enjoy more than a good round of multiplayer co-op with some close friends.
What I do mean to imply is that without a narrative or over-arching background or story, games have little resonance and ultimately act as a once-off sports match as opposed to an experience that will live with a player forever.
Ultimately, I believe that games are indeed worthless without a good narrative, because a story is what defines a video game from being simple entertainment. There are those who prefer to link those two terms, but I’m not among them – because gaming is undoubtedly the next frontier of storytelling.
There’s a reason why I’d rather play Heroes of the Storm than League of Legends, despite the latter being far more popular; throughout the course of previous Blizzard games, I’ve forged relationships and opinions with many of the characters slowly being introduced into the game; hence, I’m interested in seeing how these characters engage and interact competitively – even if the direct premise of the game is ridiculous.
Subsequently, it’s largely because I’m already invested in the universes and backstory that Blizzard develops that I’d be interested in turning to Heroes as opposed to DotA 2 or LoL.
Let’s examine something more recent; Star Wars: Battlefront. What would have been the highlight of my gaming year fell flat due to an endless and repetitive cycle of game types and impending DLC cash-grabs; while the game certainly bears the atmosphere of Star Wars, there’s little reason to care about any of it; the lack of an over-arching plot or directive beyond quick objectives to secure a meaningless victory has left many gamers – myself included -cold.
“Ultimately, I believe that games are indeed worthless without a good narrative, because a story is what defines a video game from being simple entertainment. There are those who prefer to link those two terms, but I’m not among them – because gaming is undoubtedly the next frontier of storytelling.”
Whereas we were spoiled with the likes of Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 this year, which magnificently incorporated a story with stunning visuals, intricate mechanics and intense gameplay, we were equally disappointed by the likes of Halo 5. Halo 5 Guardians promised a narrative plot that many fans waited patiently for; the chess-game between the Master Chief and Agent Locke that would result in a situation – which we imagined – would be vaguely informed by what we saw in pre-release trailers. Instead, we received a meandering addition to a heavily multiplayer-based game. While reviewers have largely praised gameplay and critisced the game’s drifting story, the reason I would argue Halo multiplayer exists in the first place is because there was an excellent narrative to begin with, and, at that, one that was well-balanced between visuals, mechanics and general gameplay.
Stories themselves are a liquid quantity. I don’t mean to imply that, by nature of my argument, games aren’t worth considering if there’s no direct plot. What I do mean to imply is that without any emotional involvement, games run at the risk of being an uncontrolled attack on the senses. Even jump-scare driven titles such as Five Nights and Freddy’s tease a backstory, should players look closely enough.
Story is the dividing factor between simple entertainment like Flappy Bird of yore, and masterpieces which drive at our thoughts and leave us thinking about video games and their conclusions years after the fact. Were a story pointless, as John Carmack posited, it would follow that titles such as Mass Effect, Dragon Age, The Witcher, or even Halo would ever have become as embedded in the psyche of popular culture as they are today.
The merit of games, then, should truly stem from how emotionally involved they can make us become, how they resonate with their audience, and how novel a narrative they can introduce.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts – are games worthless without story? Is there space for narrative-less arcade titles alongside more involved efforts such as Mass Effect or The Witcher? Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below!