Like the sea of fellow gamers out there who have been brought up with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, we’re all familiar with frustrating less-than-16bit games. We’re also on the same page in regards to arcade games like Pac-Man, where players will often find themselves in an endless abyss of a never-ending quest, usually without any narrative to tell us why we’re supposed to be eating white pixels.
Upon fast forwarding two decades, it’s strange how some of us have been accustomed to Kojima-san’s Metal Gear antics, or Square Enix’s ability to tell a poignant tale of cliché love and redemption. Maybe it’s just me, but this assimilation to the world of video game storytelling has had me convinced for a good decade. It must be said: games without storylines suck.
Of course this opinion is divisive, considering a good portion of gamers out there really couldn’t care less about some pixelated hero’s journey to Nirvana. That’s fine. I too understand your need to pump two full clips into a Nazi’s cranium, your utmost desire to become the second coming of Jimmy Hendrix, and your insatiable need to speed down the walkways of Times Square, just to hear the thuds of helpless human bodies against the car you just hijacked.
But seriously, to me, a storyline gives you a purpose; it’s an incentive to be in the world that you’re playing. Without a good storyline (note: superfluous storylines also suck), games that should be story-driven lose its appeal. There would be no sense of immersion, no sense of epic escapism or identified interactivity with the hero that’s in your console.
I treat games like films; to me, it makes sense to treat it as a medium that allows one to escape from a dull Monday. Without a narrative, a video game feels like it’s lost its personality. Maybe it’s just me.
Plain and simple, being politically right’n’respectful regarding heralded games would suck the life out of this article’s Tree of Life. So I’ll say it once, to the dismay of a certain fellow Aussie with a name that rhymes with Byron Cones: Killzone 2 sucks. Guerrilla Games’ finest hour seems to have been my dullest this year, despite the waves of rave reviews.
Airing out Killzone isn’t the aim of this piece of editorial epiphany, as there are countless other games out there that have been put on an undeserving pedestal, but the proof is indeed in the tasteless pudding. There’s little sense of characterisation, objectives seem to range from shooting a piece of plank to a Helghast’s helmet, and what’s up with the main hero Sev being a mute while controlling him, but a loud mouth when it’s cutscene time?
Maybe I’m just nitpicking the not-so-small details, maybe I just don’t get sci-fi shooters, but the point still stands: Killzone 2 is an average shooter that looks good. Because of the absence of a good storyline, the game lacks a personality and ultimately fails to develop a connection between the game’s characters and the gamers themselves. Again, maybe it’s just me.
I want to be able to involve myself in video games, pretending that my actions matter, and above all, care about my actions and the repercussions it has in them. Many developers tend to forget that without an established protagonist with a strong character back log, gamers will rarely relate to the characters they’ll be playing for the next 10 to 15 hours.
Personally, I’ll feel like I’ve wasted those hours if I can’t take the experience with me after it’s long gone. I want my actions to matter in a game, just as I feel the need to ‘care’ for the supporting cast of the game. I play video games to escape from a hard day’s work, and to be able to convince myself that gunning down just one more goon won’t waste my time. Storylines tend to do that; they tend to suspend your belief system, give you one or two moments you won’t forget anytime soon, and above all make you care about lifeless objects.
There are developers out there who need to re-think and re-prioritize the way they look at video games in the 21st century. Giving us objectives from A to B is fine, but without a justified purpose via a storyline, what significance do these objectives hold? What difference is Pac-Man’s eat Blob 1 then Blob 2 to tackling objectives A then B if there’s no narrative?
An old primary school teacher used to tell me, “Don’t let your English get sloppy. Pay attention to the details.” Visuals, set pieces, and the environment can only tell you half the story – the other half needs to be told by the narrator. Certain developers do need to pay attention to the details, and let the players submerge in their world.
Once again, all this talk is coming from a gamer who wants his money’s worth paid in memorable moments, not just because he wants to “screw around in the game for the lulz.” I’m all for the running-and-gunning, just as long as there’s a good reason as to why we’re doing it.
Like I said, I’ve been assimilated and I’ve been conditioned to believe that applaud-worthy storytelling is the next step within gaming’s progression. Its importance may vary from gamer to gamer, but the significance it carries should be unquestioned.
It adds another layer to immersion. It gives players a sense of emotional attachment to fictional characters, creates an incentive to delve further into its universe, and above all, crafts us personalised moments that make the perilous trek worthwhile. After all, shouldn’t that be the aim for all credible mediums? But hey, then again, it might just be me.