The Unfolding Story

To continue my theme of the weekend I’ll discuss a bit about plot’s role in both films and video games.
As discussed previously the visuals have been taking a lot place in both medium. HD graphics do not convey the story, but the actors do. In films’ case it’s the literal actors, may it be either robotic dinosaurs or humans. In games the actor is the player. If the actor in a film can’t convey the story with his acting, the story suffers. However, if the control in a game prevent the player from “acting” the game’s story (ie. game’s play) suffers. What I’m saying that even if films need a story, the reason why it exists, games do not. Video Games do not need a story to be good games, but they do need to answer the most core question on ‘why.’ Pac-man’s reason is the pills it eats, in Galaga the player has to defeat the enemies and in Mario the player has to save the princess. These are not stories. They are reasons. A film can’t become a proper film without a story that act’s as the answer, because the viewer has to invest his own feelings to the actor. In video games the actor is already there and investment has been made the moment player starts to play.

Usually games that are heralded as great examples of video game storytelling are decent at best. Mass Effect might have a vast and complex story, but I couldn’t care less how and why because the gameplay was boring and unintuitive. All the vehicles felt like floating balloons with no mass or effect to their surroundings. In all, the game didn’t fair well as a game. Because I wasn’t invested in the game enough I stopped playing rather early on. But it gets better later on, yells somebody in the distance. I’d ask how, but I know the answer; the story gets better. Why would I give a rat’s ass about the story of a game if the gameplay doesn’t convey it?
Super Mario Bros. has only one or two points of story told in the manual. The rest of the “story” is told my the actions of the player.
But Aalt, the player can change the storyline in Mass Effect as well! Oh shut up you, the player has illusion of affecting the story. You can save people in places only after you’ve killed all the Geths. You can run most of Super Mario levels without killing a simple Goomba. Things like this matter more than developers think.

How would a film fare if the viewer has no investment to the characters? It wouldn’t fare at all. However, nowadays film studios seem to invest more on the big name actor and visuals than the core. If a viewer is already invested in a particular actor, then he has no reason to get invested to the character. The answer already is there. The second way is to get the viewer invested whatever happens on the screen rather than what is beneath it. People who enjoy films simply due to the pretty visuals are increasing, similarly how people who enjoy dull gameplay have grown in numbers. These two crowds usually go hand in hand.
I’m not putting off these people who enjoy visuals. I too enjoy the visuals but they should not be the main aspect.

It all boils to the simple point that games are not films. Using the exact same way storytelling doesn’t work. Games are a young medium that was not allowed to have a healthy growth. Because of prejudice and outright fear of games people demanded them to convey intellectual content. They should have a story, they should be more realistic, they should have more moral values, they should teach and so on. Films got a lot of same flak when the invention of motion picture was young, but it grew and became one of the biggest entertainment industries. Electronic games have grown in a different kind of environment which basically suffocated their growth. When people in the game industry finally realize that they need to something that is inherently unique to games rather than just taking from elsewhere.

I’m afraid that this will never come to fruition because of the industry refuses to do so. Films ultimately have found their own way of telling a story. To endorse unhealthy growth of games even further will only result in unhealthy games like Mass Effect, games that people will regard as masterpieces because the effects given by the other industries.

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