Get rid of story, replace it with gameplay

People are talking about stories within video games thanks to Skyrim and Mass Effect 3. Some people I’m communing with praise Skyrim for its storytelling and options the game gives the player. They’re mainly computer game players, so let’s give them a little bit of credit.

But video games are games. In their inherent nature they do not need a story. In Mass Effect the first three hours I spent more time trying to skip through the story because I wanted to play the game, and then I ended up with horrible driving sequences. Sure, Mass Effect gives immersion and player is the main character and all that, but why does this come into gameplay’s way?

Video games have their own way of storytelling. It’s a combination of show-do-not-tell and interactivity. What most games use is traditional narration via walls of text and videos, which is sad. It’s easier to use traditional narrative as you have books upon books how to write a story and make a film. How to tell a story through games’ own methods is still an undiscovered country. I can’t really think any good examples, and tells something particular.

However, I’ll give you an example of three games that do not have a story, but then showcase certain level of video game storytelling outside traditional narrative. These three games are Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3. But Aalto, Sonic does have story! Just take a look at the manual! you tell me now. Now, take a look at Sonic 1 again. In what portion of the game you see a story being told? No story seen.

Sonic 1 is an incredible game even now. It’s balanced, gives the player multiple options to choose from and storytelling doesn’t get into the way. Most likely you’ve played the game without knowing anything of the story, either through your siblings or via an emulator the cheeky bastard you are, where manuals usually are non-existant. When you play the game, you notice the simple and intuitive controls, and animals popping out from defeated enemies. In the end of Act 3 you see this fat Roosevelt-esque man with his own theme trying to maul your with a wrecking ball. After that, you pop a capsule open and release bunch of animals to the wilderness for wolfs to hunt. You don’t need any text or videos to tell what’s going on; the Roosevelt knock-off seems to be trapping animals into robots and Sonic’s there to stop him. It’s all how the game shows it to you.

Similarly Sonic 2 just goes with it. However, there’s more cinematic of sorts to showcase clone-Roosevelt’s mighty array of weaponry in the later levels. Sonic 3 then adds more traditional cutscenes where the player is unable to control Sonic, and we can safely say that from that moment on Sonic series took a dive. However, Sonic 3 keep the story progression extremely coherent, stringing every Act and Zone together in a logical manner. And yes; every stage in the game is part of the story.

I’ve hammered this point before; in games where there is a story, every second on-screen is part of the story. The gameplay is an integral part of the story, if there’s a story given within the game itself.

It would actually be nice to get a mod to Mass Effect where it removes every portion of the story so that it’d string all the proper gameplay portions together. Of course they wouldn’t do that, as it would cut 2/3 from the game. Most people who grew up solely on computer games will always want to see more traditional narrative in their game, as the most revered computer games are text heavy, like Monkey Island and Ultima series. Arcade players value more direct gameplay, whereas console players can really got the bets of both worlds.

Angry Birds is a rare example of a computer game, which doesn’t hold story in its game. This is partially the reason why it has sold so well.

Story is also intimidating. It’s far more difficult to get into a video game when you have Lord of the Rings or Sinuhe level amount of text in there to read from the get-go. When you got simple gameplay as the main dish, it’s much easier to attract customers. Vast majority of customers do not get into games to read and experience vast and complex stories; they get into games they can play. The people who are into games for the stories are small minority, a loud minority to boot.

This is one key for a successful game, a part of the silver bullet into making a hit video game; less traditional narrative, let the players play through the story… or don’t include a story at all. It’ll probably suck anyway. Put more gameplay there, it’s much easier and more rewarding to everybody.

The saying “If I want a story, I’d read a book” hits the mark. Video games are not there to give you a story or drama. It’s films’ and books’ job. Games are not there to make you experience wonders or the like. Games are there to be played and to be enjoyed through that. This is what all players really want from their games, even if there are bunch of them wanting a good story; ultimately these people will also skip the scenes they find boring.

If you look through the video game history, you’ll see that the best games, the most valued, have little to do with stories within them, like such a small game called Super Mario Brothers.