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Default Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Why Game Narratives Fail

September 8th, 2011, 12:58
IGN has an interesting piece that looks at the critical praise for Deus Ex: Human Revolution's story and questions that reality. Here's an excerpt after discussing some review snippets:
This is high praise indeed, especially coming from the very same people who so often bemoan the shoddy storytelling in today's games, where the best that players can usually hope for is that the cut-scenes won't induce actual groans. Like most readers of these breathless reviews, I was eager to pop Human Revolution into my console and experience this lauded story. After finishing the game, I have one important quibble with the avalanche of praise for Deus Ex's fiction, and I think it goes a long way toward explaining why video games typically have such unsatisfying narratives. That objection is this:

The sequence of events that takes place in Deus Ex: Human Revolution does not constitute a story. What it has is a plot, and the difference between those two, as a nerdy Mark Twain might say, is the difference between a lightning spell and the lightning bug.
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September 8th, 2011, 12:58
Interesting piece, but I think the idea to apply traditional standards of storytelling to video games is ultimately flawed because unlike any other storytelling medium games are interactive.

I personally believe that it is beyond the capabilities of the human mind to create games that successfully combine the interactivity and the story to achieve an experience that is as coherent and as meaningful as the various classics of traditional media. One of the games that tried to do this and that I know of is Braid and it failed spectacularly in this regard.

One of the main criticisms of the article is that Human Revolution lacks character development of both the protagonist and other characters in the game. This may be true to some extent, but this is criticism that is equally valid when applied to the original Deus Ex. However, I think nobody would argue that this "failing" detracts from the experience. And more specifically, from the emotional and rational impact the game has on the player towards the end.

I think the whole point of the Deus Ex franchise is that the player creates and determines his own story by choosing a specific style of play for specific situations, and not that one advances the plot to learn of the new development of character XYZ by completing missions.
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September 8th, 2011, 13:26
Originally Posted by Tilean View Post
Interesting piece, but I think the idea to apply traditional standards of storytelling to video games is ultimately flawed because unlike any other storytelling medium games are interactive.
The question is : In how far ?

Free-roam or railroading ?

It partly depends on the target audience group as well. I don't really consider shooters (and modern RPGs more and more look and play like shooters !) to have a real "story".

Plots, yes, but not real Stories.


There is a difference between "plot" and "story" by the way. But few people notice, because they are far too much focused on whether a game looks technically good or not.

If more authors and literats would play and comment on games nowadays, the criticism would be uite different - at least different to those who only criticise the lack of proper loot/dropping in games …

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September 8th, 2011, 19:00
I'd have to agree with the general idea in the article, DE:HR's story lacks character and the side-quests in particular come across as bland and pointless, but..

The best storytelling games—Portal
..really?
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September 8th, 2011, 21:06
Agree or not, a fairer argument would have been the story wasn't that good because the narrative between the sequence of events was disjointed. But the author doesn't go that way, he attacks that the protagonist doesn't have enough character development, and then laughably compares DE:HR to Halo.

The examples the author used were all action games, not RPGs. Can you make a single choice as the character playing most of his examples? Even ME2s choices had limited impact on the story. Halo doesn't even have a plot, that has a setting. Portal, meh, ok, it has a plot (sorta). But DE:HR had a story. You're making up part of the story as you go. You make choices and mistakes. NPCs have individual motives and opinions which you may or may not learn about and you can form relationships with those NPCs based on your actions.

Jensen does evolve over the course of the game, that's the role-playing portion of the game. Jensen has a history, you're introduced to the character and then you make choices based on what you want him to become. You choose how the character develops. Is he a pacifist, a psycho path? Is he empathetic or aggressive in conversation? Do you help people or extort them for money? No, his voice doesn't change much but blame that on poor voice acting if you want to, not a lack of character development.

Part of the problem here might be how much of the story you understand depends on how you play the game. Talking to people and reading their emails flushes out the story. Smash through the game in 10 hours doing only the required main quests and I'm sure your impression of the story would be pretty piss poor but that's like only reading every 3rd chapter of a book and complaining you couldn't follow what was going on.

DE:HR wasn't the greatest story ever but it was (IMO) the best of 2011 and probably the best since TW1. He claims he's not trying to poop in our cheerios but something sure doesn't smell right from where I'm sitting.
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September 8th, 2011, 21:41
The problem with the plot of DE:HR is that what you do in the game makes no difference in the outcome. You determine the ending by what happens in the last few minutes of the game. Everything before that is pretty much irrelevant.
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September 8th, 2011, 22:36
That's not a plot problem, that's a choice and consequences shallowness problem. A plot problem is like when a story doesn't make logical sense, or is just plain stupid.
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September 9th, 2011, 04:19
Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a great story really. It fell short when certain parts of the game weren't fleshed out. I kept shaking my head especially when your charter meets Megan again. The ending was like what the fuck. I forgot more dlc will flesh the story out more. How typical of the game market nowadays.

Despite the flaws I enjoyed it but cant finish the game a second time knowing how it ends.

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