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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Maybe Games Just Aren’t For Telling Great Stories?

Default Rock, Paper, Shotgun - Maybe Games Just Aren’t For Telling Great Stories?

June 12th, 2013, 03:56
Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a new article examining if games are capable of telling great stories.
The temptation at this point is to get all sneery and superior, looking down on those inferior lot who enjoy manshooters. Two problems. Manshooters are often great, and haughtily refusing to enjoy the good ones is stupid. And what exactly is it we’re holding aloft as an example of storytelling done right?

For years I’ve lamented this, decried the failure of this medium to mature to a point where it can match literature and cinema in terms of intelligence in design. (And to be clearly, yes, most books and movies are terrible – we’re talking about comparing the very best.) When is gaming, I would ask, going to find its great stories? I believe I was wrong to ask.

Gaming isn’t going to. It’s had plenty of time to prove that. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a failure of developers at all. Maybe games just aren’t the right place for it? That’s practical: authors can take years to write their novels – something that wouldn’t be possible in game development cycles. And it’s perhaps pragmatic: the nature of interaction simply prevents great storytelling, and we should all accept this.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t demand better. It is still right and proper to lament the dreadful writing that appears in so many games, the cavalcades of cliches that plague us, the generic grunting tedium that most creators seem to think will do. But perhaps we should be setting our sights lower, reducing our expectations, and letting games get on with being a medium that simply isn’t going to provide us with wonderful story.
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June 12th, 2013, 03:56
Chiming in: I personally think Age of Decadence is going to tell a great story in the very near future. The little snippets of writing I've seen here and there (plus the demo) has convinced me of that.

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June 12th, 2013, 04:07
There are a number of good stories in games. Try Tactics Ogre on PSP, a brilliantly written mature story of war and the consequences that follow.
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June 12th, 2013, 08:52
The article makes a very strong claim, especially considering how much focus is given on storytelling in gaming. It would require proper in-depth research to support that theory properly, not just writing what comes to mind. It would also require a writer who acknowledges the existence of adventure games (more than just TLJ) and several of the indies whose creators don't get any guidelines to follow and write their souls into their stories. It's "like trying to sell a speedboat based on its lovely coffee holders"? absolutely not, there has been too much effort into shaping gaming into a proper storytelling medium (at least since 'Colossal Cave Adventure') to dismiss it like that - there are too many games where the story is what matters most. I personally can definitely see the potential, but true greatness of storytelling is rarely found alongside mass appeal - in any medium.

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June 12th, 2013, 09:17
Just off the top of my head..

Bioshock Infinite
Planescape: Torment
System Shock
The Witcher
Max Payne
Mass Effect 1
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June 12th, 2013, 10:17
The world is saturated with ignorant writers talking about that which they have no understanding.
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June 12th, 2013, 10:27
Crude conclusion but it wont happen. Players wanting their story, no matter the quality, are the mass of customers these days. They will take a story, no matter the quality. Eventually, it is a good deal for developpers as they are asked to deliver what cant be delivered on a regular basis. So it means that players wishing for stories set the normal standard of expectation to failure. Getting customers to buy failures as their normal is always good when you are a supplier.It relieves from the pain of working for success.

Manshooter? A game like Call for Juarez:gunslinger features a better storytelling than games dedicated to storytelling. The story grows weak as it unfolds but the proper delivery is there. It is also a one shot method of delivery. Cant be exported or it will grow old. It wont establish a school of writing for sure.
Perfect example of the use of video games as a medium for telling stories. Here and there, comets pop in sight but after more than a decade of effort, they all appear as isolated successes. No theory on writing has been secured so far. While litterature has hundreds of theories on the art of writing(most of them practicable and tractable), cinema probably counting the same number, video games provide no theory. You cant learn or teach the art of storytelling in video games. It is no surprise that storytelling in video games suck on cinematic storytelling theories so much as video games have no theory on their own. They go for the closest medium. The issue being known, in video games, the player is the actor and in a movie, the storytelling depends on the quality of the acting as performed by the actor. Call of Juarez: gunslinger handles that quite properly but once again, it is a one shot experiment.
Any writer with a good story in mind will look twice before committing to write for video games, especially if they have opportunities of work for the movie industry. If they shoot for the stars, they will take litterature as their means.

Having a good story is one thing, being able to tell it properly is another. The first is inspiration, the second can be taught, learned etc Save for video games, since there is no story telling theory up to now.
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June 12th, 2013, 14:26
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
Just off the top of my head..

Bioshock Infinite
Planescape: Torment
System Shock
The Witcher
Max Payne
Mass Effect 1
1. Never gonna play that one just because even if my life depends on it
2. Yes
3. Yes
4. Yes
5. Didn't try it, should I?
6. Um… Not quite great, but then again, against current competitors it's neargreat

In gaming industry it comes down to what CEO says. If CEO wants stories told within a game, we get such game (Obsidian and CDprojekt for example). If CEO couldn't care less for the story and wants a clone of a clone, we get no story (endless number of studios out there).
No story game doesn't mean it sux (take Tetris as an example), but it surely doesn't mean other games should follow it's steps.

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June 12th, 2013, 14:37
RPS has good and fast coverage of PC games but their articles are far from great and this is one of their worst.
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June 12th, 2013, 15:03
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
Just off the top of my head..

Bioshock Infinite
Planescape: Torment
System Shock
The Witcher
Max Payne
Mass Effect 1
Don't forget Jeff Vogel's games.

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June 12th, 2013, 15:04
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
Just off the top of my head..

Bioshock Infinite
Planescape: Torment
System Shock
The Witcher
Max Payne
Mass Effect 1
If that's the top in storytelling in games than they certainly have a point It's pulp magazine writing at it's best.

Now, I like Pulp so I don't mind.
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June 12th, 2013, 15:47
Originally Posted by JuliusMagnus View Post
If that's the top in storytelling in games than they certainly have a point It's pulp magazine writing at it's best.

Now, I like Pulp so I don't mind.
PS:T pulp? Witcher pulp?

I actually interested: which pulp mags do you read?

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June 12th, 2013, 16:21
I've played a lot of great games over the years, but the ones that I really remember, the ones that stick with me and I go back in replay are the ones with great stories.

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June 12th, 2013, 17:27
Originally Posted by Sir_Brennus View Post
PS:T pulp? Witcher pulp?

I actually interested: which pulp mags do you read?
System shock is kind of along the lines of some of the pulpier stuff Heinlein would write for his youth or serialized stuff - which he often referred to derogatorily as his paycheck series of work. So I get calling that pulp, but it's still pretty decent pulp. I mean even being able to liken something to the "worst" of Heinlein is pretty complementary at least to a certain degree.

I would have to quibble on the issue of planescape torment because the way it subverts certain tropes is pretty interesting and clever - to a degree not often found in pulp fantasy or pulp fiction in general.

I'd say the witcher is a little less even in quality and a bit harder to nail down. Some aspects of the stories from TW1 and TW2 certainly do rise above pulp, but there are some aspects which practically scream it (sex cards for example).
Last edited by jhwisner; June 12th, 2013 at 18:25.
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June 12th, 2013, 19:29
Betrayal at Krondor - R. Feist has written a novel with the game's story as blueprint/concept.

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June 12th, 2013, 19:32
Games are interactive and therefore are very different from books and movies. Personally, the importance of a game's story being done well is a function of how good or bad the gameplay is.

When the gameplay is not that interesting, then the story had better be compelling enough to keep me interested or else I will lose interest. When the gameplay is fun then I give more leeway to the story if it is not very interesting.

U7 is a great example. The story of U7 is really just mediocre. In 1991 it was somewhat 'edgy' in that gruesome murders in videogames didn't happen that often. But from the perspective of decades, the story of U7 - opening with a murder scene - it's been done for as long as people have been writing stories. But U7's gameplay - it was fantastic and even now still is.

Then you had U8 where both the gameplay AND story were lackluster. This is why I believe most people who were big fans of the Ultima series before U8 were really disappointed with it.

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June 12th, 2013, 19:44
I like CRPGs in which you can create your own story. Many little or great choices with many little or great consequences.

I remember playing Fallout 1 for the first time - two of my friends played the game at the same time. Each of our "walks through the game" was totally different from each other. It was fun to tell the others "my personal solution" to the specific quests.

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June 12th, 2013, 20:32
Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
I like CRPGs in which you can create your own story. Many little or great choices with many little or great consequences.
Yes, that's what games are good for; a personal narrative emerging through player choice. It's not storytelling in a traditional sense, and if you compare stories in games with stories in books from a traditional perspective, games will almost always fall short. But that's a pointless comparison. Is Ulysses by James Joyce a good game? I'm looking forward to Sui Generis.

Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
Max Payne
Only kidding, right? Max Payne had some neat gameplay innovations and was technically brilliant for its time. I liked it. But the story? Hardly worth mentioning as literature and way too linear from a gaming perspective.
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June 12th, 2013, 21:14
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
Just off the top of my head..

Bioshock Infinite
Planescape: Torment
System Shock
The Witcher
Max Payne
Mass Effect 1
While I'll agree that this writing is best in class, it has nothing on some of the best fiction I've read (except planescape, maybe). Just saying that game writers have neither the time nor resources nor motivation nor chops to rise to the levels of the best fiction writers. If they were that good they would be writing books, on their own terms.
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June 12th, 2013, 21:29
Originally Posted by JuliusMagnus View Post
If that's the top in storytelling in games than they certainly have a point It's pulp magazine writing at it's best.
I disagree, but of course you're welcome to your opinion.


Originally Posted by Mr Smiley View Post
Only kidding, right? Max Payne had some neat gameplay innovations and was technically brilliant for its time. I liked it. But the story? Hardly worth mentioning as literature and way too linear from a gaming perspective.
No, if you like Noir, Max Payne was quite excellent. Not sure what linear has to do with story.
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