Enough with the camp

November 12, 2008

In continuing my diatribe against Gears of War 2–I’m actually joking–I have read a lot of reviews singling out the narrative elements in the game. Particularly that it is an improvement over the first game, but still fails to surpass the kinds of narrative we see in games today. A lot of people have mentioned the B-movie quality of the dialog and the story, that somehow this is acceptable in games. Are you serious? Do we not have enough B-movie schlock in games today to wet our pallet? This is not some trash media tour deforce the likes of John Waters, this is just crappy story.

Personally, I believe video games have ample amounts of games producing half-hazard passable narratives in games. We don’t need more B-movie material. This was a huge problem I had with Uncharted: Drakes Fortune at it is clearly attempting to invoke this sort of B-movie rip-off of the film Romancing the Stone. Sure it is acceptable material and the production values are clearly there, but I don’t think because games have set the bar so low in narrative that we must surrender to such material. And to be honest, the bar is not that low. We already have numerous examples of games that offer great stories and memorable stories like Grim Fandango, Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, System Shock 2, Planetscape, KOTOR, Fallout, Beyond Good and Evil, Bioshock, and the list goes on. We do not need to succumb to accepting this continuous shovel of trite game plots in our medium.

It is a feat of the medium that gameplay, mechanics, and design can be considered the core experience that can make-up for a lacking narrative. But as video games and cinema continue to merge we should expect more as it becomes a mesh of the two. This a major problem I see with the gaming community as that they were willing to overlook this major deficiency their medium. Video games is a rare medium where developers can take ideas from one another whether it is design, mechanics, or even aesthetic. Though it is looked down upon, many people still view it as a sort of technological progression. If something works why not incorporate that same innovation into your product as well. It is accepted for the same of progression and user convenience. But creatively and narrative-ly, the video game industry has speedily evolved to the level of the film industry in that it is creatively bankrupt. What we get is the same product but in a different context from the majority of material released to the public.

What is basically comes down to is admiration for the production design over the substance. What is the value of these narrative interactive experiences when the narrative does not deliver in quality? There is an admiration for special effects, costume design, set design, acting, and all the production values in films but if the story sucks the movie won’t be worth the time. Why? Because there are plenty of other movies to take its place that offer the
same high level of production. We have come to a point in the games industry, especially now, where we have a multitude of games offering similar experiences and monopolizing our time. While design is of vast importance it is no longer enough. If a game’s major selling point entails its narrative it should be placed to the high standards that have already been released in the medium.

It is vexing how accepting the gaming community is willing to overlook this issue. There is an impression that the bar is so low when in fact, once the bar is raised it is ignored. Gamers should be more vocal and critical on wanting not only a memorable interactive experience, but also a narrative experience in their narrative games. While games are excelling in the communal, social, and even artificial experience of games there is a huge lack in the singular experience. It is not surprising that players have become their own authors in their experience when it comes to sandbox gaming and open world gaming. So I implore you, whenever someone accepts below average narrative in their games call them out on it. This should no longer be accepted in the game space and we should push our developers to create memorable narrative experiences for us instead of providing the typical B-movie.



  1. This B movie spoof movie poster design is a simple but effective way of tackling those graphics challenges where there seem to be too many thoughts to fit in: it enables the designer to combine slogans and other textual elements with the bare bones of a storyline and striking images, all bound up in an iconic format that everybody will recognize.
    Internet Marketing

  2. From the commercials for Gears of War I’ve always though Cliffy B wanted it to be really serious. But I also really like God of War’s story so what do I know?

  3. You need to remember though, God of War is serious business.

  4. I think the problem is a lot of people don’t play games for the stories or the dialogue. A lot of people play Gears of War because you can chainsaw trough a guy or curb stomp his head. It’s fun and a nice release. Though the groups of gamers that are looking for a greater storytelling medium is growing, I still don’t think it’s too a point that the companies are going to start hiring more writers. Just look at Gamasutra and you’ll find plenty of articles talking about how a lot of them don’t use writers because they say they don’t use to…so the designer writes the story…and it usually shows. I think we’ve got to treasure and hold onto games like Myth: The Fallen Lords and Bioshock for their great storytelling abilities.

    Great article as usual. Keep it up.

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