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For GAMEOLOGY 17, Attila and myself discussed Narrative in gaming.

This is a topic I often think about and 2016 has provided plenty of opportunities for reflection.

For example, one of my early candidates for 2016’s game of the year was February’s Firewatch. I loved the atmosphere, melancholy, color, and suspenseful story. In a game where death is impossible, there were moments I was genuinely scared and hesitant to progress. I loved it and instantly wished for more games like it.
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Why is it so rare to be affected by a story in games? I’m not saying you have to make the gamer cry with a death. I just want the general quality of story telling to be raised.

In the earlier days of game development, teams were small and programmers wore many hats. You play guitar? You’re also the sound man. You write? You’re in charge of everything the player reads. Over time we’ve seen the standards of music and voice over rise to incredible highs, but it feels like writing hasn’t quite caught up.

There are tremendous examples of story littered throughout the years of course (many from indies), but I’m talking about raising the standard in AAA action games (sounds silly, but I don’t think without merit).

“It’s an action game” you say? “Why worry about the story?”

Judging from the time players spend watching story segments and the obvious millions spent on producing them, I’ll safely assume that developers care a great deal about the story, even in AAA action blockbusters.

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How about a game like Mankind Divided (a game I love to pick on but definitely regard as a positive gaming experience). This is a franchise that made its mark on the industry with a superb blend of RPG/FPS in sandbox levels with an intriguing story. Mankind Divided definitely delivers strong stealth/action gameplay and plenty of lore to discover, but the main narrative arc leaves much to be desired. I’m all for mystery, but answering questions with more questions is unsatisfying.

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More recently I’ve been playing Infinite Warfare, a game with gorgeously rendered cutscenes that feature top-notch VO, mo-cap acting, and cinematography. But the main motivations/characterizations of the enemies so far has left me flat.

I can understand why the SDF would want Earth to stop benefiting so heavily from the spoils of the new colonies, but the intense hatred and bloodthirsty murder is one-dimensional and feels under-explained. These aren’t natives of a planet defending their resources from the greedy Earthlings, these are people of the same race/species who all initially came from Earth.

Are they in work camps? Are their conditions destitute while Earth is living it up Star Trek style with no need for work or money? This isn’t explained so I fill in the gaps myself.

My overall thought is that games are great and I want them to have stories that are great, not just “great for a game”.

Here’s GAMEOLOGY Episode 17 on our YouTube channel.

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