What’s the basis of this suspicion? Well, one argument is that good stories simply can’t exist in video games, because their interactive nature goes against the linearity of plots in other mediums.
Others claim that real gamers aren’t interested in their avatar’s journey—only in how many assailants they can kill. Then there’s the idea that video games should altogether avoid the shameless emotional manipulation and overbearing morality found in movies.
Of course, games exist to be played, not read or watched. But mastering the art of storytelling is still key to creating a successful title.
Let’s consider what a story actually is. For our guide we’ll refer to the original story guru, Aristotle.
His rules are simple as a Hobbe: a good story must describe a journey—what he called Mythos; it must demonstrate change and discovery—his Anagnorisis; it must provide emotional involvment resulting in some kind of relief— Catharsis. Whatever the doubters suspect, these elements still apply to the most rudimentary of video games.
Take a non-linear, sandbox game like GTA. A player may chose to ignore the game’s main objectives, but he still wants to create and act out a powerful narrative. His journey will always be defined by a beginning, middle and end—that is Aristotle’s Mythos. Even open-ended games like the immersive World Of Warcraft offer goals and objectives to satisfy a player’s desire to build his own story.
Equally as important to the gamer’s pleasure is Aristotle’s Anagnorisis. Many players may simply be out to boost their avatar’s arsenal, but without the experience of change or discovery they would be left bored and frustrated.
A successful game will always bring a character near to the point of failure, testing the limits of their skills and knowledge. They will be required to change or discover new skills to achieve their objective—the more imaginative these are, the greater the pleasure. Even the mindnumbing Army of Two uses this basic storytelling device.
And, finally, the old philosopher’s Catharsis: creating feelings to bring about relief. Of course games shouldn’t ape movies or books, but any title that doesn’t invest in stimulating emotions to induce satisfaction is doomed to failure.
There are the obvious methods of doing this–petrifying a player with Headcrab Zombies, for example. But pity or sadness can be just as powerful as terror. Simply holding the hand of a Princess while guiding her to safety elicits feelings vital to the enjoyment of ICO.
So developers beware. Storycraft is at work in even the most simple game, and the writer is as vital to its success as the artists or engine designers. Bringing in a last-minute cosmetic” scribe to cover the cracks of a hurried evolution is perilous…