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Why Should Game Stories Make Sense?

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the thank-you-mario-but-our-princess-is-just-not-that-into-you dept.

Games 169

An anonymous reader writes "An opinion piece at Polygon raises an interesting question about how we perceive video games: why does so much effort go into having the plot make perfect sense? Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were fighting about? The article says, [Developer Jake Elliot] talked about the difference between a puzzle and a mystery. He argued that a puzzle has a solution, while a mystery may never be solved. A puzzle must make sense, but a mystery may well not. In the context of a game, the mechanics are the puzzle, while the theme is the mystery. The game play must be predictable, or the player will never master it. But the theme can be evocative and open-ended. A theme evokes the horrors of war; the mechanics remind you to reload your gun. The plot is stuck in the middle. It wants to make sense of a game, but the game play is already doing that. If we were watching a movie, the plot would provide the backbone, but games don't work like movies, and the plot can get in the way. It can feel awkward and unwelcome, while a looser thematic layer can be the most memorable part of the game.'"

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The real plot problem (4, Insightful)

noblebeast (3440077) | about 9 months ago | (#46849555)

The real plot problem is that not enough effort goes into game plot development.

Re:The real plot problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849573)

Mass Effect 3 ending.

Re:The real plot problem (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849635)

Mass Effect sucked anyway. You can't ruin something that was shit to begin with.

Re:The real plot problem (1, Funny)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849689)

Look at this edgy motherfucker. He don't give no fucks, no slurpee.

Re:The real plot problem (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849717)

Look at this edgy motherfucker. He don't give any fucks, no slurpee.

Re:The real plot problem (4, Insightful)

loonycyborg (1262242) | about 9 months ago | (#46849827)

The real problem is the lack of integration of plot and gameplay. In most current games 'plot' exists as some cutscenes and scripting forced on gameplay that otherwise exists in different universe. Instead gameplay itself should drive the story, not scripting.

Re:The real plot problem (3, Interesting)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 9 months ago | (#46849863)

The real plot problem is that not enough effort goes into game plot development.

I dunno - sometimes they over-do it, taking themselves way the hell too seriously.

I think the coolest game I ever played is still an old-assed text-based game [wikipedia.org] . The game came with a scratch-n-sniff card, a 3D comic book (with glasses), and just enough 'plot' to get you started. The plot is is scare quotes because, quite frankly, it's intentionally stupid, silly, risque - but hellishly funny. The game itself required a ton of imagination on your part (because it was all text-based), and a lot of mental recall to avoid getting lost, killed, etc.

Even now, 2+ decades later, I still get a smile when I think of the so-called "plot" (it begins in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, then instantly puts you on Mars, etc...)

That aside, here's something else to consider: one of the absolute most popular games of the '90s was the Doom/Quake franchise, right? The 'plot' for Doom and Quakes I, II and III were thin at best, and let's be honest - it only got in the way of the real reason we all played Quake: Kill shit in realtime 3D and watch the gibs fly. The big 'plot' in the CTF/Team Foretress/WeaponsFactory MODs, and in CounterStrike and suchlike? Really - what plot?

I guess what I'm getting at is this: a plot is only useful sometimes - not all games need one, and if a game really needs a heavy, complex plot, then maybe it's just trying to cover for crappy gameplay?

Re:The real plot problem (4, Insightful)

chmod a+x mojo (965286) | about 9 months ago | (#46850217)

You are 100% correct in that not all games need a deep plot. FPS's for example just need enough plot to get you to the next slaughter zone.

A RPG with little to no plot would be pretty much worthless though. Yet as we have seen with Square-Enix and the unfortunate butchering of the Final Fantasy series post X / X-2 a good plot can't help if you have a battle system that people hate because it radically deviates from the 11 prior main story-line games that literally grew your franchise and people loved. FF-13's story was decent, but the game play just didn't feel like the FF series people had grown to love... especially for those who cut their teeth on FF7. It just wasn't fun running through a map that was basically a curved tunnel ( FF-13).

Same goes for the Tales of (____) series games, without the plot, and just as important, character interactions the games would just be doing boring repetitive shit for no reason.

In other words, games have to have enough plot to drive game play ( how much depends on the genre of game), and good enough game play ( not deviating too far from prior games if in a series and pissing off long time fans ) to keep people interested.

Re:The real plot problem (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 9 months ago | (#46850343)

FPS's for example just need enough plot to get you to the next slaughter zone

I don't know. It seems to me that even an FPS needs a good plot. Or perhaps the whole genre has declined and not just the plots. I've recently got a free copy of Battlefield 4 with my new graphics card and to me the SP campaign felt like a completely broken and ridiculous sequence of cheap graphics effects. It was just stupid from the start to the end. Compare that to HL2, which had an interesting plot and good, challenging game play. To be honest, I find myself enjoying Arma 3 more than any recent FPS even though I get killed in Arma all the time. I did enjoy Max Payne 3, though.

Re:The real plot problem (1)

chmod a+x mojo (965286) | about 9 months ago | (#46850439)

Honestly, I think it is a little of both; FPS's need SOME plot, and games have been declining in recent years with the race for the best graphics at the cost of all else... the HL series was kind of a mashup of almost RPG with FPS elements to FPS with some RPG-like storyline immersion.

The way it sounds, at least for you and BF4, there just isn't enough plot to drive the game along, hence why I said it needs enough plot to get you to the next slaughter zone. Too many games in recent times just try to rely on who has the prettiest most intense graphics and don't care about story and gameplay.

Honestly, if a game had an awesome story combined with decent gameplay I couldn't care less what the graphics are like.... as long as they aren't so horrible that they make my eyes bleed.

Re:The real plot problem (1)

Platinumrat (1166135) | about 9 months ago | (#46850873)

I agree. Plot isn't everything. EVE online, for example has absolutely no plot. There's some missions, which are very repetative, but then it's all about PvP in a massive sandbox. What this means is that the people are the plot. An unfortunate side-effect of that, is that most "people" are dicks, so there's a lot of ganking that goes on.

The McGuffin (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 9 months ago | (#46850329)

Many movies don't have a meaningful plot --- as Alfred Hitchcock called it, a common practice is begin a movie with a "McGuffin".


The McGuffin is something that begins a quest or series of events but ultimately doesn't mean anything. An example, is a quest to find the Holy Grail or to find the Maltese Falcon or James Bond needing to find a device stolen that can [insert what it does] or Bob owes a loan shark $5000.

Video game plots generally don't help the video game, some of the outstanding games tend to be the very few that do (and some of the very few that have about no plot).

But the point is, many movies only have a superficial plot.

Re:The McGuffin (2)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 9 months ago | (#46850761)

a mcguffin doesn't mean there isn't a plot. there are some great movies that have mcguffins. off the top of my head, the suitcase in pulp fiction (the one that glowed gold when they opened it). it was an important item that everybody wanted but you never found out what it is. The second is the "rabbit's foot" in mission impossible III. Everybody wants it but you never find out what it is. I don't remember if they ever even uncover it!

point is, you can have rich plots even with a mcguffin.

for the purpose of video games, I'm a huge fan of assassin's creed, and am currently kicking pirate ass in ACIV. at first i was disappointed in the story, because it appears to be not directly tied to the whole assassin/templar thing and just a tacked on pirate adventure. but now I'm completely embracing it. I'm thinking of it as "Assassin's Creed Caribbean Vacation". And it's fscking awesome and fun.

Why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849557)


Story (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 9 months ago | (#46849563)

Find the melon you want to eat which someone has taken from you!

http://store.steampowered.com/... [steampowered.com]

Good story! :D Such deep!

Re:Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849751)

That is the laziest game design I have ever seen. They were incapable of creating good gameplay, so they just threw in a bunch of cheap shit.

Depends on what you mean (5, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 9 months ago | (#46849565)

They don't need to make sense in a universal fashion, they can be completely unrealistic/unbelievable. However they should make sense internally. Whatever rules are laid out in the game universe, it should make sense within that setting.

Most people can easily suspend disbelief and accept another world. However that suspension can be shattered if nothing makes sense, the rules keep changing, and there's no internal consistency.

That was, for example, one of the big problems in the Mass Effect games. I won't go in to details to not spoil it but the ending of the trilogy was bad in a large part because it had no internal consistency. It didn't make sense in regards to the narrative that had been going on in the games up to that point. It was a deus ex machinia kind of event that just shattered the story for many.

So no game stories don't need to make sense in terms of the real world, but if they are to be good they should make sense in terms of themselves.

Re:Depends on what you mean (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 9 months ago | (#46849859)

Arguably, there might be situations in which internal inconsistency works (and might even work better than the alternative), it's not as though literature has had nothing but total failure with stories where narrator unreliability, assorted magical-realist or supernatural elements, imperfect information, and so on make deriving an internally consistent ruleset for the story's setting effectively impossible.) There are even stories that do just fine despite explicitly denying the possibility of internally consistent understandings, sometimes downright rubbing the characters' faces in it and watching them suffer, and they are none the worse for it.(HP Lovecraft is quite arguably not high art; but it's good fun, definitely the sort of thing that could make a game plot, and it revels in a universe where only the smallest and best-lit corners are within the reach of human understanding and to go beyond that is to enter a nightmare realm of eldrich madness that is beyond human grasp, permanently.) Something like the (overtly 4th-wall-breaking) effects of low 'sanity' in "Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem", are arguably similar in a gaming context. Does it make any internally consistent sense that your avatar suffering sanity damage would cause the player to be confronted with 'hallucination' effects that include (simulated) technical glitches with their gamecube and TV? Not really. Is it a perfectly workable mechanic? Definitely.

What doesn't go over well are the instances of internal inconsistency that suggest that the continuity people were just asleep on the job, or where the game is 'on rails' such that the mechanics of the world vary wildly according to the needs of the Guiding Hand Of Plot: Does game X have destructible environments? Except for the plot-specific doors that are invulnerable, unhackable, and can only be opened with the magic keycard? Fuck that.

Re:Depends on what you mean (1)

Assmasher (456699) | about 9 months ago | (#46849865)

Exactly. The plot can be fantastic, but consistent to itself in order to maintain the 'suspension of disbelief.' Very well said old man... Cheerio, eh, wot?

Re:Depends on what you mean (2)

RJFerret (1279530) | about 9 months ago | (#46849881)

Most memorable games I've played? Chess. I can tell you great experiences I've had, wonderful stories. Why would I care about a fictional story someone wrote when I want to play a game? If I wanted that, I'd read a book.

I've experienced story driven games, Lord of the Rings Online, the story is by some guy named Tolkien, if you haven't heard of him, he wrote some well received books. None of the stories provided by the company that makes LoTRO are part of my gaming memories. But I can tell you about hilarious moments with friends and people, great stories.

Games need to get out of the way and stop trying to be focal points. A good example, one of the most popular games so far this year, 2048. Gamers and non-gamers alike are loving it, and it's spawned many a conversation and rivalry thread on Google+ among not just gamer circles, but others as well.

Which isn't to say there aren't gamers who enjoy passive entertainment in their games, a good friend of mine doesn't hit X or Escape the moment a loading video pops up, but will actually sit through them. Keeping the story from negatively impacting the game experience, as others have expressed here, is obviously key, but yes, I would agree too much focus is put on something that should be an aside.

This is similar to how we used to run role-playing games, or when I was on the plot committee of a LARP, provide the framework to make the player(s) the star of their own story--that is what memorable experiences are made of.

Re: Depends on what you mean (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about 9 months ago | (#46850025)

What kind of idiot skips game content? You have to sit through the story, however boring it might be, to make the most of the game.

Re: Depends on what you mean (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 9 months ago | (#46850805)

The first Far Cry, for instance. Or Diablo 2 quest descriptions (I play that game a few times on LAN).
Far Cry had enough gameplay and an optional enough plot that it made sense to skip it, or maybe it was just about not listening to the crap.. Cut the plot and you have a great blend of old school FPS and innovative gameplay, hell it was even special as it made me actually like the checkpoint saves.

Re:Depends on what you mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850643)

(One hell of a lot of gassing, and then THIS) - "This is similar to how we used to run role-playing games, or when I was on the plot committee of a LARP..."

Goddammit, you buried the LEAD. If you had put that in the second sentence, I wouldn't be asking you for 30 seconds of my life back.

Re:Depends on what you mean (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850879)

Games need to get out of the way and stop trying to be focal points.

It seems like part of the problem is everyone keeps framing this in some form of "Games need to stop ...", especially with things that some gamers like. There is a difference between games doing something virtually no one likes, and games doing something one particular group doesn't like. The problem is not that there are games with too much story for people who don't care about story, but that they want more games without the emphasis on story. While people who like games with story want more games with emphasis on story. Although arguments saying, "Lets have more of XYZ" instead of saying "Why should we even have stuff without XYZ" gets less attention and clicks.

Re:Depends on what you mean (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 9 months ago | (#46850081)

They do make sense though. I don't know what sorts of strange games the author has been playing, but I'm guessing FPS.

Immersion (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849569)

Without immersion a game usually is less fun. Being sucked into the game is the experience many players are looking for. And story holes throw you right out of it, they are the ultimate immersion-killers.

Re:Immersion (1)

eyepeepackets (33477) | about 9 months ago | (#46849711)

Agreed. Immersion is what makes the difference between great games and the toss-outs and one-timers. The Elder Scrolls (TES) games are really popular and it's the lore factor which ties it all together for the player and makes playing each one a really great experience beyond just a good way to burn some time.

Re:Immersion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849963)

Being sucked into the game is the experience many players are looking for.

Many players, but not all. Half the time people complain that plot is irrelevant to video games, the problem is they are assuming everyone plays games for the same reason they do. But that goes both ways, and there are categories of games and gamers that look for things other than story.

Polygon (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849571)

Is not a reputable source at all. The entire site is based on click baiting articles and opinion pieces.

Pot meets Kettle (4, Funny)

westlake (615356) | about 9 months ago | (#46849591)

Is not a reputable source at all. The entire site is based on click baiting articles and opinion pieces.

You're new here, I take it.

Re:Polygon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849919)

Welcome to Slashdot! Enjoy your stay.

Re:Polygon (1)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 9 months ago | (#46850821)

I recently discovered polygon and am really enjoying it. i find it has higher journalistic work than most gaming sites. What they call "features" are actually magazine-quality features, not the SEO stuff you find elsewhere. also, i like the "inside baseball" look at how AAA titles come together (or go off the rails). In short, I am intrigued by their ideas and subscribed to their newsletter.

Plot and gameplay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849585)

Are mystery and puzzle, sure, but if the game has to have both plot and gameplay, you should ensure they work together well. The rules don't have to follow rules of the universe we are in, but they have to make sense to the story.

Also, I am pretty sure that if your game is going to have some realistic elements, like people, players probably demand a certain level of realism in your story as well as gameplay to feel comfortable playing it.

Lost (2)

bunratty (545641) | about 9 months ago | (#46849595)

This was what was so great about Lost. There were so many mysteries, yet every time a mystery was solved, it just raised yet more questions. Many viewers still didn't get it by the time the finale was long over. A game where you're always in medias res and constantly being surprised by new revelations could be even more fantastic! Come to think of it, that's what makes life so cool.

Re:Lost (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 9 months ago | (#46849641)

I really, really tried to follow the plot for Lost, but in the end and after all those years I just can't figure out why Maggie shot Mr. Burns.

Re:Lost (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 9 months ago | (#46849779)

It was explicitly spelled out in the follow up episode. He tried to steal her candy.

Re:Lost (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 9 months ago | (#46849947)

That sounds like a larf.

Re:Lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849913)

If that's the only thing you can't figure out, you need to contact the writers; It's pretty obvious they couldn't figure out at least 500 other "plot" elements (and I use the word "plot" quite wrongly there; when a show can't even fix its own plot holes with time travel, and actually needs multiple alternate realities, you know the writers are truly lost).

Re:Lost (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 9 months ago | (#46849653)

The mystery is great, but Lost's failure to solve a majority of them in a sufficient manner within the confines the rules of that show's universe is what ultimately left people with a very bad taste in their mouth. Plot is great if it's a good plot, but a bad plot is worse than no plot at all.

Re:Lost (1)

eyepeepackets (33477) | about 9 months ago | (#46849727)

Yeah, the Lost producers really did a poor job of wrapping it up. That ending, after all that went before? Ugh, what cliched crap.

Re:Lost (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850197)

Lost is a great example of the difference between "a mystery" and "random nonsense we shoved into the show just to keep people interested".

Don't forget BSG (2)

witherstaff (713820) | about 9 months ago | (#46850309)

I kept waiting for the reveal of the Plan the Cylons supposedly had.

Re:Lost (the plot) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849849)

The only great thing about Lost was that it was (mostly) well executed from a technical point of view (acting, editing, direction, etc.). The "plot" was a complete mess and it was obvious, even in season 1, that the writers didn't really have a clue where they were going. Trying to stretch it out to increase their profits pushed it from "lost the plot" to "lost any sense of shame".

Lost could have been great; the first three or four episodes are quite good, and the premise is excellent. Unfortunately, after that, it's the typical "characters acting inexplicably out of character for 5 minutes to make some plot twist possible" and "deus ex machina solution to some plot hole the writers dug themselves into" fare.

And that's ultimately what distinguishes great writers and great works of fiction from fleeting mass-consumption fads. Some things make sense and have a message (regardless of having an explicit conclusion), others are just a sequence of visually impressive (but ultimately disconnected and meaningless) scenes to impress viewers with a short attention span.

I'm not saying Lost is as bad as (for example) Fringe, but story development is definitely not its strong point, on the contrary.

first there was hynenless monkeys (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849631)

now all females have hymens & most monkeys still do not... does that make 'sense'?

What's the plot behind tetris? (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 9 months ago | (#46849637)

Not every game needs one.

Re:What's the plot behind tetris? (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about 9 months ago | (#46849785)

Tetris doesn't pretend to have a plot. This article sounds like somebody who has made games and story and is frustrated by the feedback that the plot doesn't make sense.

Re:What's the plot behind tetris? (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 9 months ago | (#46849801)

Did you know arkinoid had a plot? It was written in the game manual.

Re:What's the plot behind tetris? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 9 months ago | (#46850187)

Did you know arkinoid had a plot? It was written in the game manual.

ISTR the arcade version telling you the story as part of the attract mode. I don't have MAME installed just now, however.

Re:What's the plot behind tetris? (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 9 months ago | (#46850567)

That's kind of why I didn't bring it up or its predecessor "Breakout." Breakout, in the arcades, had graphics which indicated a breaking out of jail metaphor. Not exacty "told" to anyone but the metaphor was present.

Forgettable by whom? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849639)

Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were fighting about?

Yes? I consider myself to have below average memory for plots and characters in stories in general, including books and movies, yet I can remember more than two characters from most stories, video game or not, that I've paid any attention to in the last 10+ years. Even stuff I was exposed to before that in high school I could at least give a quick paragraph summary. What if someone said:

Think about fiction books you've read. How much do you actually remember? You can probably name the protagonist and antagonist, but do you really know what they were doing?

Just because you and some other people have bad memory or don't pay attention doesn't mean such things can be ignored. Hell, even if you have bad long term memory, doesn't mean you don't notice when you are in the middle of playing or reading the particular work.

I just like interesting games (1)

plibnik (636383) | about 9 months ago | (#46849657)

Deus Ex. System Shock 2. The Witcher. Baldur's Gate. Planescape Torment. I'm ready to forgive Digger (c) Windmill Software, 1983, Tetris and Tapper for having no decent plot, though.

Re:I just like interesting games (1)

Rhymoid (3568547) | about 9 months ago | (#46849781)

Have you played Bastion?

Re:I just like interesting games (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 9 months ago | (#46849929)

Replaying Morrowind at the moment. The plot and the worldbuilding in that is really what makes it for me. Not least the religious texts about Vivec... mind-bogglingly bizarre yet seemingly strung together with some otherworldly logic of their own.

System Shock 1 I found to be quite well-thought out too. It would have worked without the plot and background, and indeed there was even an option to turn it off. But without the text or audio logs strewn about depicting the fall of the station in poignant detail, it wouldn't have been nearly as memorable.

Re:I just like interesting games (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | about 9 months ago | (#46849931)

Syberia, Sanitarium, American McGee's Alice, The Longest Journey, Secret Files, Broken Sword, Shelrock Holmes games and other adventure games would be kinda pointless without interesting and consistent plot.

OTOH, sure, Counter Strike or Team Fortress do not need a complicated plot.

do you really know what they were fighting about? (4, Insightful)

Culture20 (968837) | about 9 months ago | (#46849669)

In the games that were AWESOME, I do. And you know what made those games awesome in my opinion? Internally consistent plots (along with good gameplay).

Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren't. (2)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849673)

Simple question, simple answer. Games are about satisfying desires. Whether that means the satisfaction of overcoming challenges or the satisfaction of bringing a story to a fitting conclusion doesn't matter. If the story didn't make sense it wouldn't be satisfying, and so the satisfaction would have to come from some other element. If the game failed to be satisfying in that aspect as well it would be bad and no-one would play it.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 9 months ago | (#46849733)

If the story didn't make sense it wouldn't be satisfying

It wouldn't be satisfying to who? That doesn't apply to everyone.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849749)

How is that relevant to anything I said? Nothing applies to everyone, outside of the categories of biology.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 9 months ago | (#46849767)

How is that relevant to anything I said?

Because I replied to something you said?

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849777)

If replying to something signified relevance, the world would be ruled by youtube comments.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 9 months ago | (#46849813)

It was relevant. If you wanted to state it as your own opinion, I think you should've done so.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849855)

I wrote "If the story didn't make sense it wouldn't be satisfying." I think you misinterpreted what 'it' referred to, which was the story, not the game. "A game that does not have a story is unsatisfying" is an opinion. "A story that doesn't make sense is unsatisfying" is a tautology, unless you find satisfaction in irrationality, in which case you are insane.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 9 months ago | (#46850019)

"A story that doesn't make sense is unsatisfying" is a tautology

It's a statement of fact. "A story that doesn't make sense is unsatisfying to me" would be an opinion.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

chmod a+x mojo (965286) | about 9 months ago | (#46850369)

Wow, engineer must mean "train throttle puller" in this case. There sure as hell isn't any indication of the logic that a builder / designer type engineer should exhibit.

It is quite obvious that " if the story didn't make sense it wouldn't be satisfying" refers to the previous sentence, particularly the last subject matter of the previous sentence having to do with the satisfaction of bringing a story to a fitting conclusion. It is further supported by the next portion of the sentence stating that "if that wasn't the aim there would have to be something else to provide satisfaction."

Furthermore, nothing, and I mean nothing past base biological necessities, applies to "everyone". The target in this, as well as nearly all arguments like it, target the majority. In arguments like these no one cares about the few individuals out on the fringe.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (1)

BiIl_the_Engineer (3618863) | about 9 months ago | (#46850471)

It's "obvious"? To who? I've seen numerous people who think that their opinions about subjective matters are objectively correct, so if you don't state something as an opinion, there's no real way to know which type of person you are.

Re:Because it would be unsatisfying if they weren' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850733)

I literally do not understand why anyone would argue with you.

I mean, look at your sig. You're obviously a pedantic little twat, and talking to you is a waste of time.

Not all game stories are crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849679)

The Marathon story [bungie.org] (scroll down the menu on the left) made the game much more enjoyable.

The Cake is a Lie (4, Insightful)

Scowler (667000) | about 9 months ago | (#46849709)

Portal / Portal 2 : Great games with both fantastic gameplay AND brilliant writing.

Re:The Cake is a Lie (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 9 months ago | (#46849805)

Portal blurs the distinction between game design and writing. I would say there is no real writing in Portal, as the story is told almost entirely through the way the game is designed. Portal 2 has a more obvious narrative, one that's not told by the world but by beings in the world.

Re:The Cake is a Lie (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 9 months ago | (#46850473)

And yet the game made perfect sense.

They shouldn't (1)

The Cat (19816) | about 9 months ago | (#46849719)

Nobody pays for games unless they're forced to, and there are only about six companies that can force people to pay for games, so the industry is fucked.

Writers don't work for free, and programmers can't write, so it doesn't matter if the story matters or not.

Yes in fact (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 9 months ago | (#46849725)

Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember?

All of it if the story was great. Even if the gameplay was just OK, sometimes worth it to advance the story.

If the story was bad, none of it - or the game.

If the story was REALLY bad, all of it plus I seethe with rage forever.

I also do remember some games with zero story quite well - I think the thing with story is, there's a kind of narrative uncanny valley. You have to go all in on having a story, or don't bother.

Re:Yes in fact (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 9 months ago | (#46849837)

If the story was REALLY bad, all of it plus I seethe with rage forever.

Now go: collect sentience from the species of the galaxy with the sentience thresher and deposit it in the sentience silo at the center of the galaxy for the eternal ones to eat.
Soilent sentience is People!

GTA IV, GTA V, Fallout 3 (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 9 months ago | (#46849743)

All of them had awesome stories. Fallout 3 changed after the first DLC, but the latest 2 GTAs and their DLC have had absolutely awesome stories, even if I don't like the fact that letting Trevor live was an option in GTA V :)

Re:GTA IV, GTA V, Fallout 3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849927)

GTA IV had a terrible story. The guy arrives saying he doesn't want to be a criminal and the first thing he does is go on a rampage. GTA V isn't on Steam and therefore doesn't exist.

Fallacious premise (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849761)

What makes something "a mystery" isn't the fact that it doesn't make sense, it's the fact that it doesn't deliver a definitive answer.

Far too many TV shows and "beach thrillers" rely on nonsense to move the plot along (internal contradictions, characters acting completely out of character and against their own interests to make some plot twist possible, deus ex machina "solutions" to holes the script writers dug themselves into, etc.).

And, sadly, game writers tend to be recruited from, those ranks (i.e., people used to linear writing), which removes the only thing they might be good at (control over the story's flow). In a non-linear medium like a game (and even more so in shared-world multiplayer games, like MMORPGs), the result is frequently cringe-worthy. All the plot holes and nonsense stand out, and makes you wish the game didn't try to have a "story" at all.

So yes, game stories (like every other story) do need to "make sense", regardless of any mysteries. And they need to make sense not just in terms of the plot itself, but also in terms of the game universe, player actions, and interaction between players. If you can't write a story that makes sense, don't write a story at all, just create an interesting game world and let the players make up their own stories.

Game writers need to be more like J.R.R. Tolkien and less like Dan Brown / J. J. Abrams.

Because I'll enjoy it more (1)

jader3rd (2222716) | about 9 months ago | (#46849769)

If the story draws me in, I'll enjoy it, and be more inclined to try more titles by the same publisher. If it has plot holes, I'll stop enjoying it, and avoid that publisher. Same thing applies to movies and TV shows.

Half Life anyone? (4, Insightful)

MindPrison (864299) | about 9 months ago | (#46849771)

Anyone who remembers Half Life would probably understand the importance of a story within a game.

Before Half Life, I played 2D console games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, Space-Invaders and other today classics, followed by 3D games like Wolfenstein, DOOM, The QUAKE series etc... no one of them had any decent stories IMHO. Then Half Life came along, it was a milestone in video gaming. Video games and actual VIDEO now merged into one, and games never felt this immerse and exciting. I remember literally jumping in my chair when the onslaught of surprises came to life in that game.

When introduced as a worker in the Black Mesa research facility - I actually FELT like I was really working there, just to face a day out of the ordinary. We could walk around and "sort of" talk to people, and it felt ...real somehow. I wish games where that awesome, but somehow...the sequels plus a lot of other games have failed to pick up where Half Life left of, but I personally feel THIS IS THE WAY TO GO!

Re:Half Life anyone? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#46849795)

Yeah, that's basically right. A game doesn't need a story to be good, but if the story is good, it's better.
A game doesn't need good graphics to be good, but good graphics make it better.

Other things are more important, but a good story still makes things better.

Re:Half Life anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850687)

I completely agree. But Half Life didn't have much of a plot: scientists cock up, extradimensional creatures invade, government tries to clean it all up, and the protagonist makes his way through and kills stuff until finally killing the boss at the end. There is zero character development and little meaningful dialogue. Remind me how many cutscenes there were? Instead, the game combines an intriguing, immersive setting with simple themes (scientists going too far, scary aliens, ruthless gmen) and just lets the player work their way through, with a few scripted bits to keep things interesting. This, in my opinion, is why it worked so well.

Silent Hill (1)

astro (20275) | about 9 months ago | (#46849825)

I think that the Silent Hill games (at least 1-4) do a fantastic job of having strong themes and plot but still leaving a lot open to perceptual conjecture on the part of the player.

The way my mother put it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849829)

My mother, a gamer and professional writer, put video games and the importance of their story in a very beautifully put way:

A video game is like a book with an exotic method of turning the pages. I would never buy a blank book for the sake of turning some pages and I would never buy a storyless video game for the sake of grinding some baddies.

Re:The way my mother put it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850269)

Your mother illustrates some of the fundamental mistakes of video game "writing".

A game is not a linear story where players simply go from one "page" to the next, at a fixed rate and in a fixed order. Good video game writers are the ones who think in terms of non-linear discovery and world building, instead of feeding their own linear "tale" to the player, and limiting the players' freedom (and the game's potential) to enforce that linearity.

I guess it's normal for people to feel defensive (and hostile) towards media they don't understand and which they feel might be a threat to their profession.

I often wish Tolkien were alive today; he was (as many have pointed out) not a very stylish writer or even a very emotive storyteller, but he was one hell of a world builder, and would feel right at home creating RPGs. It's ironic that a guy writing about medieval fantasy during the early 20th century was actually so far ahead of his time.

The best game are the one I remember the story (2)

aepervius (535155) | about 9 months ago | (#46849853)

Ultima 4, 5, 6, 7, 7-2 (even the bad one 8,9), I remember the protagonists background and motivation. Heck Planescape torment, who can even forget that ? "What can change the nature of Man ?". I disagree that the story is not important. The story as a motivation well done IS important. The problem is that since the game are sold globally now, and the cultural difference between market are so huge, it is increasingly difficult to come up with a story sensitive to all cultures.

Strongly disagree with the author (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849889)

I strong disagree with the author on a few points. First, the games which really stuck with me over the years (and kept me coming back to play them again) often had great stories (which I remember in detail, thank you very much). Portal, the Quest for Glory series, Legends of Valour, Neverwinter Nights -- just to name a few -- had great stories and good game play. These things are not at all exclusive.

A game needs to have good controls, good mechanics, sure, but the game is much richer and much more likely to pull me in if it has a good story. Why would I keep playing if I do not have the motivation of a story to keep me interested?

Darker, Edgier, Full of nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46849923)

Halflife and it's related properties HL2, Portal, Portal 2 have a very sense-making plot.

So do all the Mario games.

Ultima games were very good about letting the user explore without being beholden to the plot, though some of it was time-dependent. On the flip side of this were the StarFlight and Starflight 2 games which told the story through the notices, but otherwise the story was what you were making out of it.

The games that kinda screw things up are those that disregard everything you've done so far. Sonic games do this. Most FPS games tend to do this (bigger, larger, harder bigbad than the last), The Final Fantasy games are a hit and miss. FF 4/5/6 had the best mix of storytelling and exploration while 7/8/9 was more like "railRPG" (eg like a rail shooter, but RPG, you're not allowed to explore except to grind), Then FFX/X-2 and FFXIII completely take the exploration away, and everything becomes more of a series of random battles just go from point X to point Y through a map, just like in FF7.

My point at least is that games like Oblivion/Skyrim, Fallout 3, you had the world to explore, but none of the push to do it. You were just handed quests like candy, none of the characters are important other than you. You could outright murder everyone you see fullstop and the game should become unwinnable, but it doesn't. The game ends when you feel you've had enough of it. Comparatively to Mass Effect (and Dragon age I guess, I found dragon age way too damn boring to get into) all the "your party" characters have personalities, and all the locations have interactive characters that you can easily go back and and converse with. They aren't just a quest checkbox.

But I digress.

The games I liked the best to play were games that let me look in every box (like Ultima 6+ and Oblivion), pickup or steal everything not nailed down (Ultima, Oblivion, Starflight), Buy or sell everything picked up, and not just as trash value (I'll add "Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale" to that list, because it's ultimately an RPG game but only has a goal of selling all the crap they picked up to get out of debt, an aspect that is common to Animal Crossing) But these games ultimately didn't have that engaging of story and I can't even tell you what the story is for any of these games other than what the final goal was.

Like when it comes down to it, a game like Remember Me, or Mirror's Edge is more compelling based on the game mechanics introduced by those games, but sometimes those game mechanics are frustrating enough to not want to keep playing for more than an hour because it feels less like a storyline game and more like a series of button memorizing to repeat until the current enemy is defeated. This is ultimately why FF games after FF6 are more frustrating. They pushed the game into more storytelling at the expense of freedom to actually discover things.

Are there games that have a storyline that aren't hobbled by their gameplay? Not many. Mainly what I want in a game is to find the story by doing things, not have the story spoon-fed to me as a reward for killing the last big-bad and moving onto the next quest on the map or in a list. Like Mass Effect did one thing right by this, and didn't force the player to do everything in a specific order. At the same time though, the conversational elements had little outcome on the game other than who lived or died and what ending you got, they did nothing to change the difficulty or outcome of a specific stage. I found Mass Effect's storyline about as engaging as Halflife 2's but found that Valve is still better at balancing game mechanics with storytelling.

Annoyance (1)

rsilvergun (571051) | about 9 months ago | (#46849999)

A substantial amount of people get annoyed by things that don't make sense, especially in America. That's why you don't see a lot of In media res in films, and why we keep getting Spider Man/Batman/Superman's Origin story over and over and over again. As for why media caters to these folks, well, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. There are fewer people annoyed by bluntly laid out stories than get annoyed by obtuse storytelling.

good point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850065)

Polygon raises an interesting point: I don't remember much about the plots in the computer/video games.

I'm not trying to bash the games but the plot twists are kinda complex and hard to follow sometimes.

I'm trying to remember the plot of the Norn starting zone in Guild Wars 2. The bounty hunter is on a great hunt in Star Wars: the old Republic. Trooper in SWTOR: Um... something about Justicars and helping people... don't remember much. Nice graphics and voice acting.

World of Warcraft: I made it into the Outlands. Story isn't too bad. I'm helping the Cenarion in Zangarmarsh do something or rather against the bog monsters.

I got lost in Rift regarding the plot. Something about Regulos and an ascendant.

Diablo 3 is actually easy to follow. At least the plot in D3 makes more sense to me than in other games Let me rescue Uncle Dekard, the find a sword, then talk help an angel, then find Maghda.. then become annoyed when the scoundrel flirts with my female characters. lol

Dragon Quest 8: let me find a jester while meeting a templar knight and a wizard from an aristocratic family. plot is kinda Simple but the journey is long. Wow. I'm at the next continent helping the young prince Charmless on his hunting trip.

Don't get me started with Final Fantasy 8 and the orphans.. and the Ultimecia. Only thing I really liked about the game was going back in time with Laguna. The puzzles are decent too. press triangle, circle, square to do stuff that I forgot.

Neverwinter and Dungeons and Dragons online are simple too and easy to follow. I have to get used to blocking. Other games that I play block enemies' attacks automatically. I like the idea of campfires too.

Ok, that is a long list. But you get the point.

Why should stories make sense period? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850075)

Did anyone even remember anyone but Gandalf and Sauron in Lord of the Rings, before the movies? Seriously, the Eagles could have fixed everything in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, so why did those novels even exist? And why should stories even make sense, when they're meant as escapism? They're always stuck in the middle of their respective universes. Far easier to just not give a shit, after all we're only reading novels because we like to flip pages and decode those funny squiggles in ink, not to be emotionally invested in them.

Game vs Puzzle vs Art (1)

Keill (920526) | about 9 months ago | (#46850101)

Art = creative story-telling
Puzzle = interacting with stories being told
Game = competing by writing your own stories (in a structured/rules-based environment)

Story = an account of things that happen created and stored inside (a person's) memory (bank (see: account)).

So they want to dumb it down even more? (3, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | about 9 months ago | (#46850103)

If they continue that, they will eventually reach the level of TV. That one I have up a decade ago, because I could not stand the stupidity any more.

plot can be overrated (1)

Simulant (528590) | about 9 months ago | (#46850167)

I generally have the most fun in games with no plot at all and they tend to have more replay value.
Not to say that there aren't any fun games with plots...

Good excuses are key (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850199)

Look things don't have to be real. You can invent devices, forces and technologies which don't exist or are otherwise unexplainable in the real world. Boxes of holding, fluid routers, transwarp drives, the force, transporters, Sindel's hair.. Have at it sky is the limit.

What really spoils a story is getting salient to plot items so wrong the whole story becomes impossible for anyone to believe.

Nuclear power plants can't explode like a nuclear bomb (resident evil) nobody with rudimentary high school level understanding would buy such ridiculous cover stories.

While Gravity may have taken artistic license and there were no shortage of people nitpicking subtle mundane issues... I could care less. Yet I found myself upset when Bullock let go of Clooney .. because it made no sense at all.. a main character just dies for no reason cause they forget there is no "gravity" when orbiting earth ... spoiled the whole rest of the movie.

Yeah, well, that's just like, your opinion, man. (2)

EnsilZah (575600) | about 9 months ago | (#46850281)

I'm not quite sure what the argument that's being made here is.
Games are an audio/visual medium that involves user interaction, there are many paths to take from that point and many of them may harken back to media that came before.
Some people may enjoy more the challenge of the mechanics, or the challenge of playing against other people, or art style, or the story, or the general ambiance.
So it seems to me that it's a rather limited way of thinking to try to make some sort of sweeping statement about what games should and shouldn't be.

What an odd question (4, Insightful)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 9 months ago | (#46850289)

They should make sense because I like stories that make sense, and I buy video games with stories I like.

You can have an entertaining game without any plot or with extremely little (eg. Super Mario Bros.), but a plot that actually doesn't make sense is going to bother me exactly as much as a movie that doesn't make sense, and the fact that "games don't work like movies" is an additional obstacle to writing a coherent plot, not an excuse for not trying.

I also suggest that he's probably talking to people who don't care about plots. The plot is the main thing I remember from most games. I can absolutely tell you what the characters were fighting about in any of my favourite games. I can list sideplots. I can't necessarily tell you what buttons you press to do certain actions.

I also suggest that the "looser thematic layer" is important to movies, too. The Matrix didn't get by on the strength of its plot, and the early "twist" that they were all living in a computer simulation was absolutely not novel. But it had a strong themes and, at the time, a unique artistic stance that is often summarized with reference to "bullet time". How many people remember why Neo went to see the Oracle?

Adventure games are nearly all plot. A strong subset of RPGs are like that too -- the Elder Scrolls games not so much, they are about theme, and I don't like those games and they bug me at every release by overshadowing all the RPGs I like. The Infinity Engine games had better plots, but not necessarily strong themes, although Planescape had both and is well-loved. The original Fallout also had strong theme & plot elements, but it strayed further into theme and away from plot as time went on, culminating in Fallout 3 (New Vegas backtracked a bit, to my delight).

Mass Effect tried for both too, and with the controversy over the ending you can absolutely see how important plot truly was.

Star Control II (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850429)

The summary poses the rhetorical question: How much do I actually remember [of the story]? The implication is that a) games contain such simple or unimportant stories as to be unmemorable or b) gamers themselves don't care about stories and don't pay any attention to them. Each implication is wrong. In fact, one could argue it's a strawman which forms the excuse for having written the rest of the article, in lieu of having something useful to say.

My favourite game of all time is Star Control II. It is a story-driven space adventure game that just happens to be the most amazingly written story in any game I've experienced. How much do I actually remember? I remember all of it. I played it countless times. I can summon the theme music to each of the alien races into my head instantly. I remember the motivations of each of the races, and how those motivations change as the story develops. I still play it from time to time (as The Ur-Quan Masters). I will fondly remember this game until the day I die; if I'm lucky, that will be one of the last things I do.

Why does so much effort go into making sure the plot makes sense? The answer is demonstrated perfectly by Star Control II. If the plot didn't make sense the game just wouldn't work. Pew pew lasers and visiting planets only gets you so far. For some games that's all you need, but for the type of game that Star Control II is it would just never work without a well-written story. The story characters have their motivations, but the gamer themselves must also have some motivation to move their part in the story along too. There are literally thousands of planets to visit, but no gamer is going to go and visit them without some of their own motivation.

It's obvious that a great deal of time and attention was put into the story for Star Control II, and it is now considered one of the best computer games ever made. That is why you put the effort in.

I remember when things don't make sense (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 9 months ago | (#46850499)

Think about games you've played that have a story. How much do you actually remember?

Think of all the good things that happened to you today. Think hard. Did you have a nice breakfast? Good coffee? Was today's slashdot session pleasing? Most of these events are forgettable unless they are spectacular in some way.

Now think of all the bad things that have happened in your life. Easy isn't it? We remember the spectacular.
I don't remember much of Half-Life. All I remember is that it had quite a good story.
I remember quite a bit of Bioshock Infinite, probably because it had a good story and I played it recently.

I won't ever forget the colossal screw-up which was the ending to the Mass Effect Trilogy. Inconsistent, nonsensical, and despite everything it looks like every option doomed the universe when you think about it. Who the heck was that kid? Why was he brought in just to finish the story, it didn't make any sense at all.

Games don't need a story. If they have a story they don't need a good story either. If however you're going to have a story it better at least make sense or people will definitely remember it, and not positively.

Depends -- if 'story' is significant part of game (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850511)

If its nothing but a shoot-em-up bit of fluff then story can be 'lite' and few details need to be presented, simplifying the game dev work needed to make the "reasons" cohesive. Consistency would still be good so players are distracted from the primary activity - slaughtering things without it being 'evil'.

If players are asked to do things in a more complex game, then the reasons to do those should be explained enough to be logical. If decisions are to be made, then the player should be able to decide what is the 'right' for their role and should be given sufficient correct/cohesive/consistent information. The player shouldnt be stuck scratching their heads trying to figure out why they just got zapped for doing the 'right' thing.

If part of the game is to 'discover', then the correct information has to be there for them to find
If the game has a well defined setting - WW2/Middle Earth/Modern World then it should be portrayed properly toi match those settings - Tiger Tanks shouldnt fly, Gandalf shouldnt be a clone of Mr T, and Terrorists shouldnt be 'warm and fuzzy'.

I recall Gradius story! (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 9 months ago | (#46850609)

Though I did not play it for 20 years, I perfectly recall Gradius plot that was in the booklet: "you must destroy the Korg empire" (nothing more!)

because it's the story, stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46850641)

I am trying hard to not just laugh out loud at the whole idea of a video game not needing a plot. There are a few games that don't.... puzzle games. However, the entire point of 99% of video games is that you are doing something you normally can't do. Adventure, action, simulator, what have you.... take a space sim for instance...If you made a space sim with no plot, where you just fly around from star system to star system, it's interesting for sure. But there's no driver... no purpose to it.

Games without purpose are in the same bunch with games without risk or scarcity ( All of the "clickity click" Zynga games for instance ) They have a small amount of pleasure derived from their basic idea... there is something interesting to them. However that quickly fades

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