I don’t know if I have ever read something that managed to simultaneously be so arrogantly intellectual and completely idiotic.
I’m talking about the article The Atlantic posted yesterday written by Ian Bogost, titled, “Video Games Are Better Without Stories.” Just reading that title made me want to throw up.
Sure, games without stories can be fun, but if there was no value to story-based games, why would anyone buy them?
The article was written, in part, to praise the innovation of the new game, What Remains of Edith Finch. The author’s point was that Edith Finch breaks the mold of conventional storytelling, instead focusing on an interactive environment.
Bogost likes this so much, he goes on to conclude that games should just do away with stories all together, claiming, “Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?”
Who says that film, television, and literature are better at telling stories? They are different mediums with different methods of telling stories, and I think they all have their strengths. That’s why I love television, movies, books, and video games. They all have story-telling strengths.
But, apparently, games are on trial here, so I have to defend them.
I have already written about games as an art form, but here are the strengths that only games have in narrative specifically:
Television, movies, and books all fail to give the viewer the element of choice. Bogost’s bogus article begins by basically saying real choices can never be made in games, because there will always be limitations.
What is wrong with limited choice, though? Too much choice, and a story stops becoming a story and just becomes a flat, simulation. Games like The Walking Dead or the Mass Effect series use limited choice amazingly well. The story is still being driven to a limited number of directions, but the fact that the player had a bit of input into the narrative, makes it so much more relatable.
Having to make fast decisions, but still having people die made The Walking Dead powerful. I really felt the losses and felt the hopelessness of the situation, instead of watching a show or reading a book where you can yell at people for making the wrong choice.
In a game, it was you that made the wrong choice, or sometimes, there was no other choice, and that makes the loss feel that much worse.
There are many ways that limited choice makes the narrative more impactful, and this is something only video games can do.
When watching a movie, a mood or location is established with a couple shots that do not change in length no matter who watches the movie.
In games, when a setting needs to be established, players have all the time they want to explore, talk to people (in some cases), and get the sense of mood and where exactly they are.
This is done exceptionally well in The Last of Us, where setting is crucial to the mood of the story. When playing, I could control how quickly I moved through the settings, so that I got a better sense of the mood.
You do not have that control in other media.
There are other things I could praise video game stories for, like being able to interact with characters, seeing the story play out from different perspectives, immersion, but what I want to focus on is the particular type of video game story-telling that Bogost also focused on.
That is environmental story-telling as done by games like Bioshock and Gone Home. These games place characters in an environment where the player can piece together a story by finding evidence or voice recordings that are lying about.
Bogost seems to think that this does not count as a form of story-telling.
“Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts? Are they really stories, when they are really environments?”
“Are they really stories”??? Merriam Webster defines stories as “an account of incidents or events.”
So when you find an audio recording that has an account of incidents or events, how is that not a story? Seriously?
I’m sorry, but this is so ridiculous.
Environmental Storytelling is beautiful because it forces a player to sift through information until the story finally comes together, and the truth dawns on them.
This is a beautiful moment, and it is different with every player.
I am sure that Bogost is a very intelligent man, but I am not sure he has ever played a narrative-based game before.
Stories are beautiful things, and I will take a good story in any form. Books are beautiful, long works of fiction. Movies are short, succinct tales. TV shows are long, drawn-out journeys with many twists and turns. None of these can give you the immersion of a well crafted narrative-focused game, though. The choices, the time invested, the challenges overcome, all make the pay-off of the narrative so much more real.
Stories make games so much better, and I hope they never leave the gaming world.
Here’s another link to The Atlantic’s article so that you can read this insanity for yourself: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/video-games-stories/524148/
Thank you for reading, and God bless.