Management: I mentioned back in… uh, May or something that I was planning on compiling/archiving some of my more worthwhile Ask.fm answers into miniposts on Wrong Every Time. I’ve been distracted by a variety of things since then, but have finally gotten a few together that seem worth keeping, and so here’s the first of them. Enjoy!
Maybe you’ve already answered something like this, but what’s your favorite example of video game storytelling?
Just little things here and there. The mood Shadow of the Colossus creates, for one – that feeling of majesty, resignation, and guilt. The moment in Bioshock when you realize half the things you’ve been taking for granted because “this is how videogames work” were actually functioning narrative devices. The finale of Braid. The way Demon’s Souls makes you feel legitimately afraid of the next room because there are legitimate stakes involved. How in Katawa Shoujo you actually get to Rin’s route by being so tone-deaf, apathetic, and antisocial that no one else wants to hang out with you.
Basically when gameplay actually generates human narrative, which is an incredible, incredible rarity, and something extremely hard to engineer. I do not envy game developers the future task of cultivating these moments, and shifting them from glimpses of a better medium into a fully realized art form.
When it comes to reviewing a video game, how important do you think gameplay should be when evaluating a game? I would personally rank gameplay above all else, for me no amount of good storytelling can save a game if I find the gameplay abysmal.
See, I think this whole way of separating “games” into pieces isn’t really conducive to the kinds of “evaluation” that would work for a medium as strange and unique as interactive media. How do you evaluate gameplay in the context of a production that’s trying to say something? Whether it’s “fun” or not? What if the “game” isn’t trying to be “fun” – what if it’s trying to make you feel powerless, or desperate, or guilty? What if it’s trying to make you feel in general?
You can evaluate whether a game’s vehicle of interactivity coherently works for the experience it’s trying to create so far as you can parse that intent, I suppose. But I feel that when you’re separating a game into “gameplay” and “story” as if those aren’t linked categories, you’re already talking about games as collections of disparate experiences. Which may be fine, and is certainly indicative of the history of the medium, but I could also say “because this game’s gameplay is not reflective of its narrative intent, it fails as an experience.”
That may seem like a high bar to pass, but personally, I think we’ve also been setting really low bars for interactive media up to this point. And we’ve also been evaluating them in narrow channels – for example, how would you evaluate the “gameplay” of a guided story with choices like Katawa Shoujo? Would you say that’s not a game? I’d counter that it contains the one thing most important to creating emotional resonance in interactive media (player agency), and that this very clearly empowers its dramatic intent, and thus it’s in very important ways more successful as a game that abuses the medium than a shooter where you run down a corridor and never make an important decision.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for stuff like Mario, where the value is just the sheer joy of how well you can manipulate a character – how tight and enjoyable the core gameplay is. There’s definitely room for stuff like that! But that shouldn’t be the only way we think about these things. And even there, what if stuff like “how well you can control this character” was actually tied into some core narrative point – what if you were hobbled, and then suddenly could run, could fly, and that was actually a narrative revelation of some kind? Couldn’t you see that being a more powerful experience than just good controls in a vacuum? Mirroring gameplay and dramatic intent holds faaaar more potential than what is currently being expressed, and I’m excited to see what the future of “game design” really holds.