Monday, December 3, 2012

Crew Post: Story vs. Gameplay

What is more important in video games, story or gameplay? The question is simple and the conversation may be endless (or maybe it will just be monotonous)... Nonetheless that is the query we're thrusting upon the Crew this week. Read some of their thoughts below and please add your voice to the matter in the comments below.


I am going to go ahead a pick a side for the sake and the fun of argument and go with gameplay. I'm a writer (pretentious alert!), and to me stories and storytelling are one of the most important matters under the sun, so you do not need to tell me how crucial it is, but you simply cannot have a great game without the gameplay to match it. Hell, you cannot even have games without it!

Ah, the classic story of the paddle and the ball who loved her. Pong (1972)
Games themselves began without regard for story, I'm talking about Pong and the 20+ years of possible precursors. They are called "video games" because they require an interaction between a player and what they are seeing on a screen, or, to put it simply, gameplayWe don't/didn't want games to remain in those prehistoric states, so the medium progressed over the years until we were bringing narratives to the experience which also brought the comparison to it's distant cousin, film (the other medium of moving pictures). It's gameplay that sets games apart from animation.

A rather promising title marred by its infuriating controls. True Crimes: Streets of LA (2003)
Specific stories, and their virtues, are entirely qualitative. They are an art and are therefore infinitely open to opinions. Gameplay is much less so. Sure, Joe might not have a problem with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's controls while they are so infuriating to Bob that he'd rather spend his weekend milking a cow, but you will find far more people agreeing upon the poor controls of True Crime: Streets of L.A. than whether it's narrative is any good. Gameplay is far more quantitative. It deals with facts from the controls (e.g. "you push 'A' to jump and push 'B' to shoot") to the objectives (e.g. "you jump over the pits and shoot all the Nazis to beat the level"). They are basics and will never be as interesting as the boundless extent of storytelling, but they are required for the experience and the medium itself. I have been mostly vague here with only a few examples, but hopefully I have set some of the groundwork in place for the rest of the crew to share their thoughts on the matter. Let me conclude by telling you about two very different games I play:

With no story to speak of this game is a blast to play! Cut the Rope (2010)
I play Cut the Rope on my iPhone every so often. The drama of getting a piece of candy into an adorable toad's mouth makes for a very dull chronicle, but I play because the gameplay works so well, frequently introducing new wrinkles to puzzles. I recently and finally started playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It is a glorious adventure with striking locales, stand-out characters, and yes, an entertaining story. If the gameplay (including the shoot-from-cover mechanic) were not in place as is, this would be a disaster of a game that had me only pushing forward to see the next cutscene, which is where games cease to be games really. Obviously the best of video games excel in both story and gameplay. Hopefully we will continue to have experiences that blend the two so well that this argument will dissolve over time. I am in part referring to emergent narrative, something I would love to talk more about but I am four paragraphs in and ready to pass the baton of this Crew Post.


I agree with the end of J.S.'s post. A good game requires both great gameplay and a great story. The two need to compliment one another. Yes you could definitely play a game that didn't really have a good story if the gameplay was good (i.e. Angry Birds anything), but without that story the replayability of a game goes down significantly. I've had this opinion for most of the time that I have been a gamer. But at the same time, if a game has gameplay that you can't stand but a great story it makes it that much more difficult to get through, and I have been known on occasion to give up on such games (i.e. the Assassin's Creed series).

With it's frustrating stealthy gameplay, I've never played through an entire game in the Assassin's Creed series.
Assassin's Creed III  (2012)

However, that being said I recently been more converted to the ways of a magnificent game called Minecraft! It truly is the shining example of a game proving that you do not need a story. I'm sure I have spent endless hours on the game that has no story to speak of. It's just a free world roamer where you can do almost anything you could think of. I've built my own waterfall, a giant log cabin on a mountain top, a castle, and even a portal to Hell. There is not one other game that I can think of that you could say that about.

Some great examples of the amazing things you can do in the game. Minecraft (2011 PC, 2012 Xbox)
With my conversion to Minecraft, I have to throw my hat in with J.S. completely. Without gameplay a game just isn't worth it. You just have to have an open mind capable of imagining all the things that the game doesn't give you, which gives you more of a feel of being a kid and playing make believe. Except in this case you can truly make anything. Now I'm off to play some more Minecraft after finding these inspiring images! Now on to the next member of the crew on this Crew Post.


While I won't argue story isn't important, it obviously is. Think of your favorite games ever and likely they all have amazing stories and characters e.g. Portal, Skyrim, Bioshock etc. However I think gameplay is far more important. While not limited to this, games are meant to be fun and if the gameplay isn't fun, it's not going to get a lot of love. I thought Mafia II had a compelling story and good gameplay but it quickly grew tiresome and I never ended up finishing it. Whereas the original Borderlands had fun and engrossing gameplay in spades with a very poor and unimportant narrative. Which game do you think got 50 hours of gameplay and which got 10?

Why is there a giant worm attacking you? It's not part of the story and it really doesn't matter Borderlands (2009).
The Worms series, Team Fortress 2, Counterstrike, most RTS (yes, they have campaign modes but that's not the fun part), and any sports game have basically no narrative and yet they are great and unique games which have provided countless hours of entertainment. What's more, multiplayer isn't a narrative driven event, it's solely gameplay. Those countless hours playing the original Halo weren't because of the worth of the singleplayer story it was because it was ridiculously fun. I'm not going to dismiss storytelling, but it is clearly backseat to gameplay in my opinion.

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