Disclaimer: The following post contains potential spoilers for The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, and Portal 2.
Every one of these posts so far has had a spoiler warning for a very obvious reason – people care about the story. Gamers are curious about how a game will feel when playing, and often want to know what new mechanics are introduced by it, but they do not want to be told what happens. It’s something that gamers want to experience for themselves, and any revelations about characters or twists can affect the impact that the story has.
On reading reviews, or hearing others talk about games, we don’t want to know what happens, but want to know if it’s worth experiencing. Sometimes it will be a game that is fun and engrossing, and sometimes instead we hear that a game has a magnificent story. It’s a factor that is rarely part of the marketing, and is still unfortunately considered a side-note for many games. The physical packaging for Spec Ops: The Line presents it as nothing more than a generic shooter, however it is frequently raised in discussions of games that should be played because of the story, and the experience. The game is not generic, and has a great many levels to the storytelling, that even when you think you’ve worked out what everyone was vaguely referring to, the game presents another challenge to your psyche.
The Walking Dead was another such game, even if the most told is that it’s a depressing tale that has an uncommonly likeable child character, word of it spreads like a disease, gnawing at gamers until they too also succumb to it, going on to spread news of it further. We remember the choices – the difficult decisions that had to made, or the moments where things went to disaster for the characters. It isn’t so much about the end of the journey, but the threads woven throughout. It’s an interesting game for the way it shows you at the end how your choices compared with others, but it’s always the characters that draw you in with it.
The short stories presented in the 400 Days DLC for the game made the choices harder, and the consequences more dire. It pushed quicker into the respective characters it presented, and in the same way in The Last of Us hooks the player into Sarah, 400 Days has you playing as five different characters. There isn’t a slow build-up as with the main game. Whatever the next season holds will certainly be distressing, but also a must-play.
Not many of the usual shooter serials are not being played for their story, though the narrative has received more attention over time. If someone has an appreciation for the story in the Halo series, it’s a supplement to the multiplayer. Many games do attract attention for their gameplay mechanics, yet also present a compelling story. Portal presents itself as a stereotypical puzzle game that mocks our understanding spatial orientation in its initial levels, albeit with a great degree of mockery targeted at the voiceless protagonist Chell. As the game continues, there are peeks behind the curtain that reveal the sinister undercurrent that exists within the halls of Aperture Laboratories. It’s all obvious once GLaDOS tries to kill you, but being able to find clues beforehand is a great strength for the game.
Portal 2 definitely built upon the lore that was set up in the first game, returning to an Aperture in disarray. It introduces the new character of Wheatley, reveals history about Cave Johnson, and also puts the player back in the shoes of Chell. The largest addition in terms of lore is undoubtedly regarding the origin of GLaDOS
Whether you’re in the camp that believes it was a game, or the one that doesn’t count it as one, the story was paramount in Dear Esther, and that it spread as it did was because of the story it presented, and the means with which that story was delivered. It was up to the player to move around, and in doing so, the atmosphere surrounding the island grew. While it may not have pleased all audiences, it caught attention because of its story.
In some cases, attention is brought to a game or franchise because of the history of the developer. It is logical that players return to the Mass Effect games to see Commander Shepard’s story through to its end, but in some cases it’s been the history of Bioware with games such as Knights of the Old Republic or Neverwinter Nights that brought fans in for their own later games. Players are drawn into their worlds because they’re rich in detail, or because they’re unusual. We don’t merely learn about the characters, but through playing, we befriend them, and then when they die, we mourn their loss.
A story is something special. It’s an experience. It’s a chance to see another world, or a means to live another life. It isn’t just depressing stories that draw attention, but it’s the games that push the envelope that garner the most. They don’t always succeed, but those that do ignite discussions about so many issues, even over what a game is, and what a story can be.
Are there any games that you have played solely because you either heard that the story was well-told, or believed that it would be? What was it?
Jimmy: Setting does a lot for me; The Last of Us was the last game I thought was worth playing on story alone. I love the idea that after 20 years zombies are just a thing we have to deal with now. Bioshock was great and Spec Ops. Also a little charming indy title called Thomas Was Alone. I was told I would sympathise with blocks. I totally did.
Chani: The latest to memory is The Last Of Us. Everyone went on and on about it so I went and got it a few days after it came out. . . . . . I still haven’t finished it. I don’t see what everyone else does. The first five minutes of the game were intense, it grabbed me and I’ll admit, almost brought me to tears. Then it just went down from there. I lost interest. I’ll get back to it eventually, but only so I can talk to my friends about it because they all finished it.
Hong: I haven’t played it yet, but I’m really keen to get my hands on The Last of Us for this very reason.
Tash: I am a huge storytelling fan, so the majority of games I play are story-driven games. As a result, I usually choose games to play because I believe their stories will be solid, or will offer an experience that is immersive and detailed. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a game I played, without any previous experience with the prior games, because I believed its story was nuanced and deep. I can say I was definitely not disappointed, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, despite its gameplay flaws, was a game I very much enjoyed because of its story focus, and its ability to create atmospheric locations.
Darren: Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and most recently, The Last of Us.
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