Should Games Just Abandon Storytelling?

Since you believe that dissonance between story and gameplay is inevitable. Should games just abandon storytelling?

No, we just shouldn’t care so much about dissonance or the limitations that stories and settings place upon games. We should be free to come up with whatever gameplay mechanics we want to, whatever level structure we want to, without tying it back to consistency with a story, without worrying about it seeming “too videogamey”, without contrivance being disdained so much. We should stop complaining about all this “it doesn’t really work that way” bullshit when we know damn well that there’s a good reason for it and we wouldn’t have a game without it. Like all the complaints about the shrine of Winter. Like someone thinking, “oh, it’s dumb that samus loses her powerups every game, in Other M, lets have them be authorized at specific points in the story instead”

Game constructs are totally made up. They don’t have to relate to anything. We aren’t bound by physical laws when making them like we would be in conventional engineering. We might as well accept that and use it to our benefit.

But should we get rid of stories completely? I don’t think we should do that either. I certainly think we shouldn’t invest as major development resources into them, but they have practical benefits in the form of setting up mental relationships between different objects in the setting, being an inspiration for systems of play, and guiding the player goal-wise. That and like music and graphics, it’s a tangential benefit to the work as a whole.

We just need to stop viewing storytelling as the reason for the medium to exist, since that’s not going to happen.

8 thoughts on “Should Games Just Abandon Storytelling?

  1. Joevan Salmon-Johnson January 22, 2017 / 1:05 am

    This is defeatist logic. It may be realistic that some games are really good at storytelling or interactivity exclusively, but that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t aim to have both at the same time, because it would still be better wouldn’t it?

    No, storytelling is not the reason that video games exist – plenty of other mediums already do it well enough. That’s no excuse to neglect it.


    • Chris Wagar January 22, 2017 / 1:23 am

      If you can afford to do both, go ahead. The one thing I’ll tell you is, don’t let the story or setting control how the gameplay develops. Do what makes the most interesting game, and allow it to contradict whatever theme, story, tone, or setting there is if that makes the game overall more interesting.

      I’ve argued that FPS games of today are too slow before, said Counter Strike is the minimum allowable speed. The response I got was that if you make these games faster, allow the main characters to run at ridiculous speeds, then you can’t tell certain stories anymore.

      Many people allow thinking like this to control them to the detriment of what’s really important.


      • Joevan Salmon-Johnson January 22, 2017 / 2:05 am

        What’s really important? Can you say it objectively? I’ll tell you that whatever it is you’re thinking of, I probably don’t agree with it. (And that I don’t believe consensus or democracy should determine truth; ie. that might should make right)

        Also, not all stories need to be told, and fitting the context of an activity such that is does not compromise on its quality doesn’t necessarily require that it be contradictory.


        • Chris Wagar January 22, 2017 / 2:25 am

          If you read my blog, you’d know that I hold gameplay to be what’s most important to a game. I don’t believe in consensus or democracy to decide truth either.

          I don’t understand what you’re trying to say with your second statement. I am just saying that people allow narrative aspirations to hold them back from making great games.


          • Joevan Salmon-Johnson January 22, 2017 / 3:01 am

            You stated that a criticism for wanting FPS games to play faster was that they prevent certain stories from being told. I stated that some stories aren’t meant to be told.

            You stated that actions should be allowed to “contradict whatever theme, story, tone, or setting there is if that makes the game overall more interesting.” I stated that they don’t HAVE to be contradictory.

            Worrying about whether developers hand-cuff themselves over it is putting your focus on the wrong problem just so you don’t grow depressed over trying to solve the right one. 🙂


            • Chris Wagar January 22, 2017 / 6:07 am

              They don’t have to be, but as you make a story more involved and more specific, you can’t help but run into contradictions. And you can try really hard to remove those, or you could just not care.

              Another case is glitches, which are frequently removed because they’re stated to be contradictory to the setting, they break people’s immersion or some such. They can also cause events of the story to happen out of order or acasually. I’d prefer that these be left in where they’re beneficial to the game, even if they cause the story to become a jumbled mess.

              I don’t think this is the wrong problem, because it happens. Developers do hand-cuff themselves.


              • Joevan Salmon-Johnson January 22, 2017 / 6:46 am

                I believe it is indeed worth it to try really hard to remove them.

                And I’d rather glitches be elevated to something more integral to all aspects of the game, not just systems mastery. That doesn’t mean I won’t play a game that lacks that integrity.

                Games don’t have to make sense, but the best ones will. Someday.


                • Chris Wagar January 24, 2017 / 3:50 pm

                  Sorry for the late reply.

                  I don’t think you gain anything by trying to remove narrative contradictions. It’s wasted effort.

                  The notion that glitches need to be “elevated” is silly. Systems mastery is the game. You can’t predict all the glitches that will come out of a given game. You can’t realistically patch a game indefinitely to make sure all the glitches fit into the setting/story somehow.

                  The best games don’t necessarily make any sense at all. Look at how many mechanics in fighting games make no real world sense. Look how many great mechanics in RTS make no real world sense. A lot of things in fighting games are really clever, like alternate guard in King of Fighters 98, where basically on blocking a hit, you can rapidly stand and crouch block to extend your blockstun, making it impossible for your opponent to throw you. This makes absolutely no fucking sense why this would work in any real world way (for that matter, the rule that you can’t throw people in hitstun or blockstun doesn’t make sense, but it’s necessary for fighting games to work), but it’s a brilliant mechanic that adds another layer of strategy to the game.

                  Go is a game with no theme, and you can’t really map any specific theme to it, and that is fine.

                  The best games are going to ignore all this bullshit and create more intricate systems for players to master without being limited by the notion that they need to coherently fit into some world.

                  Jon Blow gave a talk on how trying to create narrative meaning in the context of a game is basically inherently fucked. You’re fighting too many forces of design. There’s an inherent type mismatch and you can work really hard to iron out all the edge cases, but that’s a crazy amount of effort for minimal return. If you want less contradictions, you’ll have an easier time making less of a story than trying to iron out every edge case for a complex game. You could also make less of a game and more of a story, but then that’s harming the point of making it a game at all.


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