Games are not often considered the best medium to tell a good story. Whenever you, irrespective of whether you’re a gamer or not, think of a good story, it usually stems from a favorite book or movie. It is often the case that when we play games, we hardly pay attention to the world, the history of the game world, and how you fit in into all of it. Stories stem from the mind’s ability to create a situation where there is a prologue, an epilogue, a start, an end, and everything in between. When you think of a game, you think about graphics, sound, action, interaction and then the story, which sadly for the majority of games out there is an afterthought.
A good story doesn’t necessarily ensure a good game, but it does serve as a time well spent when other mechanics may fail. Not many games have been able to mix story and gameplay into a good gaming experience, but those that have, have become masterpieces. And that is what separates great games from masterpieces most of the time – the story. Below is a list of games I have played which have blended a good gaming experience with a good story. Most of these games will be known to the majority, for obvious reasons.
This is the first name that came to my mind when i thought of writing this article. Bioshock is one of the few games which has its entire game mechanics built around the story. The big daddies and their relationships with the little sisters, the underwater dystopia, the civil war over the fight of adam, all talk of a fantastic idea gone tragically wrong. And this is what brings out feelings of sadness as you explore the world, feelings which are seldom experienced while playing games.
Metal Gear Solid
Okay, anyone who has ever owned a Playstation console will agree with this one. The metal gear series is one of the few series of games which has blended fantasy and tactical action with a gritty and gripping story, and blended them so well. A testimony to the greatness of this series are the cut-scenes, some of which can last for an hour. But you don’t see many people complaining about them, do you?
Out of all the game characters I love, the one I pity the most has to be Gordon Freeman. The guy almost brought the world to an end, and although it was more of an accident, he now has to shoulder the responsibility to free it of the combine. And what primary weapon does he get to meet this task? – a crowbar! And the poor bloke doesn’t ever complain about it. It’s not a very original story; alien invasion stories stopped being original a long time back. But its told very well; so well in fact that you will start empathizing with the characters and feel bad about them as the story progresses.
Valve is addicted to making characters that find themselves in hopeless situations but don’t ever utter a word to show their discontent, and portal is another shining example of this. Portal has one of the most unique stories ever told in any medium of entertainment. What starts as a puzzle game will probably end up shocking you and leaving you disturbed. The second game loses its shock factor, but makes up for it for an even better story, which provides us with a better insight of the world of Aperture Science. For all the unique puzzle mechanics that this game boasts of, it’s the story that has made it the masterpiece that it is.
These are just a few examples of video games which can tell a good story. Games such as the Zelda series, GTA series, heavy rain, grim fandango, planetscape: torment, Baldurs gate, all have amazing stories which up the immersion factor by several notches. Which brings us back to the all important question – Can video game story telling match its movie counterpart? I would say not yet. Movies have had that 100-150 years head-start in which they have evolved in the way stories are told and characters are portrayed. Movies like Schindlers list, the Shawshank Redemption, the godfather all exemplify great stories with great acting, something which games haven’t achieved yet.
Videogames have characters, yes, but none of them are as fleshed out as characters in movies. We haven’t seen a videogame counterpart of heath ledger’s joker or hannibal lecter in a video game; such characters make the story come to life, and videogames just haven’t reached there yet. But they’re getting there, that’s for sure. With games like L.A. Noire and Mass Effect, which have changed the way people have conversations in video games, we’re getting to the point where conversations and cut-scenes will have as much of an effect on the player as blowing up the town of Megaton in Fallout 3 has. Stories are an important part of video games, but only when stories and characters occupy a more pivotal role in video game design, only then can we make a fair comparison. And with games like Uncharted doing exactly so, I don’t think that time is far off.