Story is an incredibly interesting thing to tackle in a video game. I have talked about my definition of story before including discussion of the length of plots in games, but that is not my focus today.
Instead, I find myself increasingly confused at how stories are incorporated into gaming at all. Unless your name is George Lucas, movies do not change after they are completed. They tell the same story in the same way every time they are viewed; usually in one sitting. I find movies incredibly different than video games in this way, despite a common tendency to compare the two mediums.
I find books more similar. They typically take multiple sittings to complete, and they often put the reader inside the character’s head more intimately than a movie would. Still, a book is the same every time, the reader does not affect the outcome, and a reader can go back a few sentences or chapters to catch up.
Games do not have that luxury. Games also rarely have control over the pacing of the story, as players can usually take as much time as they like during interactive sections. That is the point of a game after all. Even games like the ones in the Uncharted series – in which the story pacing is very firmly controlled – sacrifice depth and interaction to accomplish such a controlled story.
From that I begin to think that maybe text and cutscenes are not the answer. Look at a game like Portal. It is a prime example of how to show and not tell (despite GLaDOS still “telling” quite a bit). But that does not seem right either. I am on my tenth or so replay of Final Fantasy IX and I think a large portion of its dialogue and cutscenes hold up today and add a great amount of depth and emotion to the experience.
Also, no matter the storytelling method used, gaming does not seem to share the same “viewing” luxuries as books and movies. If not in a theatre, movies are usually watched with the lights low and full-attention paid to the screen. Books are read somewhere quiet where the reader will not be disturbed. Because not all games are story-heavy experiences, the same devotion is not always given to concentration.
Also, the developer cannot control when the player will stop or how long he will stay away from the game for. These factors make it nearly impossible for me to come up with what makes for perfect story pacing.
Shorter games like Limbo, Shadow of the Colossus, or Flower have it easy because they can all feasibly be beaten in a single sitting. But I do not believe all games should be short games just because of this one advantage.
I suppose a well-told story will always keep gamers coming back, but I feel like the mysteries of a well-paced story in video games are still unsolved.
What about you, LusiSprites? Do you feel like games are doing fine with their story-telling? Are there trends that you like or dislike? Are there innovations that have yet to be made that you think are obvious? Sound off below!