Do Storylines Matter Anymore?

As a young gamer, many of the games I had the fortune of playing were ones with rich storylines and touching characters.

Who could forget the mind-blowing ending to Final Fantasy 7 or the applause-worthy conclusion to the Legacy of Kain series; a story that was so expertly crafted that even filmmakers and fiction writers were left in awe.

Nowadays, however, I feel the idea of a good storyline within a videogame has gone the way of the dinosaur. I miss the days of the engaging storyline; always waiting with bated breath for what will happen next and rarely being able to predict neither the final outcome nor the chain of events leading to it.

I can’t remember the last time a game’s storyline has left me speechless as I watched the credits roll. It would seem that clichéd plots have become standard within the industry.

Hmmm....seems legit

Watching the opening sequence to any videogame based on war or espionage quickly becomes a monotonous exercise in pointing out the all too obvious traitor within the first few minutes. After experiencing the fifth betrayal in a game that shall remain nameless, several of my friends experienced an exasperation fueled revelation powered by THC. Fed up and enraged, we shut off the system and had a transcendental and unnecessarily long discussion about how it came to this.

Why do storylines suck so hard?

One of my red eyed cohorts suggested that perhaps we have just arrived at a period where storyline simply doesn’t matter.

Perhaps, indeed.

Have we, as a community, just lost the patience required to appreciate a nice, in-depth story?

I believe the explanation is a bit more complex than it may seem.

The first and most obvious cause is the community’s obsession with multiplayer gaming. Unlike singleplayer gaming, the driving force behind the multiplayer experience is one’s interactions with other players. There is no storyline that is acting as the impetus of our actions as we blow a competitor’s head off with a sniper rifle or knock their lights out with a well placed Shoryuken.

We play for the experience and nothing else.

People play games like Call of Duty for multiplayer, is it any surprise that the game’s singleplayer story is a joke?

In similar fashion, games that are designed to be almost exclusively multiplayer have stories that fall short.

We cackled like fiends as we reminisced on our first experience with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (a terrible game for a slew of reasons I will not go into). How many times did I experience jumping with awe as my cognitive self reminded me that I was playing a title belonging to the Resident Evil franchise?

Countless.

These revelations hit my consciousness like a baseball bat whittled from the tree of disappointment. The game could have been called Zombie Clusterfuck Nation and the experience of playing would not have changed. In other words, despite it supposedly having an origin within the Resident Evil lore, the progression of the story was so awful that its place within the franchise was unrecognizable.

A failure of epic proportions

Another trend I have perceived is that many writers seem to overestimate their ability; a truer assessment would be that writer’s overestimate the need for a story with a thousand twists and turns, ultimately falling into the M. Night Shyamalan trap. In a manner almost identical to manga, many developers of action and roleplaying games seem to be so obsessed with creating multiple twists and turns that it soon becomes apparent that the developers had no idea which direction they wanted to take the story at all.

Take Devil May Cry 4 for example, who is Nero? Where did he come from? Who is the mysterious “he” that Berial refers to while talking to Nero? We are not told during the game and judging from Capcom’s new Devil May Cry reboot, we never will be.

you are not the father.....

A cancer that is particularly pervasive within franchises is the feeling that the writers involved in the development simply write to create a reason for a sequel to exist. The story has become so stale and stagnant that there really is no reason for players to care about the plot behind the gameplay.

I found myself drained after completing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and being rewarded with yet another cliffhanger while coming no closer to the cathartic conclusion I had been hoping for. Because of this, my interest in the Assassin’s Creed story is nonexistent; any interest I may have in the title lay solely in the new gaming experience it may (or may not) provide.

sigh...

As a student of literature, I am aware I may be attributing too much importance to a good storyline. So what do you guys think? Is an engaging storyline and plot the necessary foundation to a good game or is gameplay?

While on Cloud 9, one of my newly turned philosophers posed an interesting question; if an otherwise decent game had a horrible story rounded off by an even more horrible conclusion, how bad would the taste left in your mouth be?

Consider that result.

Now imagine a game that had horrible and confounding gameplay; one with bad textures, mechanics and all the things that cause gamers to destroy their controllers. Now imagine this game had an amazing storyline, a storyline so amazing, in fact, that it was the only reason you continued to play; obsessed with discovering the story’s conclusion which was equally as amazing. What would be the taste left in your mouth as the credits rolled? Would it be more tolerable than the first scenario or worse?

Something to think about perhaps?