Theory

All other things being equal, players will always appreciate stories more then interactions.

You can see it in the sales of the big games, the direction of the industry as a whole, the marketing, the proliferation of one-time content.   Bioshock 2 Game Director Jordan Thomas is focused on the narrative design, and let’s someone else completely handle the systems.  And this is pretty common.

Yes, you can fall in love with the interactions.  Yet usually it’s only after you’ve devoured the content, and gotten hooked by the initial fiction.

Yes, this makes me a bit sad.  But not too sad.  Different games for different folks.  And we can do both.

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7 thoughts on “Theory

  1. The fact that there’s a lot of evidence that most players don’t complete single player campaigns seems to undercut your assumption.

    Also, most major first-person games (and therefore most major games) come with story-less multi-player modes. Why would companies do this if they didn’t have a huge financial incentive?

    My perspective is that what’s actually at work here is that stories play an out-sized role in video game culture because most people find them easier to talk about. We’re all very story-literate, but few of us are really system-literate.

    In other words, don’t be sad. It’s probably not as bad as you think!

  2. Doesn’t that leave out games like the Sims series that are successful mainly on the back of interactions, with very little authored story?

    One hypothesis: you can be successful with story-lite interaction, or interaction-lite story, but making a serious effort at both in the same game is trickier. Or is it just that Maxis games live in a world with separate rules?

  3. I’m not sure I agree. Some of the most absolutely popular games – Sims, Grand Theft Auto – are much more well known for the ‘interaction’ than the story. (I assume you mean ‘interaction’ as a catch-all term for gameplay, systems of rules, simulations, etc. within games.)

    In my experience, if you stick a player in front of a game and give them the option of (pardon my french) fucking around or advancing the story, usually they’ll choose ‘fucking around.’ Many games have been saved by their interactions where the story has utterly failed.

    I don’t want to go so far as to say you’re *wrong* or anything, since it would be pretty dumb to suggest that players don’t care about story; but it doesn’t feel right to say that they prioritize story as a rule.

  4. Totally open to being wrong. I’m not claiming gameplay isn’t popular, just that all other things being equal (like access), humans prefer stories to interaction.

    Of course, if there is no story, or too much story, that’s a different story.

    Also, I’m citing what people chose to spend their money on, for the data. What people do afterwords is tricky to note. Data studies of common games show players spend the majority of there time walking around or waiting (GDC 2008?), which isn’t either game or story, more like wasted time, sometimes looking at art.

    Charles: not finishing story games could mean people are just moving on to other stories. We don’t have a lot of data on flows from game to game.

  5. Stories might be easier to understand than interaction as we’re used to imagining the fun that might reside in a story while it may be hard to imagine the fun of some particular interaction when it’s being talked about. Is it possible that this might change? I don’t know. Talking about systems and the way you interact with them just doesn’t sound sexy, at least not to the general public. I guess interaction need to felt in order to ‘get it’.

  6. Agree with Tj’ien. Maybe the point of storytelling in games is ultimately to humanize the complex systems driving the game.

    Stories in games can function as representations of hidden systems – The context of you holding a silenced gun, alone in enemy territory, suggests several gameplay elements the developer would otherwise have to painstakingly explain.

    Stories also serve as motivation – Fighting mobs of enemies to rescue a loved one at the end of it all creates more emotional investment compared to a game that tells you to click on everything that moves. Although they might be exactly the same “game”.

    The key is that, at the end of it all, storytelling should ultimately improve the player’s level of interaction with the game, and not act against it.

  7. Thanks Zhou for adding a lot more beef to my point of view, I absolutely agree with what you’ve said. In the end story can improve the gameplay and gameplay can improve the story, although the latter is a lot more demanding as there’s not much known how gameplay is experienced (as where story driven being, we probably experience them as some abstract form of stories).

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