Why do games inevitably end with you shooting monsters, zombies or aliens, regardless of what the game was about from the beginning?
Game story design lacks some maturity, compared to other media. It seems to me that we’re too obsessed with the spectacular, or too afraid of not making a splash, that we violate one of the fundamental pieces of storytelling advice there is: keep the story believable.
The central concept in all great storytelling is the suspension of disbelief. We’re asking the viewer, reader or player to ignore all their preconceived notions about how a world works, and join you in your world for a bit. This can work as long as your story is compelling enough to keep them interested, and consistent enough that the world makes sense in the mind of the viewer, reader or player.
Why, then, is it so common in games that start out with a fairly reasonable story, there inevitably seem to be aliens, zombies, super mutants, experimental super-soldiers or some similar monstrosity near the end? I’ve played through a fair number of games with this problem, and I’ve actually quit a fair number as well.
Some games have stories that aren’t exactly masterpieces, yet they still get smashed to pieces by this kind of move. One example of this would be Far Cry — not exactly known for it’s brilliant story, but I still lost my interest when the super-mutant-experiment-soldiers showed up.
Since actual good game stories are so few and far apart, story reviews tend to look favorably on anything that actually has a story.
Game story designers fall into this trap for several reasons. I think, first of all, that it’s a sign of a certain lack of maturity — we don’t take our stories seriously, don’t focus on them and thus we don’t think they can hold their own.
For me, the story adds so much to a game experience that it deserves to be treated better. Trust me, playing the single player campaign of something like Bad Company during development, before the story elements are in place, is but a pale shadow of the final product.
Our demands on gameplay and difficulty also makes this an easy trap to fall into. Adding more HP and weaponry to enemies only makes sense to a certain point, I guess, so in order to have an appropriately difficult grand finale, we throw in something supernatural. The funny thing about this is that many times, the same games have already shown themselves to not need this. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, for instance (which is an awesome game by the way) has both a story and difficulty measures good enough to stand on their own feet. It simply didn’t need monsters.
These thrown in monsters, mutants and aliens provide an opportunity to make something spectacular. However, the best moments I’ve had in gaming must be the ones that both made sense and were spectacular.
I hope game stories can move with time to the more mature, nuanced theme of telling a simple but powerful story in an interesting way that keeps me hooked. However, that requires us to respect the power of a story well told… among all our fancy graphics, powerful hardware and surround sound systems, we get to face the idea that perhaps the most important piece of the game shares more qualities with a good camp-fire story than with the tech labs that produced the chip we’re running.
What do you think about the state of stories in games? How would you like to see them improve?
Image credit: kevindooley on flickr