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Does storytelling matter?

L.A-Noire-Case-Guide2

Stories are getting everywhere. Copywriters like us talk about them. Marketers talk about them. Filmmakers have long talked about them. And now gamers are talking about them too. Well, in all fairness, they’ve been talking about stories for an age, but recently it’s become a hot topic.

The question being bandied around a lot at the moment is whether in fact gaming is growing up, becoming a culturally relevant medium with a new wave of narrative-led games that pack a punch through their clever writing, full characters and crafted storylines?

As a non-gamer with a gamer boyfriend and a slowly cultivating interest in all things play, I would have said so. During the last few years of sitting on the sofa next to frantically clicking fingers in a room lit by a glowing green circle, there have only been a few occasions where my eyes have been drawn away from my book. LA Noire was one. BioShock Infinite was another.  I’d find myself watching for hours as my boyfriend played, firing the odd question, jumping with fright, or (most annoyingly I imagine) asking him to slow down so I could read all the posters plastered around the flying city of Columbia. In each game, the characters were convincing and the tales compelling: imaginative and artful in landscape and action. They didn’t feel like games, they felt like game-films. And that’s why they got me.

bioshock-infinite-columbia

However it’s precisely this emphasis on the filmic nature of gaming that has triggered a backlash from some people within the industry. Why should a game aspire to be like a film? Why should having a cinematic sensibility, depth of character and focus on plot denote a better game than a straight out shoot ’em up done really well?

Games reviewer Chris Schilling argues that it doesn’t. In his recent Eurogamer article discussing ludonarrative dissonance (the moments when story and game play contradict, clash or just don’t work together) he suggests that when emphasis is put on one thing over the next in a game, everything falls apart.  A great game, whether its Super Mario simple or Beyond Two Souls complex should be about the game mechanics, function, form and story all working together for the benefit of the player.

And I suppose I can see where he is coming from. If LA Noire just made me want to watch rather than play, could it be argued it wasn’t really doing its job as a game?

Some critics have cited one recently released narrative-driven game, The Last of Us, as ‘gaming’s Citizen Kane moment’. This is where Schilling loses his rag. Citizen Kane is considered one of the best films of all time because it is clearly in love with the art of film. Surely the game awarded the accolade of having ‘gaming’s Citizen Kane moment’ should be one that was in love with the art of gaming itself? Not one that feels like a film.

More than Detective Cole Phelps in downtown LA, Booker De Witt in Comstock’s Colombia or even the prospect of William Defoe in Beyond Two Souls, Schilling has made me want to pick up a controller. If you are interested in games, stories,  or both, I would recommend taking 10 minutes to read it.

Now then, what does this Y button do?

 

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