Tell Me a Story
(Or “The Play’s the Thing,” originally published on The Game Beat, April 28, 2017.)
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If you are connected to video games professionally, you probably heard some sort of discussion over Ian Bogost’s provocatively headlined Atlantic piece “Video Games Are Better Without Stories.” The actual piece is a bit more restrained than the headline implies, more arguing that games should get past the “cinema envy” that is driving a lot of linear character vignettes these days. The argument nonetheless got a bit of pushback from across the industry.
The whole brouhaha got me thinking about how we, as journalists and critics, handle the presence of story in games. It’s been said that a story in a video game is like a story in pornography—it doesn’t matter how good it is, but you notice if it isn’t there. That might be a bit glib, but it’s also probably true of the way most people play the most popular games these days. For a lot of players, the story is just meaningless context that can largely be ignored.