The Importance of Story in Modern Gaming

The importance of story has fluctuated throughout the history of the gaming culture. Back when systems were slow and weak an emphasis were put on story to make up for the lack of graphics or interactive game play. Then came the nineties with the boom of the Playstation and introduction of the CD and 3d graphics, gaming companies started an obsession with graphics that has become a recognizable feature in the gaming culture ever since.  With that obsession the emphasis on story slowly declined.

But recently we have started to see this emphasis shift again, as more and more game companies is starting to realise the possibilities that a good story holds for their games. Some modern titles with strong story elements is of course the Mass Effect series, Elder Scrolls, Uncharted etc. This did not only happen in the Action Adventure and RPG genres, but also in FPS games. The latter genre was traditionally the biggest perpetrator in the sacrifice story for graphics dilemma. In many cases this choice to add depth to the experience led to great success and wide acclaim. One of the best examples of this is coincidentally also one of my all time favourites, Bioshock . The spiritual successor of the System Shock series brought an intense FPS experience to the table along with a very interesting story line as well as an immersive environment one can truly get lost in. One of the most important features of Bioshock, that definitely left a lasting impression on me, is the background story of Rapture and its context. I fell in love with the city and it almost felt as if Rapture itself was a character in the game. Bioshock’s depth seems to have far reaching bounds since they even went as far as to explore an entire philosophy throughout the game, see Ayn Rand’s ‘Objectivism’.

Yes there are many aspects and features that make a great game truly great and all of them have their purpose and place. A good game for instance needs solid, smooth running gameplay, it needs to be pretty and polished, it needs to have intelligently designed and functioning levels and most of the time it helps if it has some level of innovation that makes it unique. Yet I don’t believe this is all. Another crucial feature modern games often lack is a good story.

Story is one of the most defining features that makes a game truly great and more importantly memorable. The reason why Bioshock is seared into my consciousness as one of my favourite games of all time is because it had all the features described above, and especially the last. The characters are still fresh in my mind and with that also their own interesting background stories that comes along with them. All this contributes to the overall feeling of the game. Rapture, the dystopian city, that houses all these personas including the character you play. With its immense amounts of atmosphere and character. The story ties everything else together allowing the rich experience that sets it apart in the FPS genre from just being another mindless shooter.

In my opinion many other gaming companies can take a page from Irrationals’ book and invest more time and resources into story. Two things set a game apart from becoming lost in the endless drone of new releases. The first is innovation. A truly innovative game will be recognised and remembered maybe even classified as a genre changer. And secondly is a rich, atmospheric, engaging story experience where the player can get lost in. That essentially is what gamers want isn’t it? They want to live those amazing experiences that would otherwise not be open to them. Now give them that with a well thought out story where you can build on in the future and you have yourself a successful gaming series guaranteed to not be forgotten soon.

What’s your thoughts on this? Give your opinion in the comments below.

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8 comments on “The Importance of Story in Modern Gaming

  1. You certainly have nailed it. Many game developers have opted to focus on graphics and creating more elaborate explosions, instead of fleshing out the characters in the game. One prime example is Modern Warfare 2 and 3. The plot is ridden with holes and characters keep dying, which means players do not have the opportunity to feel attached to whoever they are playing.

    It would certainly help if developers are willing to put in more effort to create a longer single-player campaign and create a world or ‘universe’ which provides ample opportunities to develop on ideas in franchises and future titles. Look at Halo for example.

  2. I completely agree and Halo is a great example of what can happen when a bit of thoughtful story is introduced. This is especially an FPS genre problem, common with especially all the modern war type games(COD, BF etc etc). The problem is these developers treat there characters in the same sense military’s treat their soldiers. As temporary, easily replaceable resources.

  3. Bioshock raised the bar so high on so many levels, story, gameplay, voice acting… most developers couldn’t reach it using Mt. Everest as a step ladder.

  4. Yes, indeed, I couldn’t agree more! Hopefully this is a continuing trend in the upcoming Bioshock Infinite!

  5. i like story above graphics, but i think gameplay is even more of a factor. i feel the perfect example of this is a wii game called the munchables. The story in the game leaves a lot to be desired. the graphics arent the best. but the gameplay is so much fun. If you have a wii I suggest checking it out.

    I do however agree story is very important. If a story is intriguing, it is more enveloping than pretty graphics.

  6. I agree and if the gameplay isn’t smooth it can easily ruin a otherwise great expierience. As always I think a balance of all the important factors make a good game. It must atleast have a minimum of a certain level of gameplay, story etc. With perhaps the exclusion of graphics. I am playing a fun browser based RPG with the most horrendous graphics at the moment but still enjoying the hell out of it!

  7. You got it man, story is the driving force of most games and it was ultimately sucks me in. Especially of late in Max Payne 3!

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