There’s been quite a debate about the importance of story within games. Not for games like Final Fantasy XV, Resident Evil VII, or Horizon: Zero Dawn, of course. Certain games absolutely need a strong story and can’t live without them. No, we’re going on about games like Destiny, Star Wars Battlefront, and Titanfall. The newest entries in all three series made a big deal of lauding the fact that this time, there’s a strong and cohesive story.
Which is great! Having a strong story can be a great complement to a game. But the thing is, not every game needs a good story. While it can be awesome to have a fantastic tale accompany your excursions in these virtual worlds, sometimes forcing a story in doesn’t always help. There are plenty of games and series that, for the last few installments, have done well by going with a more minimalistic approach.
For example, shooters can really go ahead and get by without a story. It is great to have that option with titles like Call of Duty and Splatoon. Each one has a single player mode with framework that sets up some sort of storyline. But in both of those games, it really is more about the multiplayer experience. It is nice to have that story to turn to for people who aren’t going to focus on online adventures, but it is fine if companies skimp on the other side. Likewise, Overwatch is one of the most popular first-person shooters out there, and it has no story whatsoever. Sure, we have a general framework for what’s going on in the world and free comic books for backstory, but it is mostly unnecessary.
And what about open-world games? It is fantastic that Grand Theft Auto V had that intricate tale with three protagonists for us. It was. But look at games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Each one had storylines if you wanted it, but we all spent most of our time making our “own” stories for our “own” avatars, based on what we decided to do and see. If people were just sticking to the tale of the Dragonborn or saving Princess Zelda, we wouldn’t have sunk over eighty hours into those games! I probably spent about five hours just getting a house and town set up in Breath of the Wild. Maybe even longer than that!
Then, there are the plethora of games where it really is more about the experience you’re having and stories you create for yourself, rather than following the ones companies created for you. The Civilizations of the world are definitely better off when you make your own history. In games like Stardew Valley and Minecraft, you want to explore your own environment and build up your own homestead. Elite Dangerous is about finding your own way through the stars.
What I’m saying is, sticking a story in something isn’t always necessary. There are plenty of games and genres that can be fine without forcing in some sort of tale to make things more interesting. As long as there is a solid singleplayer campaign and multiplayer when the situation calls for it, people will buy and enjoy your product. Developers just need to know when they need the right balance between “no story” and “bury people under ten tons of lore.”
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