“I'm aware of the irony of providing some context to a blog titled context but please bear with me. I started writing this last week and got a ridiculous case of writers block and have come back to it this week, rewritten and edited it to something resembling a blog. You can read it, if you like!”
A trend which seems to be popping up in reviews of a lot of this years triple A games is that the stories are weak, mediocre or are just not there. Bayonetta 2 has been criticised for having an absurd plot. Advanced warfare has a derivative narrative. The Evil Within had a plot that was too cheesy and made no sense until the end. And Destiny? Well Destiny just didn't have a plot unless you looked it up on the app on your phone. Have we now arrived at a stage in Video Gamings lifespan, where narrative is a compulsory element to a product? Or have we become overly critical of an aspect of games which isn't integral to their appeal. Was rescuing princesses just not enough to motivate us?
As soon as you start playing a game you are hypothetically thrust out of your normal environment. You are no longer sat in your house . Most of the time you are no longer yourself, you may be a different sex, you may be a different species. Most of the time you will no longer be performing the same work you do in every day life (side question... do truck drivers come home at night and play truck driver simulator???).You're probably not in the same town, and may not be in the same country. What the game needs to do for you to believe in it is to provide the context. To let you know where and what you are. And to give you the motivation needed to proceed.
For years most games were incredibly high concept. You would be able to describe the gist of them in simple sentences. Fast hedgehog chases fat scientist to rescue friends. Busty Brit raids tombs. Pink blob eats everything to rescue the land of dreams. Somewhere along the line complexity arose. Bioshock Infinite would not be so easily broken down into a short concept. Neither would Final Fantasy 13. And so we rely on the game itself to provide the context so we can jump out of our environment. And essentially this is what we need to be able to immerse ourselves in the game. In my opinion if a game is able to provide us with the context for the playable sections then it has achieved what it needs to do with its narrative and shouldn't feel the need to include a complicated story because that's what's done these days.
An early level in COD:Advanced Warfare brilliantly exemplifies context. You begin by storming into Camp David and rescuing the president. In all the chaos, the president is killed and you then realise that this has been a holodeck like simulation. You are then taken through a training ground and shown how to use all of the advanced technology in this game. Then you take the holodeck scenario again and are able to rescue the president with all of the new technology. The game has not only shown you its new tricks, but has shown how you would perform with and without them. Advanced Warfare loses its grip in later stages, especially when Kevin Spacey becomes Future Hitler, but there are some clever ideas in it's opening stages.
It's often the large triple A games which are picked apart about narrative. I don't recall Pix the Cat giving me any clue at all about what was going on, but no one really mentioned that in the reviews. In the media in general, it seems that there is some real snobbery about narrative, especially when it comes to the biggest products. The Da Vinci Code is an airport thriller, looked down on by people who read real books. “Don't watch Michael Bay films for the plot, go for the special effects.”. “The lyrics in the latest Taylor Swift song, oh they're just chart rubbish”. I understand that the larger games are played by a larger audience and as such should perhaps be critiqued as such accordingly, but there does seem to be an element of snobbery with which games with superior narratives are considered better Video games than those with inferior ones.
While I love a game where the effort has been put in to create a great narrative, it is not the sole reason I am playing the game. A strong narrative can be an excellent motivational tool to finish the game. It can make you want to find the optional extras within the game, such as notes or audio logs left lying around. In itself it doesn't make for great gameplay though. If the last of us was a substandard sneak em up I wouldn't have stuck around. If Bioshock hadn't kept me entertained with its crazy weapons I wouldn't have stayed with it until the untrustworthy narrator revealed all.
I have never played a video game with an exemplary story. I have never thought that a game was a work of genius comparable to novels such as “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Great Gatsby” or anything by Shakespeare. The last of us may have a plot reminiscent of “The Road” but it never achieves the wistful, surreal beauty of Cormac McCarthy's horrific novel. One day I am sure gaming will get there. But I don't think we're anywhere near that yet. The medium is young, and evolving at a rapid pace, and new ideas are common. Rather than the straightforward telling of a story, there must be so many ways that a narrative can be explored?
In so many ways gaming is unpredictable. Open worlds, free choice and multiple paths can lead to an infinite amount of ways to function. So why then do a large amount of games concentrate on an A to B plot to contain this infinite functionality? And is it necessary for the gaming press to care so much about this. Did Destiny need the cut scenes it had? Nobody gave a flying fuck about them, can I get a version with the plot erased? I'd have had a much more satisfactory time if the game hadn't pretended to have a narrative. If the game just had a line of text saying, shoot aliens – level up, kill the bad guys, it would have provided all the context I ended up getting anyway.
The reason I wrote this article was as a direct response to the criticism that was aimed at the plot of Bayonetta 2. Me? I loved it. It was absurd. It was surreal. It made not too much sense. And that works for me. This is a game in which a kind of woman witch with butterfly wings, and killer hair/transforming clothes goes to hell. If there was any game which needed a ludicrous plot this was the one. It was nonsense in the best possible way. I didn't go into the game expecting any meaningful discourse on being and I certainly didn't get it! But within the context of Bayonettas' world it made sense and made for one heck of an adventure. Long live the Fucking insanity of the vidyagarmezzz.
Like I explained at the start of the article – writers block had a big part to play in the writing of this article. I have edited it and tried to make it into something coherent, because it was something I wanted to write about, and post, but due to it being written across a week coherency isn't its strong point. I've posted it anyway mainly because I would have got angry with myself if it had failed. Anyways, thank-you very much if you managed to get through it! I've been Rowdy Rhod and I'll be back with some more Rude rants and Rancid (w)Ritings very soon!!!!!