The Legacy of the Story Game

“A game is not a movie,” a sentiment regurgitated from time to time in the gaming world. It’s why I’ll probably never get along perfectly with—gack—gamers.

The reason avid gamers say games aren’t movies is because they don’t want them to be. For them, the story is just an add-on to the gameplay. That’s fine if you’re into gameplay. But some of us prefer something more meaningful, more engaging.

I’ve never loved a game that only offered me gameplay. In fact, I’ve loved games that offered only mediocre gameplay. Because gameplay is not where it’s at. The core of a great game is its story, and the gameplay is only there to serve the story, to draw me further into the story. This is the legacy of the story game.

Unfortunately, storytelling is largely a lost art in games. There may be one or two last geniuses, like Tim Schafer, who understand that a story game revolves around its story and are able to put this idea into practice. First-class gameplay is a great asset, as it helps to build the story, just like first-class cinematography does in film, but neither will make up for a deficient story. Actually, a great story game has first-class cinematography, too.

Great games have more in common with movies than these gamers of limited vision would have us admit. But there is so much we can do to build stories using games, so much we haven’t tried, so many variations we have not yet perfected. Psychonauts is just one step in the journey between the traditional story-adventure and a new breed of story game, full of creativity and variation. Interactive fiction authors have been working on many of these ideas, too, as story games are literature.

I see a revival. Bring back the story game!


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