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Why aren’t Gaming Narratives as ‘good’ as Narratives in Books / Films?

Content of the article: "Why aren’t Gaming Narratives as ‘good’ as Narratives in Books / Films?"

Hi! I don't post much, I more browse through Reddit when I'm travelling; but I saw a really interesting post earlier on r/gaming that totally inspired me to lay out a mini lecture for all you guys!

I've worked as a Game Designer in Scotland for 5 years now, and before that I was an Author / Playwright for 7 years; I started out in Narrative Design (which is how Narratives, Lore and Storylines are built and written in many games) but have since moved into other areas of Game Design; although Narrative Design does have a special place for me 🙂


This is probably the most important factor; when reading a book or watching a film, the creator is trying to capture the audience's attention as quickly as possible. That's done in a ton of ways (I won't get into specifics) but Books use Narrative to hook in Readers with their language, the style of exposition and eloquence. Films and media aren't AS focused on Narrative, but the videogpaphy is dependent on artwork, sounds and presentation, all of which require a core narrative to make sense.

Games, on the other hand do require a set THEME, and in some cases this is handled by a core narrative, but can still be easily handled by a theme or a set of tropes alone. When people browse games to buy, how fun a game is to pick up and play is more important. That's why a lot of game genres may never even bother making a story. Having great mechanics, and in the case of games like Fall Guys / Among Us (going with the popular examples atm!) The organic situations that players find themselves in trump any story or narrative the Devs could ever make themselves.

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When a reader is going through a book, or someone is watching a film they have no direct influence on the way the plot us going to turn out. This means that even the best special effects, a crap story is a crap story (cough.. Michael Bay… cough, cough) and that can't be hidden.

For example; Pacing. How fast are we being given new information, how fast are scenes changing? Are we jumping out of our seats when something unexpected happens, or being held in suspense when something hasn't happened yet? You've got no control over what's going to happen, and that's part of the thrill factor. However, if you control how fast you walk down a corridor, or if you'll look through the right window at the right time, it's way tougher to get the timing down. Games like Outlast, Metro 2033 and a lot of horror titles can achieve a facsimile, but these aren't achieved through narrative; but mechanically.


In Films especially, the main character is the Headliner; the A list actor and the person who is drawing most people in. That's why they get paid so much.

Some of the strongest lasting games however, like Zelda and Half Life actually have mute characters, because the player is expected to fill the shoes of the player. This is a gaming device called 'Super Imposition', where the player 'becomes' the main character, and can insert themselves more fully into games. This means that all narrative and plot devices aren't reliant on a central character's choices, but reactionary based on the player's actions.

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These devices can still be used (such as, Link happily chatting with the owner of the house when you've just trashed his prize collection of clay jars) but they feel 'odd' (someone wouldn't react like that in real life) which hurts a player's immersion into the virtual reality. Oblivion / Skyrim have great stories, but they suffer from this too.

I'll leave it there (congrats on making it this far!) but these are only my opinions. Some games have made amazing narratives, so this isn't true of all games (definitely not) but I have tried to highlight some stuff people might not have thought about. Thanks for reading!


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