Story vs Gameplay (or when do games stop becoming games?)

23 Nov

Andrew Myers (GD08)

I’ve learned something from my Skate review, most people don’t have time to read an essay-length post, so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.

With the new next-generation of games designers come to some very important decisions when it comes to creating an experience for the player. So should we focus more on story or is gameplay still the core of video games in general? The reason I’m talking about this now is mostly because of some high profile games that have came out this fall, such as Bioshock and Mass Effect.

These 2 games (and others like it) are amazing, there is no question about that….but when stories become as intricate as these, how will we differentiate them from the movies we see every weekend? Now I’m not saying having a great story in a game is a bad thing, it could possibly be the next step in the evolution of movies, Interactive Narrative…but will it be the next evolution in games?

I’ll provide a more specific example, or question….when playing Bioshock, killing splicers in many different ways, with plasmids, guns, or even the help of a Big Daddy, it was fun….but no way revolutionary in terms of gameplay, so why was it held to be one of the best games of this year (and is now in my top 10 favorite games of all time)? It was, simply put, the story….it was the only reason I kept on playing for 4 hours at a time…just getting lost in the world of rapture. But does this make it a good game, or a good movie?

I guess Bioshock isn’t the best example, because the gameplay was still fun, which still makes it a good game…but what if, say, Mass Effect’s gameplay absolutely sucked? Yet…the amazing story/moral choices/lesbian sex scenes stayed in? Would it still be getting the 93+ metacrtic rating as it is getting now? What will happen to games without a story and just focus on gameplay (which is in essence, a perfect “game”), are gamers like us too used to HAVE to have a story to actually keep them motivated to play the game?

The debate used to be “graphics vs gameplay”…but now that we reached the point that pretty much ALL new games look good, so what is the new debate? With next gen games…this is one of the few big crossroads for the gaming media, should story be the focus of games nowadays or should we still stick with creating more originality on the gameplay side?

If any of you guys have any comments about this feel free to add/respond.


3 Responses to “Story vs Gameplay (or when do games stop becoming games?)”

  1. Charles Robert Simmons II November 23, 2007 at 11:24 pm #

    I would say that Gameplay and Story are both very important to games as a whole. I like to think games that first take you into the world with their graphics, then allow you to interact and play with the world with their Gameplay and then learn about the world through experiencing the “story”.

    I feel story has always been in games, just not in the greatest detail as it can be done now. Super Mario Brothers 3 had a story, it isn’t deep or engrossing but its still there. I feel if games didn’t have a story to tell the player wouldn’t have much to come back to, becasue no matter how awesome you make your Gameplay, it’ll become boring if you don’t have the player something new to experience.

    Also Story doesn’t have to be spoken words as we are seeing in most new games. Story can also be in the experience you have with friends as seen with Mulitplayer Wii games. So lets not look at story as just “scripted sequences that move the plot along”, but as a way for various individuals to experience games in a whole new light.

    I feel both Gameplay and story have a great importance in games. certain games I also believe don’t’ need story, mainly puzzle games or casual games and the like. For block buster multi-million dollar franchises, story would be important than to keep the player within the magic circle long enough to experience everything there is for the game to offer.

    One final note, no matter how much games have story, they’ll never become glorified movies, because games give you one thing that movies do not and thats choice. and if the power of choice is placed within the story of your game, then you’ve opened up a world of possibilities that movies couldn’t ever hope to reach.

    -Charles Robert Simmons II

  2. Brian November 24, 2007 at 1:37 am #

    To encourage brevity once more:

    With movies, you watch a story; with games you are a PART of the story.

    Games will never be movies unless they take away all control from the player. Bioshock rarely had moments where control was restricted during an NIS (can it really even be called ‘NIS’ then?) Assassin’s Creed did an good job of this as well by allowing the player to move Altair in a given area while changing camera angles. Keep the player involved in the story, and you will have yourself a winner. Another reason why Mass Effect works so well: The illusion that the player is influencing what is happening in the story through dialogue control.

    Movies can never achieve this immersion. We are fortunate enough to be in an industry where literally anything is possible.

  3. Nick Halme November 25, 2007 at 8:50 am #

    Does ‘gameplay’ always infer violence, jumping etc? Gameplay can be described as player input producing some sort of output in the game, therefore can a conversation where the player can control what they are saying not be gameplay? It seems like it should be, and in the past nobody has given it a second thought, look at early LucasArts games like Day of the Tentacle – text adventures have always been described as games, and RPGs owe their existence to games like Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun; sure these games have dice but the majority of interaction comes from speech or writing.

    It seems like the real difference here is interaction versus gameplay. Gameplay can be described as interaction, but if you pick up a phone in a game and simply hear a funny message (like in The Darkness), is that really gameplay? A conversation in Mass Effect is interactive, but for some reason it leans more towards the realm of gameplay…it seems that any actions taken in a world are just a form of interaction and amusement unless they are pertinent to an objective and can help you advance.

    As for the illusion of immersion, I find the BBFC’s research to be intriguing:


    They seem to think that games are less immersive than movies due to how interactive the content is. This means that when people play a game, and agree to its rules, they are more aware that what they are engaging in is fictional.

    So what we are really trying to aim for is interaction and not immersion, is it not? Or perhaps we have enough interaction, and games need to perfect immersing players? Perhaps games can immerse players through the kinds of interactions they make. Lots of questions, so little time.

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