Ahh, the video game story. Often much-maligned, video games are different from the matured storytelling of books, movies, and TV shows in that they place you, the character, right in the centre of the action. You aren’t reading about shoving a sword up an orc’s nose, you’re actually doing it yourself.
For the creators, telling a coherent story in a game is easier said than done though. The more freedom you give a player, the harder it becomes to focus on a cohesive narrative. Compare Skyrim, for example, to the latest Martin Scorsese movie that has every scene, every camera angle, every cut, minutely dissected and examined, producing an experience that will be the same for everyone.
But whole the storytelling in games can get a bad rap, there are still plenty of shining examples of great tales, epic heroics, and murky morals.
I actually asked a few of the people around me what their favourite stories are in the long, illustrious history of video games and I got two curiously different answers. The first picked out a fairly well-worn trio of great games with arguably fantastic stories - Red Dead Redemption, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Deadly Premonition. Red Dead was and still is the pinnacle of Rockstar’s efforts at cinematic storytelling, while Brothers is a game without any defined narrative whatsoever. It’s a game about showing rather than telling. While Deadly Premonition occupies that schlocky corner of storytelling that’s kooky, unpredictable, and often downright weird.
The other person came out with some answers that made the eyes the pop out of my head like some throwback Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Their example of the finest storytelling in games was the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy, followed up by Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood in second place and, er, Jak & Daxter 2 in third place. I can’t even compute how the latter one enters this discussion but it did open my mind to how folks can view what constitutes a great story in entirely different ways.
For me personally, I find it immensely tricky to keep it down to just three. But the games that have stuck with me over the years definitely include Grim Fandango, Life is Strange, and of course The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. All three of these games excel at worldbuilding, using the environment to spin a yarn alongside their engrossing narratives. What usually turns me off is unnecessarily garbled lexicon. You know, packed with fantasy terms and unpronounceable words with too many apostrophes in them. I’m looking at you, Elder Scrolls. Somehow, The Witcher 3 straddles that line in accomplished fashion, rarely veering into hokey territory.
I’d also have to give a shout out to a few strong examples though, including Silent Hill 2, The Last of Us, and Nier Automata.
But enough about what I think, we want to know what you think. What are some of your favourite stories in the history of videogames? And what do you think makes for a quality narrative? Share your thoughts below!