The role of narrative in games, and the relationship between story and gameplay, has been an important topic at this years Game Developers Conference. Once again developers seemed unable to agree on the importance of narrative in games.
The first person to speak up specifically about the role of stories in games was Ken Levine, President and Creative Director of 2K Boston (Formerly Irrational Games), and the person credited with “Story, Writing and Creative Direction” on BioShock. Though BioShock has received significant critical and commercial success and been awarded for it’s story and writing, Ken started his presentation (“Storytelling in BioShock: Empowering Players to Care about Your Stupid Story”) by informing the audience that: “… the bad news for storytellers is that nobody cares about your stupid story”. Though this was not the core of his presentation as he went on to qualify that statement, and present a number of other ideas that I plan to discuss at a later date, I do feel his initial remarks are deserving of specific consideration.
On the face of it I feel Ken has a point, I find it extremely unlikely that anybody who played BioShock choose to do so because of the story alone. I do however believe from personal experience that the quality of the story and it’s presentation are a contributing factor to some people’s enjoyment of the game. This is a situation true of many games, people might not come for the story but it is often what keeps them playing past the point at which they have mastered, or grown tired of, the gameplay.
Stories have been a vital part of human society since the birth of communication, it’s only natural for people to be interested in them. The nature of storytelling and basic dramatic structure is embedded in human culture to the extent that when recounting their day to a friend the narrator will describe the events in the structure of a story, with a beginning, a middle a conclusion and dramatic tension. When playing a game without a specific story players will invent one, and personalise it. They rarely refer to what happened by saying “my character fell”, rather they will say “I fell”.
Stories are part of being human and any artistic or entertainment endeavour that ignores them is greatly limiting it’s potential. There will always be an audience for games without explicit stories, games like Chess or Football, but the potential audience for games with stories is conceivably every human being alive.
The problem games have at the moment is that they are not seen as a storytelling medium, because of this neither the type of people who would be interested in experiencing the new techniques of storytelling made possible through games, nor those best suited to develop those new techniques are interested in games.
Nobody cares about your stupid story because games are not consider a narrative medium.