State of the Game Address: Videogame Storytelling

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People play video games for tons of reasons. Escape from reality, the need to compete and collect things, or the stress reliever from a long day of a stupid job. Since I was old enough to hold a controller and yell at a screen, the reason I have played was the story. Mario had to save a princess, Zelda also had to but had to collect a few things first, and in Contra you had to run to the right and blow up stuff because that’s what awesome 80’s shirtless action heroes did.

Throughout all the ages of gaming though, storytelling has always been what has wrapped me in and kept me playing. In just the span of most of our reader’s lives we have seen stories in games evolve from a few paragraphs after a title screen to hours of movie quality cut scenes (oh yeah, I’m looking at you Metal Gear Solid) that can truly draw a connection with gamers and hold us long after the game is turned off.

In our current generation of gaming goodness, I am seeing two dominant types of game storytelling that are flooding markets and geeky basements everywhere. Stories are either shoved at the player via long winded cut scenes and “put-down-the-controller” moments like in Metal Gear Solid of Final Fantasy, or the player is allowed to view the story while he or she  is playing in explosive set pieces and dialogue choices like in Gears Of War, Call of Duty, or Mass Effect. Both types allow the player to take in a large of amount of content and see some truly massive events, but sometimes I fear that they shove the player farther from the actual game play experience and treat them like movie-goers at a theater.

The fact is, I pay a lot more for games than I do movie tickets (even with the popcorn, jellybeans, Reece’s pieces, ice cream, hotdog, and sour worms I normally get) so I want get something in games that I can’t get in movies. I want actual INVOLVEMENT in my games. This explains why some of my favorite games in the past several years have been games like Fallout 3 and New Vegas, Dark Souls, and Bioshock. These games didn’t treat me like a bystander, they treated me as the hero of my own real world adventure. The story unfolds itself as much or as little as the player decides. Those that plunder the depths of bombed out buildings in The Wasteland of Fallout 3 will find valuable treasure of coarse, but they may also find data terminals and notes that help to build the grand story of the game.

Bioshock drops the player in a crumbling undersea Hell with little to no explanation of the surroundings or what all conspired to bring it to the current state. The player must find out at his or her own pace what exactly happened through very limited cut scenes and recordings left behind by those that may already be consumed by the environment. Games like this can do such a better job at building a believable world for the game to exist in, and to also give the player a sense of discovery that I think is missing in most games today.

What I really want to hear is all from you guys, what is your favorite game (story wise) of all time and why do you feel that way? What game had such an impact on your life that it stayed with you and sticks in your brain like a tumor made of awesomeness. Leave in the comment section below, and stay tuned soon for stories from us here at Just Us Geeks for our own favorite game stories of all time.

About author

Brandon

Collector of retro video games, blogger of blogs, and caster of pods. I’m a resident of Northeast Mississippi where I live with my wife and hold court as the Chief Video Game consultant for the Just us Geeks empire.

9 comments

  1. Christina 6 June, 2012 at 22:21 Reply

    Baldur’s gate! It was the first game I’ve ever played through completely.. my fiance played through it with me. Oh… and I was a sorceress 🙂

  2. Jason Walker 7 June, 2012 at 00:47 Reply

    Well for me it has to be fallout 3 and all of the elder scrolls games. I like the amount of freedom given to you to make your own choices. I think what really sums up Bethesda games is something they wrote in the game guide for morrowind, “the essence of any elder scrolls role-playing game has always been simple: let you do what you want, and make sure you have fun doing it” and I feel like that recalling rings true from oblivion and skyrim, even fallout which obviously isn’t and elder scrolls game. I know a few of you guys on the podcast didn’t really care for Skyrim, I think it was that you said the combat was kinda clunky, which it definantly can be for sure, but combat in skyrim is just one of the many things going on in that game. Every day I play it I think to myself that Bethesda didnt have to put half of the stuff they did in the game, as far as quests go, they could hav done why most companies do and tried to sell you all of that content. Bethesda went far and beyond what any other company is doing for there fans, giving them what they want and lots and lots of it. Have you ever heard of anyone beating all of the quests in skyrim? I know I havnt. I mean you wouldn’t say mine craft sucks because the combat isn’t good, I know that’s not the best comparison but you get what I mean. There is so much more to skyrim than combat. Anyways sorry about that guys I kinda went of on a tangent there, I ment to just say like five sentances. So there you go, that’s my favorite game, skyrim and by extension almost all Bethesda games haha

  3. Marty 7 June, 2012 at 01:09 Reply

    For me, it was Final Fantasy II for the Super Nintendo. This was the game that turned me into a hardcore RPG fan. What I love about the game is that it made you care about every character. By the end of the game, you truly feel like you know Cecil, Rosa, Kain, and the others, and any loss of any character from your party feels like a friend or close relative is going away. The game had it’s great moments: Kain and Cecil’s rivalry, the arrival of Golbez, Cecil becoming a paladin, Palom and Porom’s sacrifice, Rydia’s return, the Lunar Whale, and finally, the revelation that Golbez and Cecil were brothers right before Zeromus nearly destroys both him and FuSoYa at the core of the moon. Everything about the game was perfect: the dialogue, the battles, the characters and their abilities, the music. All in all, I’d call it the perfect game.

  4. emilysteen 7 June, 2012 at 17:23 Reply

    I don’t so much PLAY the big involved games as I do watch them…I have a short attention span for that sort of thing, I suppose.

    However, Bioshock was by far my favorite story. Too creepy.

  5. Ben Knight 8 June, 2012 at 22:29 Reply

    Okay, I’m not so big a gamer but I will say that a few have really captured me. The one that sticks in my mind above all others is kingdom hearts; a GREAT mixture of f.f. AND disney classics. I just loved it. Not to mention it was the first game I ever beat. Well written article, sir. And I totally agree. Human kind has loved a good story since the dawn of time: from camp fire stories, to the theatre to movies. The medium for telling might change, but the purpose is still there. Spot on Brandon. Oh, and I like the photo, too:)

  6. Chris Wright 9 June, 2012 at 05:56 Reply

    I’ve put countless hours into FF VII. It’s a game that I went through several times growing up. FF X was the only one that came close to telling a story as well. Great job writing, Brandon.

  7. 45surf 12 August, 2012 at 18:16 Reply

    Kotaku reports on a patent for epic storytelling in videogames: ““Player Encounters Hooker”: This Might Be the Most Epic Video Game Patent Application Ever. Dr. Elliot McGucken’s application for a “System And Method For Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences” might be the boldest, craziest and, yes, scariest game patent dream ever.”

    -kotaku.com/5896004/player-encounters-hooker-this-might-be-the-most-epic-video-game-patent-application-ever/gallery/1

    onelastcontinue.com/9136/vampire-zombie-communist-hookers-patent-it/
    Vampire Zombie Communist Hookers? Patent It!

    IAN BOGOST TWEETS: 5 days ago from web ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F (via @ncroal)

    the-pause-button.com/News/Peter/dantes-inferno-patent “Strangest storytelling patent filing ever?”

    “Dantes Inferno was not a hugely well reviewed game – metacritic, at time of writing, puts its average marks somewhere around the 73 mark, depending on platform. It especially came under fire from people who, you know, had actually read Dante’s Inferno and felt that EA’s handling of it was less than faithful to the subject matter.

    Fast forward to March 1st 2012. It was on this day that, for one Dr Elliot McGucken of Los Angeles, the rage that had clearly been building since the game’s 2010 release got all too much, and they submitted a US patent outlining the “System and Method for the Heros Journey Mythology Code of Honor Video Game Engine and Heros Journey Code of Honor Spy Games Wherein One Must Fake the Enemy’s Ideology En Route to Winning”. Now I’m no master in patent reading, but as far as I can tell, the good Doctor is trying to patent various mythological systems of morality and their gaming applications, while throughout making thinly veiled references to how much EA ruined the mythos of Dante’s Inferno.

    The patent is full of nonsensical gibberish that reads like a gaming madman’s handbook. Swinging wildly between heated sarcasm, overuse of the word ‘exalted’ and attacking string theorists of all things, this patent gives many branching flowcharts explaining each moral choice in a hypothetical game, culminating in the death of Hitler. This patent, and a lot of the Dr’s work in general from a swift google, is a great example of just how angry some people can get when source material is messed with.”

    You can find the storytelling patent here: google.com/patents?id=uR8FAgAAEBAJ&zoom=4&pg=PA12#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Crazy Patent Gives Ideas Consequences
    March 27th, 2012 at 12:51 pm –

    Many of you may know the famous quote from V for Vendetta that says “Ideas are Bulletproof”, well beyond being bulletproof according to a patent recently filed they also have consequences. A recent patent application filed by Elliot McGucken shows an idea for a game where Ideas have consequences on the game world. This is a very impressive and scary game idea in the way that it gives players a sociological god power with ideas. Many of you know how Mass Effect has plenty of consequences for your actions and words but this patent is something different. Imagine running a virtual society where you can quote famous people, icons, celebrity’s , historical figures, etc. and use their ideas to create different outcomes based on changes in society? sounds pretty intense right? Well if someone decides to take this patent and run with it we might just have a VERY influential game!”

    –playstationeuphoria.com/ps3/crazy-patent-gives-ideas-consequences.html

    New Gold 45 Revolver Video Game Technologies Exalting Story in Games

    neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=366448
    mises.org/Community/forums/t/8859.aspx
    libertariangames.blogspot.com

    All of a sudden people started talking about this patent and the novel game types it proposes:
    google.com/patents/about?id=aAuzAAAAEBAJ&dq=exalted&as_psra=1&as_psra
    =1

    Over at the Something Awful forums, a Bethesda employee stated:

    “This may be the first time in history that, rather than blaming video games as the root of society’s problems, they’re being blamed for NOT being the solution.”

    And I answered:

    Yes! That’s what I’m saying! There’s a vast opportunity for epic, exalted art which inpsires the soul!

    And videogames can lead the way with a paradigm shift that both a) leads to deeper storyteling and b) exalts classical ideals and heroic idealism.

    And so, sensing I was a bit ahead of my time after trying to explain it to some MBAs at major gaming companies, I buried it all in a patent or two. It was as if they were against both a)making money and b) exalting art and culture.

    So I figured, if that’s the way they wanted it, then that’s the way they’d get it–they’d come to me.”

    –somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpag
    e=40&pagenumber=12

    onelastcontinue.com/9136/vampire-zombie-communist-hookers-patent-it/
    Vampire Zombie Communist Hookers? Patent It!

    Such natural buzz is worth millions, especially when it is based on simple, innovative technologies and design concepts that could easily be added to existing game engines, with far-ranging consequences and new gameplay mechanics, resulting in newfound, superior educational and commercial opportunities:

    “a fallout 3 mod based on this shit would be boss as f$%$.”
    “What’s scary, for me, is that this might be exactly what gamers want.” –onelastcontinue.com
    onelastcontinue.com/9136/vampire-zombie-communist-hookers-patent-it/
    “What scares me most is I agree with the core pillars of what you are saying.” –gamasutra.com/view/feature/4061/dramatic_play.php

    @SIMDYNASTY: “I didn’t bother reading it, but my friend (who found it) said “did you notice he quotes the Declaration of Independence, Gandhi and then talks about Clint Eastwood and Eminem?”” –simdynasty.com
    “That thing is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.” –simdynasty.com
    “Fuck! I actually have to come back and read this later as it will take too long right now. Fucking hell though!”
    @TWITTER: Wow! Most amazing videogame patent ever. Save the earth from communism by not shooting the hooker! 120page WIN tinyurl.com/savehooker –twitter.com/DenUngeHerrHolm

    “actually a fallout 3 mod based on this shit would be boss as f#@&. you could totally do it, you fight the communist chinese ghouls and use speech trees to save the wasteland from collectivism” –perianwyr somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    “All of us who have been struggling to work out how to make meaningful games and interactive narratives can rest easy. The problem has been solved.” –wordsonplay.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/system-and-method-for-creating-exalt
    ed-video-games-and-virtual-
    realities-wherein-ideas-have-consequences/

    @TEAMXBOX
    VIDEO GAME IDEA OF THE CENTURY!
    teamxbox.com/showthread.php?t=623861
    “Video Game Idea of the Century!” –Garp
    “This would be the most abstract game ever. I’d play it.” –Dutch
    “That game would be so different that it would have to be good. I’d definitely play it!” –Z A C K
    “I’d play it.” –Bleeding Black

    “here is my concept art for a communist zombie please hire me to make your video game ”
    –img0841.paintedover.com/uploads/0841/chinese_remnant_sergeant.jpg –perianwyr
    forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=10

    @NEOGAF
    THIS IS THE GREATEST VIDEOGAME PATENT I HAVE EVER READ:
    neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=366448
    “This is the greatest videogame patent I’ve ever read.” –EmCeeGramr
    “I think this guy has golden humour.” –Foxspirit
    “Do a Google search on Dr. Elliot McGucken, the dude who filed for the patent. It will blow your mind.” –Zealous D.
    “That’s awesome.” –Tentacle
    “Is this a patent or the insane ratings of mad man?” –speculawyer
    “This thread is so full of win I hardly know what to do with it.”
    “Each line, I keep thinking, ‘This is the funniest shit ever.’ And then I read another line, and…HOW DOES IT KEEP GETTING BETTER?” –alistairw
    “Can you imagine having the guy as your physics professor?”
    “Thread is amazing, though. I can’t help but hope that he’s somehow trolling the patent system…it must be amazing to be a patent worker trying to review it. “And then the player must choose to not quote Marx, thus exalting his classical soul?!””

    @I LOVE MANCHESTER MUSIC (IN THE UK)
    “Fu&*^! I actually have to come back and read this later as it will take too long right now. Fucking hell though!”
    ilovemanchestermusic.co.uk/forum/lofiversion/index.php/t8875.html

    @SIMDYNASTY.COM
    “THE BEST THING TO EVER COME OUT OF MY JOB!”
    forum.simdynasty.com/viewthread.php?tid=215205
    “”One man with a gun can control 100 without one. I will suck your blood. Sounds fun. ”
    “the name is “System and method for creating exalted video games and virtual realities wherein ideas have consequences its part of public record, the publication number is 20090017866. Put that number into google and it shows up. The free patent places online generally have the description, but none of the images (which are all similar flow charts). I didnt bother reading it, but my friend (who found it) said “did you notice he quotes the Declaration of Independence, Gandhi and then talks about Clint Eastwood and Eminem?” ”

    @GAMASUTRA:
    “You are clearly a very intelligent, self-driven, inspired and passionate person with vision. What scares me most is I agree with the core pillars of what you are saying. That said some of your flowcharts kill me, I almost died laughing today both from your patent and the Neogaf thread. “When the worst student is told about the way he laughs out loud; if he did not laugh, it would not be good enough to be the way.” -Lao Tzu

    I admire you for your boldness. Honestly don’t think your patent is enforceable, but if you are looking to develop work in the multi-threaded vain your work suggests, you are certainly creating a lot of buzz to leverage. You’ve managed to steer this thread in a different direction…” –Stephen Dinehart
    gamasutra.com/view/feature/4061/dramatic_play.php#comments

    @GAMASUTRA:
    Ranger, I was not aware of that work, and many of the ideas that I am trying to work out are in there. However, I have a fundamental beef with some parts of it, such as the uselessness of the Hero’s Journey as a narrative structure, the fact that it is a method, not a story, and the fact that it is about game implementation rather than story creation. On the other hand, if such a system ever actually sees the light of day, it would be the perfect tool for creating truly epic interactive stories. My other beef is its generality; I can see three generations of academic debate over just one of the 21 statements: “The method in claim 1 where the said ideas are based upon the pivotal plot points of the great books and classics.” –Jeff Spock
    gamasutra.com/blogs/JeffSpock/20090625/2134/What_Is_A_Good_Game_Story
    .php

    @SOMETHINGAWFUL:
    “Why couldn’t there be a version where, in order to win, you must distribute Marx, Bakunin, and Kropotkin, creating solidarity among the prostitutes, leading to rebellion against the pimps and the establishment of a prostitute’s union?”
    forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=8

    “LF: where the character can battle for said ideas that are based upon classical moral and economic principles of famous philosophers” –Total Hell –forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=8

    “dude this is pretty interesting i hope you keep posting around here for a while” –Jay B. Bulworth –forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    “mcgucken i would totally buy the shit out of your game ” –Goatstein

    “One of the reasons Spore fell flat is that it forgot to incorproate the mechanisms which separate humanity from the rest of the universe–our moral soul’s natural, exalted longing for truth, beauty, and justice–the fruits of epic storytelling and exalted mytholgies.” –Dr. E

    “You, sir, are fascinating. So much so that I’m not sure where to start.” –Hayt, forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=9

    @AMAZON:
    Publius says:
    “I’d probably plop down $45 bucks for your band of revolutionaries versus Marxist zombies shoot-em-up/philosophize-em-up video game.”
    amazon.com/New-Libertarian-Video-Game-Patent/forum/Fx1LHCC8HH8X3OO/Tx
    37RQ60U78VZMY/1/ref=cm_cd_dp_tft_tp?%5Fencoding=UTF8&s=books&asin=1416562850&sto
    re=books

    “EA has been struggling to develop new hits to bolster its lineup of reliable sequels to games like the John Madden football series. The company said in late September that it had sold to retailers roughly two million copies of Spore, an ambitious evolution-themed PC game, but it is not clear if Spore was a hit or a profitable game.” –nytimes.com/2009/04/10/arts/television/10arts-VIDEOGAMECRE_BRF.html

    “The company also has been under pressure from investors and game makers to come up with creative new game franchises, and critics say it has struggled to do so. The somewhat more iconoclastic Take-Two publishing house was seen by some investors as a union that could bolster Electronic Arts’ creative efforts.” –nytimes.com/2008/08/18/technology/18iht-19game.15401246.html

    Well, why not incorporate ideas that have consequences and open the floodgates for billions in revenue and a new generation of games?

    “here is my concept art for a communist zombie please hire me to make your video game ”
    –paintedover.com/uploads/0841/chinese_remnant_sergeant.jpg –perianwyr
    somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3143589&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=10

    @EEGRA:
    eegra.com/pages/show/title/31_05_2009_Sunday_Sundries___quot_NPC1_bec
    omes_vampire_communist_quot_/
    Sunday Sundries: “NPC1 becomes vampire/communist” “A video game method and system for creating games where ideas have consequences, incorporating branching paths that correspond to a player’s choices, wherein paths correspond to decisions founded upon ideals, resulting in exalted games with deeper soul and story, enhanced characters and meanings, and exalted gameplay.” Includes a communist vampire.

    Yes–building a prototype will happen in a natural manner, and probably soon, though I am patient!

    Soon we will be able to walk into Best Buy & pick up such novel games incorproating the Gold 45 Revolver/Ideas Have consequences/Moral Premise technologies!

    There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this luke-warmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. – Niccolo Machiavelli

    twitterfeed runcibleansible: RT @ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F 5 days ago from DestroyTwitter juliandibbell: RT @ibogost

    5 days ago from web ibogost: System and Method for Creating Exalted Video Games and Virtual Realities Wherein Ideas Have Consequences is.gd/1gg5F (via @ncroal) 5 days ago from Tweetie arminbw: patent: System and method for creating exalted video games and VRs wherein ideas have consequences – bit.ly/JV14 (via @MituK)

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