Games? Stories? Both? Neither?

I thought that Aarseth’s article regarding games as stories or texts was fascinating. He mentioned that because of the “academic discovery” of games, they have been pressured to fit into an “acceptable” form of art or literature. But why not let games stand on their own? Do they have to be stories or texts? Why can’t games just be games and have elements of other art forms, like music and stories? People rarely criticize the idea that music can tell a story, or it can stand on its own–so why can’t video games do the same?

I like what Koster said about games, that “[stories] add interesting shading to the game but the game at its core is unchanged.” I think he has the right idea–that a story can be part of a game and can affect the game–but that a game doesn’t have to (or in Koster’s case, shouldn’t) be classified as a story.

I don’t think stories and games are completely separate, though. For example, I started playing Super Paper Mario on the Wii the other night. (Note: this was before I read Aarseth’s article.) I found myself realizing that I kept pressing the buttons frantically in order to make the text of the characters speed up so that I could get to the “good stuff”–the game. I wasn’t terribly interested in the storyline; I just wanted to go jump around and squash things and collect coins. Clearly, I’m not much of an RPG person. So, I switched to Super Mario Bros., in which I could do those things–just jump around and squash things and collect coins without having to be told exactly where I was and what I was doing and what had happened to Princess Peach.

What that says to me is that, for some people, there is a conflict between the gameplay and the storytelling. I was on the side of the gameplay rather than the storytelling. Some people might like Super Paper Mario better because they like having a story to go along with their game. I am not one of those people.

Overall, I would have to agree with Aarseth’s notion that games and stories have distinct artistic potentials. I don’t think a game should be classified strictly as a story; I think it should be classified as a game with elements of storytelling, but storytelling should not take over the aspect of play.

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3 Responses to Games? Stories? Both? Neither?

  1. Jason Ko says:

    It is strange because a lot of people often feel as you do, and want to skip dialogue or cut-scenes and get to the “real game.” It seems that this has become a problem in the game industry, as some are starting to suggest that we allow the player to skip gameplay just as we allow skipping of cut-scenes.

    I don’t think that this is the correct course of action. Instead, it would be better to see more games where cut-scenes were replaced with more interactive forms of dialogue, and dialogue was more interactive and had more impact on the overall story or game mechanics.

    I know I have the same impulse to hit the buttons really fast to advance the text, and I actually really enjoy RPGs. This is probably because I never feel like the text scrolls fast enough for my reading speed. Even so, I found that this tendency can be detrimental in games like Epic Mickey, where your every action can effect the world and characters around you. In fact, I accidentally made a decision which was the opposite of the one I wanted to select, and almost reset my game. It made me think for a second, as I often have felt that way after losing too many lives in Mario or a similar game, but I can not think of many other instances where such a strong response was garnered from such a simple misplaced action.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I agree that a game shouldn’t be called a story, though I think that there are varying degrees of storytelling in games. There can be no story in a game, and I think the original Tetris is an example of this. The only point is to create a solid row. While you could argue that it is a metaphor (like the quote Aarseth used in the article) and the story lies within the deeper meaning of the game, you could also say that Tetris is just a spatial reasoning puzzle. And then there are games with only basic stories-brief texts telling you to complete a task, or no texts but different levels that lead you to the ‘boss’ and the end. There is usually a point to defeating the boss, such as rescuing someone else, or preventing the boss from doing something in the game. Then there are games where it is much more apparent that there are stories in the game. RPG’s, for example, usually have some kind of story involved. Some stories might not be apparent at first, or you may only know a small amount of the story at first, but you slowly learn more and more about the world and what’s going on, so when you finally reach the end, everything makes sense.

    I honestly like games that have a story more that games that don’t. While it may be fun to just go around and, as you said, “squash things and collect coins”, sooner or later that can become repetitive and boring. A game with a good story, though, can bring new and different challenges and a feeling of achievement for completeing them.

  3. Sonia says:

    I agree with you. I do not understand why there has to be a fine line between story and game. I feel that it is more of a spectrum where some games have a lot of story, while others completely lack any narrative.

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