With the release of two massive sequels this year in The Last of Us 2, and Doom Eternal (be sure to check out Javier’s review after this) I found myself asking a question that I’ve often wondered. Is a games story more important than its gameplay? It’s a question that comes up a lot, and one that’s complicated to answer. Looking back at the past few Game of the Year winners, it’s clear how important a compelling story can be, but two of the current most popular games in Minecraft and Fortnite don’t even have a story, at least not one which is the games main appeal. So here I am to give my opinion, and try to argue both sides.
In favour of story over gameplay, personally I love getting immersed into the experience, going through an adventure with our protagonist to a satisfying conclusion. Often my favourite games, such as The Last of Us, Uncharted and Spider-Man are story driven, and incredible stories they are. How good the story is will often be what I’ll base my recommendations on. In almost every other form of art, whether it’s films, television, even music, we expect a story. It’s escapism at its best, and why we continue to love them. Telltale is a great example of showing the importance of an interesting story, their whole model relies on it. But their story isn’t good enough, there’s nothing to fall back on.
Which brings us onto gameplay. I mentioned how the story will often be the priority when I’m recommending a game, but with those games I listed, they all had immersive gameplay to keep you interested. I spoke about Telltale and how they rely on story. Whilst I’m sure there are other companies with the same model, it is a niche market. Now think about how many games you own with no story. I’ve spent hours playing games like Fifa and Tekken, where it’s all about community, and playing with your friends. Then there’s games like Sims and Minecraft, where it’s all about creative and building your own unique world. The gameplay is the main focus.
I posed this question to myself, and whilst writing this I realise it’s redundant. I came in believing I’d be on the side of story over gameplay, but if you forced me to answer I’d now argue gameplay is more important. A game with an average story can be elevated by having incredible gameplay to build the connection between player and protagonist. But a great story can be ruined if every time you have to take control, you’re taken out of the world and end up frustrated and angry by the time the next cutscene appears. However, I don’t believe the question of “Story versus Gameplay?” can be answered. I believe the problem with this argument is the question itself. A story has a linear progression, the reader has zero impact on what’s going on, meaning the story teller only has to put in content that furthers and enhances the story, but they’re unable to do that in games. The word “game” implies there’s a choice. No matter what format a game is in, be it a video game, a board game, or even in sports, a choice needs to be made to make progression. In the case of video games that choice could be to explore, it could be which weapon you use, or even just when you time your hits. It’s all a choice the player needs to make which wouldn’t normally be there for a story, but one that will affect your experience. So how can you choose between the two? I feel this is also why we’ve never had a truly great Video Game movie. Each experience of that game is unique, and the pacing is dictated by the players choices, which is not something you have whilst that can be translated to a movie screen.
I realise I’ve strayed off topic, but as I said at the start, it’s a complicated question. If I was forced to choose, I’d now pick gameplay. Simply put, it comes down to the argument that great video game story has to have the gameplay to back it up, but you don’t always need a story to play an enjoyable game. Although this whole point falls apart when I realise my most anticipated game of 2020, like a lot of people is Last of Us 2. I’m a junkie for a great story.Become a Patron!