From Wikipedia: ” Ludology vs. Narratology debates. The narratological view is that games should be understood as novel forms of narrative and can thus be studied using theories of narrative (Murray, 1997; Atkins, 2003). The ludological position is that games should be understood on their own terms.”
Big words scare me, so I’m going to call this Gameplay Vs Storylines 🙂
Both gameplay and story are important to me. But if I had to pick just one, it’s an easy choice. The most important aspect of a ‘game’ is ‘gameplay’, this just seems like common sense! Other media such as films and books are pretty much designed to be all about story, but in games, story is definitely optional. Just look at Tetris, a really fun addictive game that has no story or set up whatsoever. Or the Mario games, where the entire story is “Save the Princess”, yet the games are still amazing. Clearly, games don’t NEED a storyline.
Flying through space narrowly avoiding jets of lava… but why!?!?!
This is not to say story in games is meaningless. A great story is definitely welcome, and can give context and added meaning to the gameplay. An example would be God Of War, a game with brutally enjoyable gameplay. However, it also has a deep, tragic storyline. The anti-hero, Kratos, was a powerful warlord, who was tricked into murdering his family by Ares, the God Of War. The game is about Kratos, filled with rage and wracked with guilt, seeking his revenge. This adds so much more emotion to the game. As tough and brutal and angry as Kratos is, there is always the knowledge that he will never be happy and can never really redeem himself. No matter how much power, glory, or vengeance he obtains, nothing will bring back his family or ease his guilt. I started the game admiring Kratos as an awesome badass warrior, but near the end I just felt sorry for the guy. It was as if all his anger was just something to fill the void left by his loss. For me, this really elevates God Of War from “just” a game, to, dare I say it… art?
Maybe he just needs a hug?
Having said that, as much as I enjoy a good game story, I’m not a big fan of cutscenes in games. I think the main advantage a game has over a book or movie is interaction, and as soon as a cutscene starts playing the interaction stops. Ideally a game should tell it’s story through the gameplay, if that makes sense! I wholeheartedly agree with the old saying “show, don’t tell”. Don’t have the gameplay stop just so a cutscene can “tell” me what’s happening in story. Instead, “show” me what’s happening through the gameplay and level design.
Bioshock is amazing for this. The entire game, from the first second of the intro the the last moment of the ending, is all seen through your character’s eyes. There are no cutscenes, just events that happen within the gameplay. So, for example, I’m not told outright what happened in the city. But I see crates marked “EVIDENCE” filled with Bibles (!), there is hate filled graffiti on the walls, I see official notices that the transport systems have been “Locked Down Until Further Notice”, the metro stations are filled with broken barricades, strewn with luggage and blood. All of these sights, and many more, help tell the story of this dark place. And all without me putting my controller down once, without listening to some patronising dialogue, and without it feeling contrived. It’s one of the best, most naturally told game stories I have ever experienced.
What a pleasant place!
Just as one example of cutscene silliness. There is a cutscene in “Devil May Cry 3” that shows the hero, Dante the demon slayer, getting stabbed brutally by multiple demon blades. His reaction is one of complete nonchalance, as he calmly strides away, a smirk on his face, blades still hanging out of him. Go to “0.33” in the video below and see for yourself. This contrasts horribly with the actual gameplay, where Dante will be killed off with a couple of hits. The rest of the video is pretty silly too 😛
Hmmm I’ve rambled on here quite a bit. Time to end this before I die of old age and fear. If I had to pick one, I’d say I’m a Ludologist. I won’t play a game if the gameplay isn’t enjoyable. But ideally, a great story told through great gameplay is best! 😀