Talking About Tropes is a series where I talk about storytelling tropes and my thoughts on them. I also talk about certain tropes related to my works and why I used them for that specific story. Today, I discuss how we can improve games that rely on narrative storytelling.
I love a good story. Video game stories are wonderful experiences and combined with in depth gameplay, can produce experiences that are unlike anything I’ve seen. However, they have a gigantic flaw. Imagine this scenario.
You pick up the latest narrative-driven game. It has an open world environment, a gripping story, and characters that are memorable. From gaming sites, you discover that the story can run up to over 30-40 hours long, assuming you do everything the story tells you. So you play it and you get into it. You try to complete as many side-quests as possible and get invested in the main story.
But then, real life takes over, and you become sidetracked. Perhaps you’re on vacation and kind of forget about the game. Maybe another, more simpler game has taken your time. Perhaps you invest more in your real life friends than the character’s stats.
But you’ll get back in a few days, right? The story’s fresh in your mind. Except those days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and finally, you pick it back up, deciding to beat it. There’s one problem.
What were you doing eight months ago when you last played? Where are you in the story? What quest were you on? And why are you smack dab in the middle of nowhere without your pants?
The Narrative Game Amnesia has struck, and your only option is to delete 10+ hours of progress and start from square one. This came about with a recent idea on twitter that narrative-driven games should come with an option to catch players who have been out of it for a while. Who might abandon the game temporarily due to IRL issues and come back.
I don’t understand why this wasn’t a thing to begin with. These games are pretty long and can be massive time sinks for many gamers. Yet too often, I come back to a game wondering “Wait, what happened before this?” I don’t mean the story, I mean, having a boat load of quests and not having any idea how you got them or who to return them to.
I’ve lapsed on a few of these games (many I’ve reviewed, admittedly), and I feel like I need a refresher on where I was at one point so I can go back as if nothing happened. Now, this might seem like a non-issue, but if most of us have jobs, get a paycheck, and live a normal adult life. This wasn’t years ago, when a kid could sit at the TV on a weekend and play Super Metroid or Sonic The Hedgehog and beat it in a few weeks. Games are getting longer, more dramatic than ever. Stories are becoming complex.
Lapsing isn’t possible. Unless you make time to beat a 40 hour long game (like watching an entire season without knowing what happened prior, or starting mid season), it’ll take months. And there’s always new games coming out, longer and harder than the last.
So what do we do about it? Even if developers got off their collective behinds and did something about it, what do we do? Well, I’ve seen some games have a cutscene theater where you can watch past cutscenes. A nice idea, but without context, it’s hard to follow at times. I’ve suggested a “last episode” style cutscene that lasts about a minute and then puts you back in the game.
It’d be interesting to see how it’s implemented without it occurring too often. I say, two weeks minimum. If you haven’t played in two weeks, have either a cutscene or a summary. Maybe have set cutscenes that start at certain chapters, so when you kill a big boss, or experience a spoiler-y moment, then it’ll include that in addition to previous scenes.
Text might work at the loading screen, but who’s gonna read that. And if it’s one of those games where it jumps in after loading, then what’s the point? Especially if you play a PC game and run an SSD Drive. Basically, your load times are non-existent.
Now, for those who might bring it up, yes, books are the same. They’re super long (Fantasy is a huge offender), plus for some, it can take at most a month to finish. If you pick up a book that has a bookmark half way into the book, and it’s been three months since you’ve last read it, you’ll no doubt be trying to fit the pieces together. Again, it’s like watching a TV series mid season with no context of the earlier seasons.
It’s commitment to everything. And whether you’re a book lover or a gamer, you gotta commit to a story. Games are a different beast, since you have to know how to kill bosses and solve puzzles. Most story-based games have a difficulty mode that just lets you experience the story, but where’s the fun in that? It’s a game that requires the player beat it through intuition and skill.
Some games do have wonderful stories and tales, and I hope game developers consider some sort of story catchup option. It’d be harder for books, unless Amazon or Apple implemented such a summary, but that’d be on the authors or the publishers to add. It’s a slippery slope that has no easy answer.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. I can go on for a long time, but how would you solve this? Have you experienced anything like this before? Would you love a catch-up summary or cutscene to a game. Which game or book did you want to catch up on, but never had the time. Let me know in the comments below.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.