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Casual Difficulty: Do Games Need Stories?

Posted on Friday, September 3 @ 12:25:46 Eastern by Jesse_Costantino
What games uniquely offer, however, is an experience that depends instead on developing a feeling for where you are. A quick glance at the highest-rated games of the past few years indicates just how important setting is: Grand Theft Auto IV, Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, Red Dead Redemption, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It’s far easier for us to remember where these games take place than it is for us to recall what happened in them. This is what immersion is really about.

Part of what makes crowd pleasers like Rock Band and Mario Kart so successful with non-traditional gamers is the almost total absence of plot. This isn’t because non-gamers “don’t get it”. It’s because plot oftentimes gets in the way of a great game experience.

  You can sympathize with the thoughts of a non-gamer: “I don’t want to know the history of the Zerg or the reasons for Captain Price’s imprisonment. I just want to play the damn game.” There’s an endearing honesty to that attitude.

Last year’s surprise hit Demon’s Souls was striking for many reasons, but From Software’s most daring innovation was making a long, complex RPG with almost no plot. Instead, the game oozes with atmosphere and a strong sense of place. And what keeps the game from feeling like an endless and monotonous grind are its memorable locales.

The plot of Demon’s Souls is no more intricate than is the plot of Super Mario Bros.; yet its settings are as complex as any virtual world could hope to be. Likewise, MMO designers have recognized that not only is plot difficult to do on a massive scale, it’s just not necessary. Most MMOs rely instead on conveying a unique history, culture, and geography—that is to say, setting.

Until recently, I had thought that it was my fault that I couldn’t stomach bad game writing, clunky dialogue, and amateurish voice-acting. But as the explosion in casual game design has shown me, the fault may not lie with me. Nor do I blame bad or untalented writers. The real problem may be that we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Perhaps we could all use a good mini-game enema now and again.

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