Why Do Video Games Suck at Stories?

11 May 2011 | Posted by

game stories ocarina of time

The Achilles’s Heel of gaming, at least from the perspective of a serious contender as an artistic medium, has always been the lack of decent storytelling. While there are a few great examples here and there that highlight exactly what video games can accomplish if they have ample development time and a strong writer in the design team, gaming has sort of let this facet slip away.

In a recent article on The Escapist, Jonathan Davis digs a little deeper into this issue and points out a few games that have successful narrative structures, mostly through their adherence to Joseph Campbell’s concept of the “monomyth”, or Christopher Vogler’s famous “The Hero’s Journey”. Mr. Davis makes a strong argument that the reason games lack narrative punch is because most gaming protagonists don’t have an internal conflict that needs to be resolved, cutting out the all important step of “Resurrection” where the hero overcomes their personal demons and solves the external conflict.

Since most of the characters we control only confront external obstacles, there’s very little room for development, leaving even the coolest action scenes feeling hollow and uninvolved. Games like Ocarina of Time, BioShock and Braid are all singled out for having stories that actually matter to the player, mostly because they have a satisfying resolution to the hero’s issues.

The whole article is really well thought out and examines video games through the lens of a very tried and true structure that most developers ignore. While we’ve taken a look at the issues games face from a similar standpoint, this gives us a new way of thinking about things. If only game designers would consider this in the future, then we might get some titles with a better focus on what matters story wise. What do you guys think about this? What games do you enjoy that follow “The Hero’s Journey” and are stronger because of it? Go!

Source – The Escapist, Link picture by Justin Cherry

One Comment »

  • SkubaPatr0l said:

    The few that follow “The Hero’s Journey” don’t really spring to mind that easily. The only one in my head is Red Dead Redemption. Maybe Dragon Age: Origins was the next best thing, though its Act 3 was all of 15 minutes, ie. the coronation/funeral (maybe even less depending on how short your epilogue was lol). But even at that I’m really not too sure if that counts.
    I want more Redemption esque endings as I really enjoyed the farm work (I come from a farming family so maybe it resonated with me) and the father-son relationship development.