I recently completed inFamous, a game that sat about 3/4 complete for about a year. Part of my loss of interest came from it freezing up, some from the frustration of the way getting hit once could get you killed as you stumble over the place but a hefty chunk was finding the plot and characters just fucking stupid.
The game’s plot was about a ray-sphere or something that gave powers and was driven by a bunch of ridiculous, poor dialog and annoying characters constantly blethering away during intense fights with the main character narating in a disinterested tone. The gameplay itself was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the god awful storytelling actually put me off playing. If I’m enjoying the core gameplay & action then in truth, I don’t care what the reason behind something is. Go there and take out a bunch of bad guys? Hells yeah. However having to stop and listen to some character that I don’t care about harp on about secret hush hush super private things and some device or bad guy who I don’t really know or give a damn about… well that makes me decide “okay, enough for me”.
Of course inFamous isn’t the only example of this. Grand Theft Auto IV sits in my uncompleted pile of games because I found the characters and story far from compelling. The core action in this game is reasonably fun but because the storytelling was so integral to completing the game, I was put off from playing any further.
Lets not just look at slating games though. I’d rather take a step back and remember some of the best games that I’ve ever played, classic Sega, Nintendo and 90s PC shooters. Did anyone care about the plot in Doom, Duke Nukem 3D or Quake? What exactly is the point and deeper meaning behind a blue hedgehog that goes really really fast? My point is, I loved playing these games that according to modern day critics are dumb and shallow. Being a deep, intelligent and complex game does not make it a classic. There has to be gameplay and I find creative, innovative and enjoyable game mechanisms far more important than a plot. Similarly I didn’t get part way through and go “what is my motivation for playing?” or question the deeper meaning. I was having fun. That’s why I play on. Sure there’s a background story, give a bit of context, but the game focuses on just being… fun. In some of the modern equivalents we now sit through boring cut scenes or put more emphasis on character building but not always with great success. I ask the question, is that necessary?
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that games don’t need to be clever, deep and meaningful. If you don’t have a rich and compelling plot, then just provide something wafer thing and let your gameplay do the talking. Don’t hinder the player’s overall enjoyment of a session with a crap story and endless lame cut scenes… just let them play the game.
Note: This should be obvious but of course having a great plot that is told superbly is of course a good thing. My point its don’t waste my time on a shit story, especially when your game itself is actually pretty good fun to play!