History and Story

When I was a kid I loved the heck out of my NES. It was a fascinating system: games could afford to become elaborate (yet also rudimentary) stories, more than simple pixels going to and fro. I stopped playing just to reach a high score or just get to the next screen, but rather to find out what happened next. The medium reached new heights in the SNES era, and it has gotten more and more complex ever since, thanks to advances in technology and storage that allow for voice and video content.

I always raise my eyebrow at people that play story-driven games but skip all cutscenes or dialogue. Never mind that sometimes they are skipping important information on how to actually progress (plug the second controller, god damn it!), I’m more curious as to why they are driven to just skip everything lore-related and “play the game”. It is a perfectly valid way to play games, of course, but it just doesn’t apply well to certain genres. A Call of Duty multiplayer match doesn’t really need much of an expository banter – players just want to get on with it and enjoy the fast-paced matches. The single player campaign? Sure, it’s not Oscar material, but the story tries to at least give motivation behind your actions and those of the characters you meet.

This is particularly true for RPGs and MMOs. In the latter, a good story is the difference between “pick 2 sheep” and “bring back two sheep that have escaped the farm and are urgently needed for their wool”. Sure, both cases imply magically cramming full-sized animals into your inventory, but the second method exposes a reason for you to do so beyond “gold and lootz”, and also fleshes out the world.  In FFXIV good exposition is the difference between thinking the sky in Mor Dhona is purple “just because” and knowing exactly why it is the way it is.

Good character stories are also good motivation to invest in them. The main reason I started playing World of Warcraft was finding out there was gonna be a “Lich King expansion“. Years prior Warcraft 3 and the Frozen Throne expansion had introduced us to Prince Arthas and his journey/fall from happy-go-lucky prince to Death Knight in the service of the Legion. I was excited to know what happened next with the character. Another example would be Inspector Hildibrand Manderville, but I fear tiring you with my recent post about him last Friday. I’m 100% certain I wouldn’t have shed a tear at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4 if I hadn’t played previous entries and had invested in the world troll-king H. Kojima had set up for us.

A friend and former FC-mate skipped every single cutscene while leveling in XIV. She has already quitted XIV because she didn’t care about the world or story at all. GEE, I WONDER WHY.