Gameology 17 - Narrative

Show Notes

Mathew and Attila discuss narrative in games, and the dichotomy between games which put story first with lacking gameplay and action games which don't bother to tell a good story. Games discussed in the show:

Donkey Kong

The Legend of Zelda


Bioshock (series)

Metal Gear Solid V

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Half Life

Uncharted (series)

The Last of Us

Telltale Games (Walking Dead)

Mass Effect (series)

Braid (video game)

Dark Souls


Mega Man (series)

Bastion (video game)

Extended Thoughts

Some of the best narrative experiences presented in games are ones which acknowledge the interactive nature of the medium. Since the player is an active participant, it can be difficult to offer the player enough freedom in the story while still telling the story the author wanted to tell. On top of that, in some games you can only make a guess at the player's pace in completing objectives and advancing the story. In the case of games where the player has a choice in which objective they will tackle, and where in the world they will go, the pacing is further hampered. A game's narrative must also never be at odds with the gameplay or, at best, players will want to skip it, at worst, they will actively dislike it. Due to the added challenges that interactivity brings, rather than letting a story "unfold" in the traditional sense, games must weave the narrative into the world.
Every single aspect of a game has the potential to contribute to the narrative. If non-playable characters simply spout a line of tutorial dialog at you, they won't feel like they are contributing to the narrative. They should feel like actual people, with real motivations and relationships with other characters and the world around them. The world itself can also serve to further the narrative, serving as the canvas onto which characters express themselves, and reveal something about themselves. Even items can contain some element of the game's story. Beyond simply their utility purpose, every item can have a lore description of a fragment of one that comes together to contribute to the larger narrative. The more factors you have contributing to your game's narrative, the more fully realized the world will feel.