As a huge DC Comics fan, I’m always in the mood for a good Batman story. So, a few weeks ago I decided to purchase Batman: The Telltale Series. Although, I thoroughly enjoyed the title, a few of the gamers I recommended the game to did not see the point in purchasing a game in which the primary objective was to make decisions and watch the story unfold.
The common argument that I kept on encountering was that if one was not performing some sort of physical activity (shooting, fighting, etc.) then the game was simply not worth it. Supposedly, if you want to watch how a story will play out, you should read a book or watch a film.
These notions actually got me thinking about what makes a good game, and whether gamers as a whole, place greater value on better gameplay features or a compelling narrative. Perhaps, even, both may be required for a game to be considered truly great?
As a general guide for universally acclaimed games, I decided to look at lists of former Game of the Year winners and nominees. When looking through these past winners and nominees, it quickly becomes apparent that this a very difficult question to answer as not all of the titles that occupy these lists have both great narratives and great gameplay.
A few commonly indicated examples of popular titles that many gamers claim to have amazing narratives, but substandard gameplay elements include, the Mass Effect series and Bioshock Infinite. Whereas examples of titles that gamers claim to have substandard storylines, but fantastic gameplay elements include, Metal Gear Solid V and the Borderlands series. These are all highly acclaimed titles, but each has a handful of flaws that most gamers were willing to overlook.
If one is to go on the basis of this idea, it would seem that most gamers are willing to give some video games with poor narrative or gameplay leeway if one component makes up for the other. For example, a game with a poor storyline won’t always be judged particularly harshly if it has great gameplay and vice-versa.
Perhaps, however, one should not really be looking at gameplay and narrative as two wholly separate components.
Gameplay is very important because it often shapes our initial opinion of a title. Most gamers do, at first, tend to place greater emphasis on gameplay elements because they generally determine if you want to go on playing a title.
If you start up a game and every time you attempt to perform a particular combat move, or head to a particular direction of the map and the game decides to freeze, you will be less likely to want to play on further. In such instances, the quality of the narrative of the game in question will not really matter if the game is completely unplayable due to poor design or any other number of problems.
Basically, if there is anything majorly wrong with a title’s gameplay mechanics, or simply something that you do not like about them, you are definitely going to feel somewhat apprehensive about playing it.
After it has been established that the game is indeed playable, or that you aren’t annoyed by the gameplay features, focus begins to shift to other aspects, particularly to that of the quality of the narrative.
Good gameplay has the ability to keep you entertained for a single title, but a good narrative is what makes you want to invest in a franchise. You keep on buying games in a series because you want to know what will happen in the next chapter of the story.
A common belief is that what sells most franchises, gaming or otherwise, is the lore that is associated with them, but then Call of Duty is one of the best-selling video game series of all time.
Video game comment sections would have you believe that gameplay is everything, but then strong narrative-driven games, such as Gone Home, have received increasing recognition over the past couple of years.
The criteria for what makes a great game is very personal. Some gamers simply don’t care for narratives, whereas others are willing to forgo more ‘active’ gameplay for a stronger story. I know that I generally tend to favor games with stronger narratives, but I do like most of the games I play to have both good narrative and gameplay.
At the end of the day, the criteria for a game, although personal, should be simple. The only question you should really be asking is whether you had fun. If the game failed to meet this requirement, then it has sort of missed its objective completely.