Video games are interesting as a form of entertainment. On one hand, they are fully interactive forms of media, where you, as the player, manipulate and interact with the avatar within its given world. The direct interactivity of video games is what undoubtedly distinguishes it from other forms of entertainment media.
On the other hand, video games can create some of the most immersive narratives across all forms of entertainment. Especially since video games do a great job of immersing players into their worlds.
However, there has been a constant debate about what aspect should take precedence, gameplay or narrative beat?. We here at LOGNET opened this question to our talented and unique writers for their takes on this never-ending debate. Check out our full thoughts below.
Narrative (even GREAT narrative) Should Take A Backseat to Gameplay Design
Juan Guzman, Writer
Gameplay design is and has always been the core element of any video game. It determines how the player interacts with a game world and its challenges. A fantastic and clever design of player interaction can create a fun, engaging, and rewarding experience. In its simplest terms, this is what makes a video game, a great video game regardless of its story. A great narrative or story cannot compensate for poor gameplay design. Therefore, the design of the game mechanics should take precedence over narrative writing in video games, while narrative should be seen as a complementary feature that enhances the gameplay design.
A few examples that come to mind include Mario 64, Portal, and Tony Hawk Pro Skater, which have all received critical acclaim and commercial success for their innovative and immersive mechanics. Portal stands out because it further highlights the importance of building a great core gameplay mechanic first and then leveraging it further in its sequel, Portal 2, with a great story. However, without that gameplay mechanic, it would simply be a bad game with a good story. A good story is consumable through any other medium.
In conclusion, gameplay design is more important than narrative in video games because it directly impacts the player’s enjoyment and satisfaction with what they are playing. Narrative writing can enhance the gameplay by adding depth, emotion, and meaning to the game world and its characters, but it cannot save a game from a bad gameplay design.
Dan Amoroso, Associate Editor
Truthfully, I’ve always been mostly about gameplay. A good story in a game is a great bonus for me, but I play games to PLAY them, not to watch them – that’s why movies exist.
If a game has a poor story but excellent gameplay, I will still happily play it. But if it has awful gameplay and an excellent story, there’s no way I’d stay engaged for very long.
This is probably why the Souls games and their extended family are my favorite genre. They keep the narrative to a minimum and make sure the gameplay and action are front and centre. So it perfectly aligns with my preferences! Gameplay is king, and will always be king.
Ty Richardson, Writer
I am not against having a story in my video games, but over the last several years, I have gotten pretty fatigued over how heavily focused it is. To me, story is nothing more than another layer of spectacle in the world of gaming. Not to say it’s completely worthless, but it rarely ever adds anything to what you’re doing with the controller. Video games are about challenge and execution. There is no challenge in pressing X to pick up a note or walk next to a character.
The focus on story has gotten so out of hand recently that it is starting to overstep gameplay and take centerstage. This is leading to problems with not just a game’s quality, but game development as well.
We’ve been hearing about budgets being ridiculous for a while now, yet no one sits and thinks about how important certain story segments are in a game. I can point out several moments in Spider-Man 2 that I would argue SHOULD have been cut.
Video Game Gameplay vs Narrative: Stories are Essential Parts of the Experience
Ty Tano, Senior Writer & Social Media Manager
I have always viewed video games as a great medium for storytelling along with being an escape to a new world. Perfect game formulas often involve a marriage between fun gameplay and an engaging narrative. However, I find the narrative to weigh heavier in my personal enjoyment of games.
Some of my most memorable games in my library had a defining story beat that stuck with me. I’m an actor by trade, and great storytelling is a reflection of the human experience. It makes you feel something and illicit a cathartic response. These stories evolve as people evolve, and you are able to immerse yourself in these worlds, unlike television or movies.
Jonathan Haile, Writer
Video games are one of the most unique forms of art. They offer a level of interactivity that no other storytelling medium can give. I’ve experienced some of the most profound and impactful stories within games that have changed my life. There are no restrictions on the story’s length or practical roadblocks such as real-world locations and production crew. It allows the artist to tell whatever type of story they feel the world needs to experience, there are no limits.
With a game, you can tell a story not only through dialogue, music, or environments but also through the gameplay mechanisms themselves. There should be no conflict between the two, one should not compromise the other. They need to seamlessly work together, and games need to have both story and gameplay but it’s up to the developers how heavily they want to lean into either direction.
Art is one of the truest forms of human expression. It’s an everlasting time capsule of the person that made it. Video games give opportunities to not only writers to tell stories but also programmers, level designers, 3D modelers, etc. That’s what makes video games such a beautiful product, it’s the culmination of 100s of people’s artistic expressions only married together to deliver a worthwhile experience.
Jason Rose, Writer
At the wise age of 44, I cut my teeth on the SMS and NES. All we really had was gameplay and it will always be the core to our hobby. I WILL not play a game that plays poorly, but gun to my head in 2023, I need a reason to play. For that reason and by the narrowest of margins, the edge goes to story and characters.
The deciding factor though ultimately, is genre. I don’t demand as much gameplay-wise from my RPGs as I do say, my action games. A cardinal sin of say a Bayonetta would be poor gameplay, adversely that role flips with an RPG like Final Fantasy.
Both matter, nothing matters, what were we talking about again?
Chris Jones, Senior Writer
When it comes to my thoughts, if I had to choose between gameplay and story I’m going with story. Some of my all-time favorite games are older games that have amazing stories that hold up to this day. But some people might night enjoy the gameplay in the modern era. I always love a good enticing story that keeps me absorbed and drawn in. You end up losing track of time and all of a sudden 10 or so hours have passed and you didn’t realize it because you were enthralled in some type of amazing story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy amazing gameplay as well. It’s just the stories that draw you in and sinks it hooks into it what I favor in this battle. My favorite genre is JRPGs and they have some of the most amazing and deep stories that I’ve just always been drawn to that over gameplay. So, in the argument of good story vs good gameplay, I choose story.
Gameplay and Narrative Need Balance
Daniel May, Assistant Editor
Gameplay and narrative do not exist without each other. Narrative informs what type of gameplay is possible and gameplay tells us what our character can do. Video game’s unique feature as a medium is giving the audience control.
We get the world and the tools to interact with, and we get to put ourselves in the characters’ shoes like no other. It’s one thing with games like Tetris which are entirely gameplay-driven, but we’re still put into a “world” to interact with.
Mahmood Ghaffar, Editor-in-Chief
Having been raised with the NES and the arcades, gameplay is the most important aspect of the medium and essentially what differentiates video games from other forms of media. It will always remain the most profound part of the video game experience. It’s what drives me to continue to play video games, as I appreciate the active nature of its participation.
However, that’s not to say that narrative and story beats don’t have a place in video game. Some of my most memorable games are ones with deep and rich stories and characters. The Metal Gear Solid franchise is near and dear to me. Mostly because of its fantastic characters that still reverberate with me to this day. Although the story is all over the place (looking at you La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo) thanks Kojima!
What are you takes on the never-ending video game gameplay vs narrative debate? Let us know in the comment section below.