In pretty much every entertainment medium, there is a strive for more innovative storytelling and writing. Video games seem to be the one that doesn’t care and often doesn’t have to.
If someone were to tell you that the story of a movie didn’t matter, people would look at you like you said quite possibly the dumbest thing in the world. No shit the story matters. In a movie, what on earth would you be looking for other than what story and lore was surrounding the characters? People can say whatever they want about fight scenes and visuals. None of that would be as interesting if you knew nothing about the characters fighting or the scenery you’re looking at. Imagine if in “The Shawshank Redemption” all you saw of the movie was the shot where the two main characters meet at the beach. Say whatever you want about the one scene, it is a lesser shot without the context of their struggles and their intense, stressful climb to where they were at that point.
Same thing for books — of all kinds, obviously. Would the final fight between Harry Potter and Voldemort be anywhere NEAR as impactful if all you saw was their final duel? Narratives live and die based off the world they’re set in. All the amazing things we see in shows, movies, novels and graphic novels would be worth far less without the background the stories take place in. A story can’t be compelling without the groundwork; it goes off the same principle that a man can’t jump without solid ground to do so.
There, however, appears to be one exception in the eyes of the public: video games.
Many video games do not have the rich stories or lore of any other medium, and players of said games say that it isn’t needed. Video games stand on their own as a medium of expression where people say it doesn’t need a story.
This has been further reinforced with the surge in popularity of certain games where there often exists little to no background for any of the events that occur in the world. “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” also known as PUBG, has no story or world to speak of, and “Fortnite,” while based on a more engaging team based apocalypse tower defense, has completely forgotten its roots with little mention of lore or backstory. “Fall Guys” is much of the same, where there exists nothing that goes into the intricacies of the world, and there really isn’t a need for story in a game like this considering the mindless nature of it all. More recently, “Among Us” is a game that, again, doesn’t have any lore and sees little need for it. In general, the most popular games in the past few years haven’t been heavily based on story or really have any lore. The one exception to that in recent memory was “Cyberpunk 2077,” which was a disaster at launch and an even bigger trainwreck the more people looked into the game.
I am generally kidding when it comes to popular games nowadays not having a story. Many indie titles like “Hades” have exploded into popularity, becoming nearly universally beloved titles. At the time of writing, “Hades” has over 110 thousand reviews sitting at 98% on Steam. The game was so laden with positive reviews from the many different outlets that had played it that the acclaim page where they showed all their awards looked more like an overstuffed trophy cabinet rather than a page of scores. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a trending game like “Among Us” — again, a game with little to no story or lore — and see how many people had reviewed it.
446,000 reviews. 95%.
Quadrupling “Hades” reviews with barely a knock down of their score, “Among Us” dwarfed what is often thought to be one of the best single player experiences of 2020 by such a wide margin it could hardly be called fair.
So despite what I say about the importance of story and lore in games, why are games that don’t have any story or backstory at all so popular? There are two reasons that I have deduced:
1: Generally speaking these games are multiplayer.
Games like “Fortnite,” “Fall Guys” and “Among Us” are dependent on a stable and healthy community to play it. These games often do not have bots and thus are completely dependent on the playerbase to fill it. While it’s an extremely risky strategy, especially if the game doesn’t populate as quickly as they anticipate, what this does is encourage groups of people to buy and play the game together, boosting both the player count as well as the profits from people purchasing the game. Very few of these smash hits nowadays are singleplayer.
2: These games are easier to understand.
It’s the “Smash” thing. Beyond these games’ multiplayer components, many of them are very easy to understand and begin playing proficiently. It doesn’t take long for a person to play “Fortnite” and get the general way one is supposed to play. That said, the games still have depth, just an easier starting point.
I do still appreciate these games for what they are: opportunities for people to understand the depth of play for video games. I have NEVER heard people talk about video games out in the wild as often as I have recently. I hear people discuss games like I could never fathom people doing before. I once heard an old lady off the street talking about “Fortnite.” It is truly a marvel as to what “Fortnite,” “Fall Guys” and other games like them have done.
But the one thing that always kills it for me is this: sure, I’ve played these games before and had a good time, but I very rarely remember what occurred during that match and very rarely does it stick for a long time. However, for others, I remember clearly what happened and how it went down because I was engaged in not only a gameplay challenge but also a narrative. I have close to 1600 hours in “DOTA 2.” A game that has a TON of lore and backstory, which has always intrigued me and which is now getting an anime. I’m here telling you that I can recall what the characters did in the past, but what I used them for? Not a clue.
That’s what an engaging story does. It sticks with you longer than most multiplayer shootouts and teamfights.
That’s why story and lore are important for any game.
Edward Park is a third year student with a BsED writings track. EP909767@wcupa.edu