I read an article today about last February’s WGA awards regarding their new category “Outstanding Achievement in Video Game Writing.” This year’s award went to the PSP game Dead Head Fred which is about a private eye (voiced by John C. McGinley) who wakes up to find his head replaced by a brain in a jar. This game beat out such titles as The Simpsons Game and Crash of the Titans.
Does video game writing deserve this honor? I’ve never played a video game in my life that had a consistently good story. I don’t think it’s possible for a video game to have a great story. In a game, the main focus is to “play” the game. Maybe there have been games out there that start with an interesting premise or concept but in my experience, it’s hard to carry a narrative for over six hours.
Some of the best games I’ve played don’t have strong stories. The Grand Theft Auto series for example. Maybe there’s funny dialogue, but those games are also riddled with cliches, stereotypes, and knockoffs of pre-existing material like Miami Vice and Boyz N’ the Hood. Don’t get me wrong. I love those games, but they are very face value games. Is there anything really substantial ticking at the heart of Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti?. Not that I know of. Which is okay. I play GTA to “Play” not watch.
How about The Metal Gear Solid series? Hideo Kojima’s series is known for its extensive and complex plot lines. I enjoy these games, but they’re needlessly convoluted. I Remember playing MGS: 2 and I couldn’t believe how many cut scenes piled up the further I progressed. It got to the point where I had to skip these scenes because I wanted so desperately to be in control. It’s my belief that 90% should be about gameplay. If I wanted to watch a movie I would watch a movie.
Maybe, it’s not fair to judge the whole industry with such a small sample size, but I can only speak from personal experience. The way we interact with games is different from how we interact with movies or TV. We control the pace and rhythm of a game. In a way, we the players are the writers because we control the action, and actions are the most important part of storytelling
When you take control away from the player for the sake of exposition you lessen the experience. There’s never a time when I was relieved to see a cut scene. Perhaps I’m impatient. Or it could be I’m not your typical gamer. I respect games as art but more so I respect them as recreation. And when I play, I want to PLAY. No one should be rewarded for taking that away from me. Just a thought.