I don’t want to make John sound like more of a douche than he already did, but he clearly doesn’t understand the importance of writing to video games. His problem is the same problem that so many people, from Jack Thompson to Roger Ebert, have. They disregard video games as a form of art. Just as much planning goes into a scene, or “level,” in a video game as in any movie; often times much more. But video games take things even further than film, they introduce the element of interactivity.
The story of a video game has to last a lot longer than a movie. It also has to be fun for the player, so there have to be many moments where the player can actually play. There are, of course, games that let the story take center stage and force lengthy cinematics, like Metal Gear Solid and to a much greater extent, Xenogears, but the majority of games just use cinematics as bookends. Nowadays, many games don’t even really have them at all. But let’s not forget that the story isn’t the whole of the writing, it is the characters and their dialogue that drive player’s interest and keep them going.
Take for instance the hit game Portal. Many gamers loved this game specifically for its innovative gameplay and topnotch writing. In Portal you play a prisoner forced to go through a the testing grounds for a new portal-dispensing gun. Along the way, a computer guides you and criticizes you. Her constant narration grows increasingly more insane as you progress through the game, and eventually face her. Aspects of the story, like your only motivation being cake and your only ally being the “weighted companion cube” (which you have to drop into an incinerator) are very original and amusing.
Or you could look at Mass Effect, Bioware’s epic RPG from last year. This game is as good as it is because of writing. You play as Commander Shepherd, captain of the spaceship Normandy, the man (or woman) charged with saving the universe. What made this game so special is that every piece of dialogue was so well written and interesting. Most importantly, the player got to choose what Shepherd says every time they talk. The gameplay in Mass Effect is quite average, but good writing made it into one of last year’s best.
Bioshock, Half-Life 2 Episode 2, Halo 3… I could go on and on about games that came out last year that benefited from having an interesting story. I think my colleague is just confused about what makes writing so important. Do you think that clever jokes and parodies like those that Grand Theft Auto made are not acceptable as good writing? Do you really believe you would have played the Metal Gear Solid games if the story was not so compelling? Yes its convoluted, but you kind of sign up for that when you play the Metal Gear Solid games.
Video games are always getting the shaft. People seem to believe that they exists purely to stupefy kids and train them to be killing machines. Well the majority of gamers are older nowadays, and they expect entertainment that’s not only fun, but interesting as well. Some of the best stories I saw last year came from games. The dialogue, story, the scenarios the player is put in, the choices they have to make, all of these have to be good to get people to spend $60 on a game. Don’t you think good writing should be recognized, no matter where it is?