Games are like cake, and you can fuck up cake
Video games have beaten, music, they have beaten TV and by god they’ve beaten Hollywood to become the biggest creative industry on the planet. But there is another thing they’ve beaten, story telling. When I say beaten I mean kicked it down the highway embankment, gone to town on it with a blowtorch and pliers, leaving a face only a mother could love. But why is that? in an industry at the very forefront of technology, why has the simplest part, the story been left by the wayside, to rot and fester?
Stories are an odd thing, seemingly simple collections of scenes and events, with characters and settings, heroes and villains, we all think we know how a story works. I went to a talk with Rihanna Pratchett, writer of the newest Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge and Overlord to name a few and she said the following
“Stories are likes cake, we all like cake, we all think we know what goes in to one, but that doesn’t mean we can all make one” (Apologies to Mrs Pratchett if I got the phrasing wrong)
Get it? Cause Cake was mentioned, and this all gamers ever think about when they hear cake.
And so the end product of most games stories can be summed up as
- fairly tepid, cliffhanger with an eye for a sequel in 2 to 3 years.
- Ruggedly Handsome and cynical white male lives to fight another day
- The love interest, if not killed to provide character motivation is there purely as a cheerleader for the protagonist.
- Sidekick of varying ethnic backgrounds cracks a few jokes before being bumped off for more motivation
- Inevitable betrayal which makes no sense.
- Bad guy beaten, but is not conclusively killed just in case fans want them back in the future.
Think of some of your favorite games and the stories in them, at least half of those points can be applied to that game. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs (I’ve got a essay on this game coming) Has 4, if not 5 of them. Think about it, it has No.1 because it’s Ubisoft and those guys milk their franchises like a energetic milk maid. No.2 Aiden, the blank canvas of a human being lives. No.3 his sister is put into exile, his niece killed, followed by his love interest. No.4 Jordi and Ray provide the comic relief. N0.5 Jordi betrays Aiden in the worlds most pointless betrayal. The generic fest of a story of watch dogs only lacks a villain who will come back, since the others are very, very dead.
While that checklist doubtless has it’s flaws and I hope to be able to update it, it does ring true for most triple A games. I dare say this is an issue of too many cooks spoiling the broth, since in a games development, tens if not hundreds of people will all have their own inputs into a games narrative, story and world. A producer wants the character’s gender changed to appeal to a larger audience, their ethnicity changed to avoid hiring foreign voice actors, design to make them look idealized. Before long the character once written as a Black Women Sniper with anxiety issues and a dislike for Monday’s becomes super Macho White Bro, who fist bumps with his buddies and gets hammered every Friday.
It is therefore the aim of this little blog of mine, to analyse and critic the stories in games. What works about them, what doesn’t etc. I have already written a small piece about the aforementioned Watch Dogs which is soon to be arriving to this spot.