Games are increasingly becoming a popular way to tell stories -- there is no doubt about this. Narrative is becoming a mechanic, with the strength of said narrative retaining the power to make or break a game. A weak story can sap the enjoyment from an action-adventure title; an overly-complex plot will settle a cloak of tedium over an RPG.
A step beyond film due to their immersive and reciprocal nature, looking to games for thoughtful and entertaining experiences means that responsibility rests not only on designers and programmers but writers as well. If last March’s skirmish regarding Mass Effect 3 has proven anything, it’s that video games are beginning to face more demanding challenges as an interactive storytelling medium.
As the way we play games evolves, so does our definition of what makes a game “good.” New frameworks and fancy add-ins can cloud over a game’s soul if they complicate an already cluttered plot. Games created for the purpose of showing off new modes of gameplay should be built into the story they attempt to tell, not the other way around – if the game calls for a story, that is.
Games can and do exist without narrative – but once a plot or character development is introduced, the simple problem-solving foundation is bricked over. A complex story needs time and resources to properly tell itself. Mismanagement of these resources – poor character development or shallow characters, overly-involved backstory, lack of appropriate presentation for important climaxes and details ---results in the game’s total failure to captivate beyond shiny graphics and racking up bonuses.