No Right Explanation

Gameplay vs. Story


Last week Chris and Kyle debated which part of games is more important, Gameplay vs. Story. But since the debates you see are only a small slice of the discussions and decisions that make up an entire episode. With that in mind, we’re allowing Chris and Kyle and Dan the chance to bring a bit more context in a new(ish) follow-up feature, No Right Explanation. Enjoy!

Dan: Wow, Gameplay vs. Story sure hit a pressure point in our fan base! The points you all brought up were amazing and varied, and it really shows that gamers are more than one-dimentional rubes. Speaking of rubes, let’s learn a little more about our debate masters and why they chose their particular line in the sand.


Chris: Every so often a debate pops up in our schedule that for one reason or another I’m aware I won’t be winning. I haven’t mentioned this before, but I dabbled in speech and debate in high school, and the Gameplay vs Story debate is similar to the Let’s Legalize Marijuana debate: It’s pretty clear how your fellow students are going to vote.

That being said, once Kyle selected his side arguing in favor of gameplay, I selected one of my Mario shirts in order to properly troll him and see if he would flip me on my head with that one. He did not. I am extremely pleased that so many viewers noticed this little touch of mine and called me on it. Yes, your statements are correct about the Mario franchise and it’s relation to my shirt and this debate. Kyle, for whatever reason (probably because he had so very much ammunition already), never brought the plumbers into the fray as an end-all beat-all point. My assumption is because he never really had a moment where a bomb like that was needed, an Alan Rickman Bomb (AR-Bomb) if you will.

Furthermore, my insistence that the Metal Gear Solid franchise is hinged on an incomprehensible story should have been tossed back with a stamp, “Incomprehensible Gameplay Gimmicks, Too” marked clearly across Meryl’s Codec channel. Some little voice in the back of my head – possibly Psycho Mantis’ – was screaming to me how easily my point could be turned against me, and yet like a gentleman, Kyle let me muddle along with it completely unflipped despite the ease in which he could argue that people remember the Metal Gear games more because of the ability to see what the controls will do to drag you further into and out of the game rather than the “Government Is Lying To You” plot that I still don’t understand to this day.

More than anything, this debate shows how deeply our friendship goes as pretty much every point was a lob for Kyle to spike down, yet he allowed the points to gently plop down without a second thought. Dan, however, was not about to let any of that slide, as you could notice from his venomous slices each and every step of the way. I’m okay with a few lighthearted jabs, but Dan has clearly thrown off the gloves and shown that he’s wrapped barbed wire around his knuckles. Well Dan, don’t forget that you’re likely to hurt yourself just as badly with such an action. We’ll have to see if our friendship can withstand another round like that!


Kyle: Chris makes an excellent visual joke during this debate. By wearing that Mario shirt, he was acknowledging the huge argument that everyone was screaming at him. The shirt also brought up a good point that he didn’t think of: Stories can be simple and still be engaging, whereas gameplay just gets repetitive and stale if it’s too simple. This is why the Mario franchise can thrive for twenty-plus years. You don’t have to tweak the story of those games at all. And they don’t. But they do have to give us some new gameplay elements every couple of years.

And while Chris did acknowledge the Call of Duty series as an example of storyline saving gameplay, he did neglect another point about that franchise. In the Modern Warfare series, the storyline can bring gravitas and impact to outright crappy gameplay moments. For instance, who here really enjoyed tapping on the same button during that endless QTE at the end of MW2? No one. But if tapping that button means you get the satisfaction of nailing that dickhead General Shepherd right in the face? Great moment.

As a matter of fact, Chris should have built his entire argument around quick-time events. They are a relatively new device, and one would argue that they hurt the gameplay of modern titles. But even an annoyance such as these QTEs make a story more interactive by making the player responsible for some actions during cut-scenes.

And while Dan gave us an Arkham City reference, I was dreading the moment when Chris nailed me with that as well. Because Arkham City is a great example of how story can be fascinating when segmented and compartmentalized. You have your slow-burn murder mysteries, your sudden races against time, and your personal little grudges and back-stories for each character. What would happen if you tried to segment the gameplay of a title by including various attempts at RPG, real-time strategy, and platforming elements all within the first few hours of a game? You get Brutal Legend.


Dan: Venomous slices? I have no idea what Chris is referring to, but rest assured, we are bestest friends and very often hold hands whilst we skip to a tune that is the gentle yet upbeat theme song to our perfect companionship.

Personally, I didn’t expect the flood of comments to wash over us the way they did with this particular topic. I mean sure, we are awesome and anyone who watches our show is almost as, if not as awesome … so any meaty topic we bring up is going to get just as protein-rich comments. It was simply a nice surprise.

As for points, it was a close one. First point went to Chris for mentioning that certain games only have a fan base due to their game mechanic. I for one can agree, and pull up Command and Conquer as an example. Look how great they did for every installment, and then look at the studio-bankrupting move they made with C&C4. Man, did they drop the ball on that one.

Second point hits Kyle for showing the double standard of story vs. gameplay. I can think of a certain yellow ball that eats other balls, ghosts, and sometimes fruit and pretzels that is one of the most popular games ever. Note that I said “Game.” Now trying to think of a game that is nothing but story with the same level of notoriety … my mind is more empty than the No Right Answer Kraft services table.

Third point went to Kyle for pointing out that a game needs a certain amount of mechanic in it to differentiate it from a movie. The issue to me is, unlike a movie, a game is a different experience for each person who plays it. Some game developers don’t like that, and think of it as poor quality control. Like an overprotective parent doing the science project for their kid to ensure they get an A, certain studios put so much cut scenes in a game that it ceases to be a “Game” and drifts over to a CG movie with a few quick-time events.

Fourth point finds us back with Chris, and this one is a tricky one. Story that is so good, it covers up poor gameplay. This is something I am sure the more cash-laden studios figure is a shortcut. “Hey, if we just hire some movie writer like Giyermo Del Torrrrro (spelled wrong on purpose to drive home their stupidity,) then we can make a crap game and the peeps will still buy it. Right?” Wrong.

Kyle gets the fifth point on the basis that recent music-based games have caught on like crabs in a dormitory, and there is no story whatsoever. This goes back to that double-standard, of which there can be gameplay without story and it still qualifies as a game, but not vice-versa.

Chris gets a point during the drinking round, mostly because I hate Modern Warfare whatever and Call of Duty: Whatever edition. They keep releasing the same game, but with small tweaks and barely any improvements. What ever happened to huge leaps forward? Don’t become Apple, you guys. I’m tired of Call of Duty 4S, just get to 5 already.

Kyle wins due to arcades. No one goes to an arcade, sees the Spy Hunter game, and gets excited that they might get a thrilling action secret agent story. No, they go because there is a steering wheel and a foot petal and a gear shift. Plus you can use the oil slick. Gameplay wins!

If you want to participate in the debate, head over to the No Right Answer Facebook page to lodge a formal complaint. Be sure to check out Chris and Kyle’s podcast Media Sandwich too!

About the author

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.