Square-Enix, the makers of some of the most story-heavy games around, think that the storytelling power of games can surpass that of film and drama, but there are a few hurdles to get past along the way.
Some people love games with strong stories. Some people think stories just get in the way. This debate, and let me use the fancy term, ludology vs. narratology, will probably be as eternal as the argument over whether or not Resident Evil 5 is racist. Square-Enix’s Yoshinori Yamagishi, the producer of Star Ocean: The Last Hope, unsurprisingly, sits squarely in the narratology camp, but he thinks it’ll still take some work to get game stories to where they ought to be.
“As opposed to films, books and TV, as a medium it is more of a challenge to produce a game in order to tell a story,” Yamagishi told CVG. In TV, films and drama, the creator (or creators) has thorough control over how their story is told to the audience, so it’s easy to pull heartstrings whenever they want to. For games, however, it’s not as easy as that.
“In [a developer’s] case we always have to think about how players might react to each depiction of a character or storyline, and that’s the part we can’t predict,” Yamagishi explained. “Nevertheless we have to make these predictions to a certain degree, and incorporate this into our work. So it’s more of a challenge.”
I’m going to have to take issue with part of this argument. A novelist or playwright or film director really don’t have some sort of god-like control over how their audience will react to their stories any more than a game developer does. An audience will do whatever they want with a story once it’s theirs to consume, doesn’t matter what the creator thinks.
Yamagishi could be talking about how in TV/books/movies, the story tells itself while in games the player advances the plot as they play – therein lies the risk of somebody just turning the game off if they don’t like it. But I can stop reading a book or watching a movie if I don’t like it either.
That aside, Yamagishi believes that if this obstacle can be overcome, game stories can deliver narrative experiences superior to any other storytelling medium. “But if we manage to get over this hurdle, then I regard videogames as a greater medium to provide people with deep emotional and exciting experiences,” he said.
I’m sure some are going to scoff at the fact that somebody who’s responsible for making JRPGs is talking about storytelling of all things. But hey, he’s trying.