The Merits and Drawbacks of Traditional Storytelling in Videogames

Adam Jensen

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What you meant to say is villain protagonist, but I understand where you're coming from. Fuck CJ too! Franklin is a better CJ, than CJ will ever be.
I wouldn't go that far. Franklin is IMHO the weakest Rockstar protagonist to date. CJ wasn't a bad character. He was just wildly inconsistent. But I liked him a lot. I played through San Andreas 12 times when it first came out. I was fuckin' obsessed with that game.
 

happyninja42

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Yeah what game has left the biggest impression as doing that kind of thing best.
For me, I would probably say inFamous 1 & 2. The whole setup, of me being trapped in this city, and having the power to help elevate everyone from the tragedy we were all stuck in, and to see those actions having a direct effect. It was a combination of a lot of little things for me. Especially in the first game, but, it was really neat how it was set up. How I could use my powers in each section of the city, to restore power, and thus expand my power reach, but to do so, meant going in to fight in an area that had no electricity, thus putting me at a disadvantage at first. Having my actions of helping the people, slowly changing their opinion of me. Going from them yelling at me in hatred when I first start, and they blame me for the tragedy, to just sort of waving and being like "Hey Cole, what's up?" to eventually taking selfies of me if I happen to be near them on the street, and even calling a friend and fangirling about it right after. Having the sections of the city showing less rubble, and showing lights and electricity again as I restore the power and a sense of normalcy. Random people coming up to me and asking for my help, pointing me to a nearby person in distress that I could heal. Eventually getting to the point where they cheer me as a hero as I zip by on my electro feet, and actively help me fight off the badguys when I ran into fights.

The way the city reacted to you had such a fun impact on me. I genuinely felt like I was improving things, it wasn't just window dressing. I remember one time, the citizens all ganged up on a group of thugs, and literally stoned them to death on my behalf. Like a dozen of them, all hurling rocks at such a rate that it was like a machine gun, and the badguys had no chance to really fight back. I literally just sat back and watched them defend me and their own neighborhood, and then cheer at their victory.

Another time, a random Good Samaritan called for my help, and led me over to a person who was on the ground in pain. I went into the healing animation, which once triggered, you lose all control of the character for a few moments. The camera happened to be angled where I could see a nearby rooftop, and saw a figure up there. Only badguys are on the roofs, so I was aware it was a thug. He proceeds to shoot at me while I'm healing, but instead of hitting me (which really wouldn't have been much of a threat at that point), instead, his shot, hit and killed the Good Samaritan standing next to me, watching me heal the guy he led me to. I was helpless to stop it, and it genuinely pissed me off. So much so, that I hunted that dude down, and did the "life drain" evil attack on him. Because fuck that guy.

that's probably the most personal example of what you are asking. It's hard to say really though, as I've played so many games in the 35ish years I've been gaming, they all sort of blur together with time. But that one really sticks out. Those 2 games, are in my Favorite Of All Time list.

InFamous 2 did more of the same, with a few improvements here and there. And then the ending, where you have to make the choice on how you will proceed, and what it will cost, either for you, or others. That ending cinematic on the good choice chokes me up every time. Those are probably the best examples I can think of(at the moment at least), where I felt most invested in being the protagonist, based on gameplay and setting.
 
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McElroy

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I played through San Andreas 12 times when it first came out. I was fuckin' obsessed with that game.
You're listening to
The Dust.
"what are you afraid of? heights, flying, POLIO!? whatever you fear it's time to face it with INVERSION therapy!"

OT: Never cared much about video game stories. Undertale and Portal are good, but they have very "gamey" storytelling.
 

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I wouldn't go that far. Franklin is IMHO the weakest Rockstar protagonist to date. CJ wasn't a bad character. He was just wildly inconsistent. But I liked him a lot. I played through San Andreas 12 times when it first came out. I was fuckin' obsessed with that game.
In your opinion. At least Franklin was consistent. Inconsistency is bad character writing. For "da hood' my ass! At least Franklin was about the money and was not afraid to admit it. CJ on the other hand comes off very hypocritical. I did like San Andreas enough when I played it, but after a while I started to dislike it. While I appreciate the shout outs to Boyz in da hood, menace II society, Juice, and New Jersey drive, that game was weak in several areas. I hate it where you have to take care of your characters eating habits, health and diet. I'm not looking for that in a GTA game. nobody give me that cheat code nonsense, it's the principle of the matter. that just proves how much of a problem it was and not fun.
 
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happyninja42

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In your opinion period at least Franklin was consistent. Inconsistency is bad character writing. For "da hood' my ass! At least Franklin was about the money and was not afraid to admit it. CJ on the other hand comes off is very hypocritical. I did like San Andreas enough when I played it, but after a while I started to dislike it. While I appreciate the shout outs to Boyz in da hood, menace II society, Juice, and New Jersey drive, that game was weak in several areas. I hate it where you have to take care of your characters eating habits, health and diet. I'm not looking for that in a GTA game. nobody give me that cheat code nonsense, it's the principle of the matter. that just proves how much of a problem it was and not fun.
Never played any of the GTA games passed....I think Vice City(?). I dabbled with GTA 5 but lost interest very fast. So I can't comment about having life mechanics in a GTA title, but in theory, I enjoy those mechanics. The problem for me, is that most games don't implement them in a way that feels like anything more than busy work.
 

Adam Jensen

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In your opinion. At least Franklin was consistent. Inconsistency is bad character writing.
Yeah, but we gotta keep in mind how long ago San Andreas was released. I can't be too harsh on that game. I can even forgive that sort of writing in older games. And big story driven open-world games were a relatively new thing back in the early 2000's. It's not like there were a lot of games that did a better job at writing. Regardless of the genre.

Also, Franklin wasn't very consistent either. He often says one thing and then does the complete opposite because someone asked him to. And let's not forget that ending. He can make a decision that makes absolutely zero sense for the character.
 

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Yeah, but we gotta keep in mind how long ago San Andreas was released. I can't be too harsh on that game. I can even forgive that sort of writing in older games. And big story driven open-world games were a relatively new thing back in the early 2000's. It's not like there were a lot of games that did a better job at writing. Regardless of the genre.
I have my forgiving moments as well, but San Andreas does not get much from me. If 15 year old me realizes most of the problems, it tells me that Rockstar went too far and focused on the wrong things. Just because it was something new, does not mean I always be forgiving. Especially if it feels like my time has been wasted.


And big story driven open-world games were a relatively new thing back in the early 2000's. It's not like there were a lot of games that did a better job at writing. Regardless of the genre.
Games with stories better than San Andreas:
  • FF VI & FFVII. A great amount of rpgs back in the day.
  • Parasite Eve
  • Max Payne 1 & 2
  • Silent Hill 1-3. 2 & 3 especially.
  • God of War 1
  • Devil May Cry 3
  • Bloody Roar 2
  • Resident Evil 2
  • Radiant Silvergun (keep in mind that this is a SHMUP)
  • Guardian Heroes
  • True Crime: Streets of LA
  • Viewtiful Joe
  • Okami
  • Oddworld
  • The Darkness
  • Killer 7
  • No More Heroes
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
  • Metal Gear Solid 1-3
  • Gunstar Super Heroes (as long as you're playing on Blue or Red's Hard mode)
  • Astro Boy (GBA based off the early 2000s anime)
  • Mafia 1
  • The Warriors
  • Manhunt
  • GTA: Vice City
  • Custom Robo
  • Prey (2005)
  • F.E.A.R

Also, Franklin wasn't very consistent either. He often says one thing and then does the complete opposite because someone asked him to. And let's not forget that ending. He can make a decision that makes absolutely zero sense for the character.
Franklin was still more consistent by comparison, and I plain hate CJ's gut, so that is never going to change. I do not care.
 

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GoW 1&2 at least had the premise of him trying to atone (GoW 1), and trying to get revenge for Zeus wronging him (GoW 2). But there is a point of no return for me, and Kratos crossed it hardcore in GoW 3. It's why I like him in the new game, as he's finally learned, and is trying to NOT be like he was before.
Technically, Kratos already crossed the line in the 2nd game, by attacking cities of the other Gods unprovoked. Kratos had already became no better than Ares. Chain of Olympus for PSP was not out yet, and Ghost of Sparta did not come out until after III. While there certain ideas from the first game (Kratos brother Deimos for example), those were elements in the extra, art gallery, and story elements that did not show up in game proper and were relegated to documentary or bonus features. For the record, a majority of the gods I don't like or find sympathetic either. Both were stupid evil idiots that killed each other out of spite and pettiness. Ya know, like the actual Greek pantheon.
 
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happyninja42

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Technically, Kratos already crossed the line in the 2nd game, by attacking cities of the other Gods unprovoked. Kratos had already became no better than Ares. Chain of Olympus for PSP was not out yet, and Ghost of Sparta did not come out until after III. While there certain ideas from the first game (Kratos brother Deimos for example), those were elements in the extra, art gallery, and story elements that did not show up in game proper and were relegated to documentary or bonus features. For the record, a majority of the gods I don't like or find sympathetic either. Both were stupid evil idiots that killed each other out of spite and pettiness. Ya know, like the actual Greek pantheon.
Oh I'm not saying he didn't over react, but I mean, Zeus did try and kill him, just like they did Ares. It was at least somewhat justified. I mean to be mad that the God of WAR is going around, you know, warring on things, is like getting mad at Aphrodite for fucking people. xD

My issue with 3, which is still basically the same events carrying over, is that he just doesn't care about the consequences, even after CLEARLY seeing how he is literally destroying creation. I mean Athena BEGS him to stop, because he is fucking ALL the couches, but he's just like "NOOOO! I'm butt hurt because Daddy Zeus was mean to me!! " And at that point, I stopped enjoying playing as him. The beginning of the game I was still on board, but as I kept killing the gods, and kept making things worse by destroying aspects of reality, at a point I was like "ok no, please stop you psychotic asshole."
 
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Dalisclock

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In your opinion. At least Franklin was consistent. Inconsistency is bad character writing. For "da hood' my ass! At least Franklin was about the money and was not afraid to admit it. CJ on the other hand comes off very hypocritical. I did like San Andreas enough when I played it, but after a while I started to dislike it. While I appreciate the shout outs to Boyz in da hood, menace II society, Juice, and New Jersey drive, that game was weak in several areas. I hate it where you have to take care of your characters eating habits, health and diet. I'm not looking for that in a GTA game. nobody give me that cheat code nonsense, it's the principle of the matter. that just proves how much of a problem it was and not fun.
Reminds me of why I never finished SA(Made it San Fierro and quit). Trying to micromanage CJ's health was annoying(I'm hungry, stop for a burger), having to defend and take all of the gangs territory was annoying(All of these bangers but none of them can so much as hold blocks I've already taken without my help), being expected to date half a dozen girls for the perks was annoying, etc.

And of course, the infamous setup of "I'll frame you for murder if you don't do this shit for me". Proceeds to murder thousands over the next few hours, somehow this threat still matters to CJ.

Oh I'm not saying he didn't over react, but I mean, Zeus did try and kill him, just like they did Ares. It was at least somewhat justified. I mean to be mad that the God of WAR is going around, you know, warring on things, is like getting mad at Aphrodite for fucking people. xD

My issue with 3, which is still basically the same events carrying over, is that he just doesn't care about the consequences, even after CLEARLY seeing how he is literally destroying creation. I mean Athena BEGS him to stop, because he is fucking ALL the couches, but he's just like "NOOOO! I'm butt hurt because Daddy Zeus was mean to me!! " And at that point, I stopped enjoying playing as him. The beginning of the game I was still on board, but as I kept killing the gods, and kept making things worse by destroying aspects of reality, at a point I was like "ok no, please stop you psychotic asshole."
Yeah, Kratos loses any likability at all in 3. He's burning the world and literally doesn't care because he's MAD!

Though I do have to wonder what the Gods were thinking when they decided "Hey, we need a new God of War because Ares is dead. Any ideas?" "I know, it's hire that psychopath who just killed Ares, desperately wants to die to be put out of his misery and has no particular affection for any of us, has escaped from Hades once already, thus we have no real way to hold him accountable or even appeal to him" "Brilliant!"

I know the Greek Gods were petty but my god, did no one think this through?
 
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Casual Shinji

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Oh I'm not saying he didn't over react, but I mean, Zeus did try and kill him, just like they did Ares. It was at least somewhat justified. I mean to be mad that the God of WAR is going around, you know, warring on things, is like getting mad at Aphrodite for fucking people. xD

My issue with 3, which is still basically the same events carrying over, is that he just doesn't care about the consequences, even after CLEARLY seeing how he is literally destroying creation. I mean Athena BEGS him to stop, because he is fucking ALL the couches, but he's just like "NOOOO! I'm butt hurt because Daddy Zeus was mean to me!! " And at that point, I stopped enjoying playing as him. The beginning of the game I was still on board, but as I kept killing the gods, and kept making things worse by destroying aspects of reality, at a point I was like "ok no, please stop you psychotic asshole."
I would've been more on board with GoW3 if Kratos was at least framed as the villain, but not only are his vile acts depicted as "badass", we also get this BS about Zeus being the REAL corrupted one and how he has to be stopped. No really, HE'S the bad guy, seriously. And then I guess Kratos releases hope into the world.

It's like Santa Monica knew how disgusting Kratos was by that point, but seeing as that was the main selling point of the franchise by now - what shocking thing is Kratos gonna do next - they couldn't skimp on that. So they came up with the most petty reasons why Kratos is really just super justified in his acts. And look, see, he released hope into the world. Everyone likes hope, right. Thanks Kratos. Maybe you're not such a butcherer of innocent slave girls after all. What a deep character you are.
 

Dalisclock

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I would've been more on board with GoW3 if Kratos was at least framed as the villain, but not only are his vile acts depicted as "badass", we also get this BS about Zeus being the REAL corrupted one and how he has to be stopped. No really, HE'S the bad guy, seriously. And then I guess Kratos releases hope into the world.

It's like Santa Monica knew how disgusting Kratos was by that point, but seeing as that was the main selling point of the franchise by now - what shocking thing is Kratos gonna do next - they couldn't skimp on that. So they came up with the most petty reasons why Kratos is really just super justified in his acts. And look, see, he released hope into the world. Everyone likes hope, right. Thanks Kratos. Maybe you're not such a butcherer of innocent slave girls after all. What a deep character you are.
Ironically, there's an interpretation of the Pandoras Box story that Hope is also an evil, because you can't be disappointed without hope.
 

Ezekiel

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I'll never buy the new Kratos as the same man. They act so differently that I find the idea laughable. If they wanted me to believe it, they would have at least kept his facial resemblance. Playing slightly over half of the reboot, I felt it missed the point of God of War. Well, I guess it's not like they missed it; they just chose to ignore it and go with something more acceptable by the art crowd. It's boring now. Tediously structured too. (Definitely found the level design more entertaining linear.) I miss when every game didn't take itself so seriously.
 

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I miss when every game didn't take itself so seriously.
If you bothered to play through the entire God of War 4, side quests too, there are plenty moments of levity or the developers clearly having fun. There are funny moments. Not every moment was a gut buster, I am laughing my head off, but they never annoyed me. At the very least, they made me smile. Brok, Sindri, and Mimir especially I found funny. Kratos gets his own funny moments too.

Another thing I understand where you're coming from, but plenty of games don't take themselves too seriously. Okay, sure, plenty of AAA Western games (but not all) and critics have this problem of wanting to be seen as "mature" or "grown up" because they want to please old daddy Ebert dearest or non-gamers who have no interest in games what so ever. But there are still alot of games that know how to have fun without being "Wink, Wink. Nudge, nudge. Meta or ironic". The AA space and indie have plenty of games that have the right balance, and most of the Japanese developers got their act together after trying to stop pandering to the Gears or COD crowd. If anything it was worse in 7th gen when every developer/publisher was making "grim, dark, real-is-brown, gunmetal grey" shooters because that's what "people wanted" or sold. A crock of bullshit. It was another misguided or greeded attempt to be seen as mature, when it was the gaming equivalent of the 90s dark age of comics.
 
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Casual Shinji

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I miss when every game didn't take itself so seriously.
You mean, like the original games? God of War 1, 2, and 3 took themselves deadly serious to an obnoxious degree. Name me one moment from the original trilogy that was light-hearted, campy, or somewhat self-aware of its own silliness. The sex mini-games maybe? Even those became ego stroking come the third game, just like everything regarding Kratos in that time period.

The new game has the maturity to actually take the piss out of Kratos and not take itself so seriously.
 
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happyninja42

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I'll never buy the new Kratos as the same man. They act so differently that I find the idea laughable. If they wanted me to believe it, they would have at least kept his facial resemblance. Playing slightly over half of the reboot, I felt it missed the point of God of War. Well, I guess it's not like they missed it; they just chose to ignore it and go with something more acceptable by the art crowd. It's boring now. Tediously structured too. (Definitely found the level design more entertaining linear.) I miss when every game didn't take itself so seriously.
You don't think someone can have a fundamental shift in their world view, and make a concerted effort to change their ways? Because that's the whole point of GoW 4. He doesn't sugar coat his past, he doesn't think he was the hero, he knows he did terrible things, but, I mean he can choose to be different. To try and atone, or at least not fuck up anymore than he already has. I have zero problem with thinking it's the same character, because they end GoW 3 with him making that realization, and killing himself as punishment for his actions. So it's not like it's a new viewpoint really, it's just a continuation of the end point he was at in the end of GoW 3. He's not dead, so he has to do something with himself. He tries to live life like a normal person, and only goes back into the god work when forced to it by outside influences. He regrets what he's done, tries to teach his son to not be like he was, and tries as best he can, to not repeat the mistakes of his past.

How is that not the same person? I mean, unless you just think everyone is a static being, incapable of self reflection and change? Which if so, that's really depressing.
 

Casual Shinji

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You don't think someone can have a fundamental shift in their world view, and make a concerted effort to change their ways? Because that's the whole point of GoW 4. He doesn't sugar coat his past, he doesn't think he was the hero, he knows he did terrible things, but, I mean he can choose to be different. To try and atone, or at least not fuck up anymore than he already has. I have zero problem with thinking it's the same character, because they end GoW 3 with him making that realization, and killing himself as punishment for his actions. So it's not like it's a new viewpoint really, it's just a continuation of the end point he was at in the end of GoW 3. He's not dead, so he has to do something with himself. He tries to live life like a normal person, and only goes back into the god work when forced to it by outside influences. He regrets what he's done, tries to teach his son to not be like he was, and tries as best he can, to not repeat the mistakes of his past.

How is that not the same person? I mean, unless you just think everyone is a static being, incapable of self reflection and change? Which if so, that's really depressing.
It also takes place, like, a hundred and fifty years after the third game, so it would make sense that he's changed atleast somewhat. Even if it was just him faffing about in the woods by himself for a century.

And you'd think that if they wanted to ignore what the previous games were about they wouldn't have almost everything Kratos says and does be so heavily infused with the shadow of his past self. A large aspect of his character in the new game is that he's clearly not that man anymore, but that he still carries the sins of what he did.
 

hanselthecaretaker

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Oh I'm not saying he didn't over react, but I mean, Zeus did try and kill him, just like they did Ares. It was at least somewhat justified. I mean to be mad that the God of WAR is going around, you know, warring on things, is like getting mad at Aphrodite for fucking people. xD

My issue with 3, which is still basically the same events carrying over, is that he just doesn't care about the consequences, even after CLEARLY seeing how he is literally destroying creation. I mean Athena BEGS him to stop, because he is fucking ALL the couches, but he's just like "NOOOO! I'm butt hurt because Daddy Zeus was mean to me!! " And at that point, I stopped enjoying playing as him. The beginning of the game I was still on board, but as I kept killing the gods, and kept making things worse by destroying aspects of reality, at a point I was like "ok no, please stop you psychotic asshole."
Kratos tore it all down. That’s what literally needed to happen for the ultimate theme of Hope to see fruition. Athena’s comment at the end of 3,

“You fool, they’ll never know what to do with it!”

She’s talking about him releasing hope to humanity, and not having to live under the gods’ thumbs anymore. Because when you think of it, they’re just like a big group of very dysfunctional people, only with world-changing powers.

Sure, there was a hell of a lot of collateral damage in his wake, but I think a lot of the destruction is embellished with being symbolically tied to people’s belief system being destroyed as well. Like end of times, fire and brimstone, etc. it’s a little overwrought for greater dramatic effect.

Recalling what David Jaffe said about the series,

“God of War explains - or ultimately will explain - why there are no more Greek myths.”

GoW3’s events are basically that.
 

happyninja42

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Kratos tore it all down. That’s what literally needed to happen for the ultimate theme of Hope to see fruition. Athena’s comment at the end of 3,

“You fool, they’ll never know what to do with it!”

She’s talking about him releasing hope to humanity, and not having to live under the gods’ thumbs anymore. Because when you think of it, they’re just like a big group of very dysfunctional people, only with world-changing powers.

Sure, there was a hell of a lot of collateral damage in his wake, but I think a lot of the destruction is embellished with being symbolically tied to people’s belief system being destroyed as well. Like end of times, fire and brimstone, etc. it’s a little overwrought for greater dramatic effect.

Recalling what David Jaffe said about the series,

“God of War explains - or ultimately will explain - why there are no more Greek myths.”

GoW3’s events are basically that.
Yes, he destroyed the Greek world. Whether or not that is ultimately a good thing, or needed to happen, doesn't excuse the fact that he killed a LOT of people, many of which didn't deserve it, as Kratos says himself in GoW 4. He basically committed Greek genocide, and we can debate if it was warranted with how the gods behaved, frankly we don't really see the way their society was governed, as they focused on Kratos destroying everything, but it's assumed that things were running relatively smoothly, and that the majority of the greek world wasn't happy with the idea of Kratos burning it all down, with them inside it.

As to the thing about ultimately releasing Hope as the Good Thing....well, personally I don't really think that's much. I mean people hoped before they let it out, because Kratos' motivation in GoW 1, was entirely based on his HOPE that he would be forgiven/redeemed for his past sins. The gods put their HOPE in Kratos stopping Ares' rampage. So, I find the idea of "ok well NOW there is hope in the world, so that's good, even though it was birthed on an ocean of blood and death. Oh and also we were all technically already hoping about stuff long before hope was released" to be a really flimsy story structure.

But even if that was sufficient (which I'm willing to grant, as it is a Greek tragedy, and those are always painted in broad strokes), it still doesn't make Kratos a "Good Guy" by the end of GoW 3. He wasn't doing any of that for good reasons, he was doing it for selfish, petty revenge. And he was perfectly happy to kill the entire world that he knew of, just to accomplish that. No amount of collateral damage was too much for him. And that's not the actions of a hero. That's the actions of a monster, of a villain.

I'm fine with the idea that he has since tried to change his ways, and no longer be a monster/villain, or at least try and not behave like one, even if he still believes himself to be nothing but a monster, but his past actions are still horrendous.

Will anything he does going forward be enough to redeem his prior actions? *shrugs* In narrative reality, yes. Heroic Sacrifice is an incredibly common way to accomplish this. He can "Pull a Vader" and die stopping a Bigger Evil, and boom, slate is wiped clean, at least on a mystical "do you go to heaven/hell" kind of thing. In the real world? *shrugs* I don't think someone can do ONE thing and make amends. I think, if they've done really terrible things, it would take a lifetime of effort to make most people consider them a "good" person again. But then again, some people (likely those directly harmed) would never forgive them.

But, I'm not really worried about the real world ethics of right/wrong in a video game. Because this is a game about a greek god of war, wandering around norse mythology with a severed head of a likely irish pantheon being dangling from his ass, providing comic relief, while his son learns to be a good person by way of "don't be like me" lessons, with a giant talking snake, and other insane stuff. The logic of reality sort of crumbles when faced with that kind of fanciful stuff. At least for me anyway.