Why are most AAA stories so... awful?

the_dramatica

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This isn't a relatively new uncovering, but it seems that I rarely am hooked by a games narrative. I understand that they need to be somewhat politically correct to appeal to general audiences, but it shouldn't be nearly as bad as hollywood which has to help it's customers get laid. Nearly every game I play has an abundance of Mary Sue characters or the standard light/dark dichotomy.

Does anybody disagree or have some sort of cause for this? Maybe all themes would be considered awful if they where this common?
 

NPC009

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Fast-paced, easy to digest, unprovocative stories are generally the ones that are easiest to get mainstream appeal with. Sure, they won't be very memorable, but they're also unlikely to be so terrible that people will hate it. It'll be accepted as the videogame version as a popcorn flick and that's good enough for most studios.

Aside from mainstream appeal, there's the fact that in most cases, the story is there to support the gameplay, not the other way around. It's mostly there to give players a reason to run through awesome locations and fight an insane bosses. And sometimes it's there because the dev really wanted to look at pretty women in skimpy outfits, but didn't want to outright admit he wanted to look at pretty women in skimpy outfits...

That said, these don't have to be bad things. Some games, such as the Uncharted series, have a lot of fun with the popcorn flick thing. It's not exactly a thought provoking experience, but it sure is an enjoyable one. Or, look at the way Metal Gear Solid keeps making up excuses to work super powered bosses and other fun stuff into the game. If you think too much about it, the whole thing becomes dumb as hell, but go with the flow and these are great games.
 

Casual Shinji

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Because every game's story typically needs to keep the player's agency in mind. Which is why most game stories can be narrowed down to 'You are the hero, go stop the bad guy'. It's just there to get you from set piece to set piece.

Also, a lot of what gives a game's story its merrit is that you're the one playing it. On their own they fall flat 90% of the time, but because you're driving it, the story and the characters in it become more impactful.

And then there's also just the matter of taste. I like cinematic, story driven games, other people think they're a plague on the industry.
 

Totenkreuz

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Well I would ask: Are those stories bad or do you think those stories are bad?

I myself don't really see a problem with this, sure a story might be the same as another but they can still be good. Just because it's being used alot doesn't make it bad, atleast by me.

I would also say that one can't really use anything which has the words "good or bad" in it as an argument without first defining them, but that might just be me having a hard time understanding those words, I'm not the best wordsmith around.

Personally I'm sick of alot of things in gaming but I wouldn't say they are bad just because of it, it's just me being sick of it as I have already experienced it so many times by now.

Cheers.
 

Erttheking

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Lack of freedom on the developer's part

Executive meddling and mandates

Story is considered a low priority in AAA gaming because it's not viewed as helping to sell copies

Stuff like that, mainly connected to the corporate mandated big money nature of the industry.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Make that videogame stories in general.
And that's an easy one.
The stories in videogames aren't written by writers.
They're written by roomfuls of execs with a budget and a deadline. Or Hideo Kojima, the literary equivalent of a heart attack.
I'd place certain cartons of milk closer to the Nobel Prize for Literature than most of the garbage that passes for storytelling in the interactive medium.
And you know what? That's fine.
It's like John "Fuck you, I made Doom" Carmack says: story in a game is like story in porn - you expect it to be there, but it doesn't matter.
 

Rastrelly

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slo said:
Because the stories in games do not matter. It's only the journey that is important.
I'd be very pleased if game developers stopped throwing talking heads at me and focused on the overall experience.
The stories in games are bad because they aren't supposed to be there in this particular shape and form.
Yea, it's especially true for narrative-driven games, like point-and-clicks and RPGs. Like, wouldn't Planescape: Torment immediately become 5 times better if we'd remove its boring ass story with all those dialogs and options?
 

Random Argument Man

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Sometimes, the story is more of an afterthought. My beef is when things are rushed. It was mostly my main beef with Assassin Creed 3. If the story was polished, that game would probably be the best in the franchise. Except, things were rushed and they ruined a good story on paper.
 

Theminimanx

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The Writer Will Do Something [http://mrwasteland.itch.io/twwds] can illustrate this much better than I ever can, but in short:

It's because the story almost always comes second to the gameplay. With the exception of say, a Bioware game, the story is usually the last thing created. Which means that the writers have to write around the gameplay, art style and quite possibly levels that have already been completed. And there is no way all that work will be scrapped for something as unimportant as good writing.
On top of that is the fact that in many projects, they don't even hire a dedicated writer. It's usually just some guy(s) from the pre-existing team. For example, the early Ratchet & Clank games were writting by a couple of animators. And that's one of the good stories.
 

freaper

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I was playing Fallout 4 when it came out and switched to playing the Witcher 3 recently when I bought it on sale. I don't think I'll be able to go back to FO4 afterwards, the story, characters and world just feel so utterly mediocre compared to what CD Project Red has made. Granted, TW3 is based on novels, but that shouldn't be an excuse for other studios not to try and flesh out their games some more.
 

Cowabungaa

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For a multitude of reasons. They both don't employ good writers, and most writers themselves don't yet really know how to write for this medium. Games have only really been about story for about 20-odd years. That's not a lot in the grand scheme of things. It's quite a different trick to write for something that involves agency of the person who consumes it than from something passive like a movie.

And of course story still isn't taken seriously by the medium at large. We're getting there though. Not that every game needs a top-notch story, just like movies for instance. But we have yet to fully tap into the power of the medium.
slo said:
Because the stories in games do not matter. It's only the journey that is important.
Because the journey is not, by itself, a story? Hell, some of the most memorable stories in human history are journeys.
 

stroopwafel

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Johnny Novgorod said:
Make that videogame stories in general.
And that's an easy one.
The stories in videogames aren't written by writers.
They're written by roomfuls of execs with a budget and a deadline. Or Hideo Kojima, the literary equivalent of a heart attack.
I think that's overly negative. Sure, stories in videogames might not always be of the highest quality but same goes for movies(which is by its definition a story driven medium). 99% of it is garbage. Sure, a lot of it has to do with studios providing screenplays by checklist but I can't shake the feeling that even in smaller productions there is just a distinct lack of imagination. You make it sound the stories in games suck b/c they don't adhere to the taste of some elitist cultural snob. Which is kind of silly b/c movies and 99% of novels for that matter don't either.

As for Kojima, atleast the guy has an active imagination and I'm never bored with any of the stories in his games. With MGS2 he even made a deconstruction of videogame storytelling through a postmodern narrative using the interactive of the medium itself to communicate the message. With Snatcher, Policenauts, Zone of the Enders 2, MGS2, 3 and 5 I can't consider Kojima anything less than a creative visionary who pushed the medium forward in both storytelling, gameplay and technology.

Anyways from the last few years there were definitely a lot of games that had genuinely good stories. Deus Ex Human Revolution, the Arkham games, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Spec Ops The Line, Witcher all come to mind. Atleast they were all enjoyable which in the end is all that counts. And they all used the strength of the interactivity of the medium to tell its story.
 

Silverbeard

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the_dramatica said:
This isn't a relatively new uncovering, but it seems that I rarely am hooked by a games narrative. I understand that they need to be somewhat politically correct to appeal to general audiences, but it shouldn't be nearly as bad as hollywood which has to help it's customers get laid. Nearly every game I play has an abundance of Mary Sue characters or the standard light/dark dichotomy.

Does anybody disagree or have some sort of cause for this? Maybe all themes would be considered awful if they where this common?
I think your premise is flawed, OP. 'Some' AAA video game stories are flawed. Not 'most'.
Truthfully, AAA game stories are like any other medium's stories; a few are magnificently crafted tales (like Witcher 3, Undertale or The Last of Us), a few are absolute shit (Watch_Dogs, Resident Evil 5 and Wasteland 2) and most are average. Serviceable. Run of the mill. The same applies to movies, comics, novels and theatrical plays.

Mary Sues do have a unique place in the games medium, though: They're usually the player surrogate and their abilities are leagues ahead of any other character in the setting simply because those characters are under the direct control of the player. It's just how the game works. The interaction excuses the Mary Sue-ness of the player surrogate, if you will. It gets more problematic if the Mary Sue is a character that's outside of the player's control but that's typically the sign of a poor narrative.
 

DementedSheep

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Are you seriously going to try and blame this on being politically fucking correct? What's next? you're game blame things being PC for early access and DLC?

No, its because they have to try and make it work around gameplay and are often trying to patch things together with the set pieces and gameplay segments (the infamous "We're winning! better turn myself into a demon" thing from DA2 was put in because they felt like they needed another boss fight), most dedicated writers are going to go write books or movies, since you play as the protagonist going for straight power fantasy and escapism is appealing to a lot of people though makes for crap characters and for many games story is not a priority.

Besides how many fiction books are complete crap with Mary Sues and light vs dark? most of them, there are just more books.
 

Sigmund Av Volsung

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Dec 11, 2009
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I don't see what political correctness has to do with it OP, just simple capitalist practice. AAA games tend to cast as wide a net as possible, so they tend to have stories that are generally pleasing, but not that deep, so that as many demographics enjoy it as possible. Obviously there are exceptions to this, and in recent years, they've been growing in abundance (Wolfenstein: The New Order, MGS 5, Witcher 3) as budgets expand, writing improves and people get tired of the same stories every now and again.

It's akin to asking "why is radio music so bland?". Because it's there to be easy entertainment, not there to challenge you. If you want that to be more popular or to have a bigger budget, then just finance the stuff that deserves it and would benefit from it. Publishers only think in raw sales figures, so if a particular project sells more, they will make more of it.

If you are tired of simple stories in games, then may I recommend Planescape Torment and Spec Ops The Line? Those go quite a long way to play with ideas of morality, in such ways that few games have or ever will.
 

Jingle Fett

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Stuff that works in a story doesn't necessarily work in gameplay form and vice versa. Games are inherently about "doing" things whereas movies/books/etc. are inherently about telling stories. Making a good movie or book generally requires a good story, but making a good game has little to do with story at all, which is why games like Tetris, Minecraft, etc. can be great games despite having no story at all.

Since the developers are making games, they inherently have to prioritize the "doing" part. Having some lengthy inner monologue might work great from a story perspective, but it's terrible for the "doing" part. Ultimately, the story generally has to be built around the gameplay, written in such a way as to allow lots of "doing". Even walking simulator games at the very least need to give you an excuse to walk around (and note that as a result so little gameplay, these games aren't for everyone).

The fact that the story has to revolve so much around "doing" and setting up things for the player to "do" means the writers generally have a lot more limitations and constraints, they can't just write freely the way they would in other mediums.

As a matter of fact, I would say the best stories in games are the ones that are built around already excellent gameplay. The stories may or may not actually be good or well written, but they feel really good since the gameplay helps us look past it and they synchronize really well. For example, on paper the story of Dead Space 1 might be a little cliche and run of the mill...but the combination of that story with the actual gameplay and graphics makes the whole thing work brilliantly.