Topic: Do the story and mood of a game serve mechanical functions?

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No matter what story, scenario, mood, plot, individual text parts of a game do, please explain your reasons for thinking that way, and be prepared to explain.
I wanted to discuss this because there's this saying about story < gameplay, but I don't think it's been challenged enough as an idea.

Edited on by TheSaneInsanity



I don't have the inclination to get into a big rssay on the subject, but I don't think I'd have persisted with Hollow Knight if it weren't for the interesting mood that pulls me through. No particular issues with the gameplay, and it is top of its class as a game overall, but the game is a bit of a slog to some non-metroidvanians, so the vibe you get from exploring and meeting the occasional characters is really important.

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They can, I suppose, in the sense that set dressing has an impact on how you perceive and respond to the game.

A famous example would be in the original Super Mario Bros. Later in the game the "stairs" at the end of a stage are broken with bottomless pits every other step. No problem - a minor hazard. The next stage has the "stairs" broken even more - now it's only every other step but those steps are isolated floating in space, just one disconnected block by themselves. Psychologically it's much more difficult and stressful...

...but gameplay-wise it's functionally identical. The blocks holding the stairs up were only ever set dressing.

I'm sure there are more modern examples too - like the Fable game where you have a dog or any number of RPGs that give you moral choices that have meaningful impacts on the gameplay (assuming that the player has sufficient buy in to "role play" towards the decisions that they would want for the character and not for the gameplay buffs).

I had this a bit playing Triangle Strategy - no way was my character ever going to sell out their best friend or betray the oppressed minority.

All of that said I am a believer that story and "mood" in games is ultimately largely superfluous. It might matter the first time through but when you play a level two, three, four (or hundreds) of times then only the gameplay really matters.


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I've always preferred gameplay over story. But at the same time gameplay can be nearly absent from an experience and developers still manage to deliver something interesting. We have countless visual novels that attest to how popular that genre is even though they're usually devoid of gameplay. Personally, I'd rate Stein;Gate: Elite and Raging Loop as two of the best vn experiences I've had in the past five years because of the strength of its characters and story.

After that we have the QTE games. Because occasionally style does win out over gameplay. Which is why developer Quantic Dreams (Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain, etc) continues to get work. Their upcoming Star Wars game should be interesting.

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I would never replay the Mass Effect trilogy if not for the story, if the story is as superfluous as @StuTwo described. It's literally a generic RPG shooter that doesn't feel all that different from other ARPGs.

So yes, I would say the story and the universe we enter in the game do matter to a certain extent. And yes, the 'universe' is part of the story the game creators try to tell as well. I wouldn't play Super Mario Bros. if it doesn't have the charming universe and characters it has because I hate platformers; I wouldn't play The Last of Us if not for the bond between Ellie and Joel because I hate challenging games that punish you; I wouldn't play Deus Ex: Human Evolution if not for the intriguing cyberpunk universe and story that question if implants make us less human because I hate stealth games.

A lot of games, I've played them only because I was invited on a journey to another world and invited to ask interesting questions I wouldn't in real life. Dishonored would've been a boring game for me if it's not about the Black Death of the Dark Ages. I wouldn't bat an eye at replaying it when I could be playing any other stealth game (which again, I usually wouldn't since I hate stealth).

I think @Magician covered it well with regards to visual novels and Detroit: Become Human, but I didn't want to lump those games in my explanation above because they feel like very different definitions of "games," even today when VNs have become more accepted as games on Steam and the "real gamers" gatekeeping isn't as prevalent anymore. I've read about 35+ visual novels in total, including the likes of The Academy of Grisaia, the aforementioned Steins;Gate, Higurashi: When They Cry, and the famous Fate/Stay Night. So no, I'm not saying they aren't real games or shouldn't be celebrated as such, but I think they offer a very different kind of "gaming" experience where their story is the mechanism that serves the titular "mechanical function" of the game. There is interaction involved in these games, especially in those with multiple branching routes in the plot because you still have to be the one who actively chooses how the story goes, thus "gaming" in a sense. Kinetic novels, however, are justifiably referred as non-games IMO, but I was never really as interested in most kinetic novels save the really famous ones like When They Cry (and even that got turned into a multiple-route VN in the console remake), so I don't have strong feelings about that argument. But I digress.

I think that in terms of "mechanical function," I would say a story's function is a more abstract one than the gameplay's function. It's not really about which of the two is more significant IMO because they're just tools that can be used to create either a bad game with a great story/universe or a great game with a boring story (looking at you, SMT V which I would never replay again). They each serve their purpose to create an enjoyable experience. I do agree that story is often regarded in a more negative light in the gaming world, but to me, a story is the heart and soul of a game's universe. Human beings are very emotional creatures, and while the endorphin of winning a game is thrilling for a while, a game's universe and characters that we could care about means we have an emotional stake in why we want to revisit these beloved characters and the beloved world again.

Yes, yes, easter egg collectibles and achievements are great reasons for revisiting a game too, but frankly speaking, those are the superfluous objects to me, collecting a bunch of data so that I could feel good about myself. I often try to tell myself that I'm a completionist who must get every single collectible in games I like, but more often than not, I end up feeling hollow and empty. The "rewarding" feeling only lasted for a short while, but when the endorphin fades away, I'm just moving on to another game and kinda regretting that I wasted so much time doing something no one would really care about except myself. What, I'm gonna go to a Nintendo forum and tell them I spent days getting every achievement in that god-awful PS5 game, The Quarry? No one's gonna care. "Good on you, buckeroo. Here's a gold star."

But yeah, that's my two cents about story vs. gameplay. In conclusion, they both serve a purpose, but story is often unfairly struck down as pointless.

Edited on by Maxenmus


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@Maxenmus I think the mechanical functions of a game are meant to activate feelings or ideas in the player, Story accomplishes that. Story can be part of playing outside of videogames so it has a place in video games. In Xenoblade 3 I'd have have not played many of the sidequests if the affinity chart didn't exist, because I'm invested in the web of relationships.



Absolutely, at the very least in the sense that I'd much rather be in a setting with characters that are both interesting to me. Best example of this for me specifically would be A Link Between Worlds. A Link Between Worlds is genuinely of the most consistently good to great Zelda games in every aspect of actually playing it (with half of the exceptions of that depending on your feelings on difficulty curve), and has one of the best gimmicks in the series. It might be the best playing 2D game in the series, full stop. And yet its not really one of my favorite Zeldas. Largely because the world (both to explore and the entire story aspect of it) is boring to me, so exploring that relatively boring world for an entire second game, even with a fantastic gimmick designed to re-appreciate a top down overworld, is still a huge issue. I'd much rather be experiencing the same exact world in the 3D games, or Link's Awakening, or Minish Cap, than being stuck in this overly basic version of Hyrule a 2nd time. Like...this is the Zelda world interesting enough to go back to? Not Termina or the world of the Wind Fish or the Great Sea...that isn't a weird alt universe thing? (make a proper Wind Waker sequel you cowards)

Though there are occasionally games where they actively merge the gameplay and storytelling in various ways that are also significant. Y'know, your Journeys and Undertales and whatnot. I also really love how the main story gimmick in Xenoblade Chronicles is utilized in gameplay.

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