Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Games Don't Need Stories (or "Why 'Horizon: Zero Dawn' Will Disappoint)

When I saw the reveal for Horizon: Zero Dawn, the idea of there being primitive people hunting robot animals to harvest for needed things was sufficient to capture my interest. I did not want, nor did I need, anything to explain that shit; games don't need stories to be compelling and complete- that's what competent scenario and mechanic design is for. Look cool, have solid gameplay, done.

So, when I got word of the horrible story--nevermind the details--explaining what did not need explaining, I lost all interest. (Once the details--more SocJus death cult bullshit--got to my attention, well, into the trash it went.) Nevermind the screed concealed within that story; the real fuckup here was inserting a story into a scenario that didn't need one.

This is far too common an occurrence, and it betrays a lack of confidence in the game itself being good enough. You don't need them; you need conditions: boundary conditions to define the space of play, victory conditions to define success, fail conditions to define when you fuck up too much to recover, and resources (including information) that the player manipulates to engage with and attempt to beat the scenario. If you have a competent tabletop wargame, cardgame, or boardgame then you have a game good enough to stand on its own. Story need not be applied.

That set-up for Horizon, by itself, was sufficient. You're a hunter for a primitive tribe. Animals provide resources for your tribe so it can survive, even thrive, in an otherwise dangerous--if not hostile--environment. What will you and your tribe do to survive?

That's a playable scenario. There's no need for any sort of narrative to explain a god-damned thing; it just gets in the way, as it has with Horizon, and it does not matter what form that story took- that it was there at all does all of the damage required to take what should have been one of the most intriguing videogames of 2017 and turned it into Shit You Thick Twice About Even When On Clearance.

I don't need a story for a game. If I want a story, that's what storytelling media--novels, comics, film/TV, etc.--are for. Gaming is a medium of problem-solving through engaging with scenarios, using limited resources to approach them, and seeing how well you do in that situation. You keep at it until you beat it, because even when it's a solved problem there is great value in executing it yourself due to direct experience with the situation at hand. Virtual life-experience is still experience. And experience, once understood, translates directly into wisdom you can apply elsewhere.

The game is sufficient as it is. Story need not apply- Get The Fuck Out.

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