In Defense of Narrative Video Games


In his article Video Games are Better Without Characters, Ian Bogost claimed that “we’ve all but abandoned the work of systems and behaviors in favor of the work of individuals and feelings.” This quote is in holding with his overall argument that video games should focus on systems, not individual characters. This is a claim I wholly disagree. While I quite enjoy such games, e.g. Bogost’s example of Sim City that function on a macro level, my favorite games are those that focus on a well defined protagonist, and tell an intricately crafted narrative.

I’ve cited them before as examples and will continue to ad infinitum: my absolute favorite games are The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. For me, these two games exemplify strong storytelling in interactive media. They have richly crafted, dynamic characters, and focus on a highly personal journeys. In addition to these accomplishments, they incorporate epic scope and gorgeous graphical fidelity (especially The Last of Us). While video games that focus on systems are an excellent portion of the market, I do not believe they should become a dominant force to the point that they edge out narrative video games.

I believe that narrativity in video games is on the cusp of a massive evolution, with the intricate narratives of The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, and LA Noire, combined with sublime motion capture technology. With the resources of today, games can bring a filmic quality into the interactive sphere, allowing for the audience to be more engrossed than ever in the virtual worlds the games craft. And that’s not even mentioning the advent of VR technology (e.g. Oculus Rift).

Bogost is quite right that many modern franchises are dominated by white, male protagonists, and plenty of these series have sloppily constructed narratives as well. But this trend should not discount the games with expertly crafted stories, and should certainly not motivate the industry to drift away from personal, character focused narratives.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Narrative Video Games

  1. I’ve always felt something of a disconnect with macro level games. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve played Sim City and Starcraft and those types of games, but they’ve never left me with any lasting impression. That is to say that I’ve gone in and out of playing those types of games without a second thought, while The Last of Us has lingered in my mind for months.

    1. Yeah, I think that a deeply personal and focused narrative is ultimately more powerful on an emotional level.

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