The Whats vs. the Whys

This post was inspired by the following:

penny arcade

I believe that in the video game world, gamers can be divided in half based on many different things (cheaters vs. purists, PC vs. console, Rambos vs. camping bitches, etc..) but the division I’d like to address right now is this one: Those who care about why they must do something, vs. those who care only what they must do.

I find myself drawn to games with good storylines. Take Zelda, my favorite game series (show of hands, who saw a Zelda reference coming? Everyone? good deal.) The Zelda storyline changes a bit from game to game, with some outliers telling side stories [Majora’s Mask, Oracle of Ages/Seasons, and Minish Cap, for example, add to the mythos but don’t recreate the standard storyline of the other games] The story goes something like this: A great evil [Ganon] rises/[escapes from imprisonment], Kidnaps Princess Zelda, and now threatens to take over the peaceful world of Hyrule. A young country lad [Link] must leave his home, journey a great distance [undergoing countless trials, freeing various lands/groups, learning valuable skills, and receiving various important items/tools] and defeat the great evil, freeing Princess Zelda and saving Hyrule. That’s the story. It’s your picture perfect fairy tale story. Each game adds on to the story, but the basic story is there: You are defeating evil to save the world, and a girl. That’s why you are doing it, and your cause is just. I love that story. Compare that to something like Grand Theft Auto, where your primary motivation appears to be revenge, which apparently justifies awful behavior towards everyone and anyone. I have no interest in playing that kind of game. (I also have no interest in taking my character shopping to pick out the perfect outfit that matches my “gang colors”).

More recently, the storylines of games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have really gripped me. You begin knowing very little about what is going on, and as the game moves on, you learn bit by bit what the story is, until the very end of the game, when the full story is revealed. That’s brilliant. The story of Ico was fantastic. Now in Shadow of the Colossus I’m presented with the same mystery. The game itself focuses on defeating these giant behemoths (The Colossi). In and of itself, fighting those giants is very entertaining, and would make for a very good game.. but it’s the story that really clinches it for me. You begin by bringing the dead body of a girl to this temple.. you are apparently trying to bring her back to life.. and you are told by the “god(s?)” of the temple that you have to kill these Colossi before anything can happen for the girl. So off you go… but at this point I’m still not sure if the voice in the temple is someone I ought to be trusting, or if it’s using me for some villainous purpose or what.. as the game continues, more information will be given. I’m still only a small ways into the game, but the drive for more information is really addictive… oh, and I’m not killing whores and stealing cars.

So when, in the past, I’ve played games whose storylines have been weak or non-existent, it makes the game a lot harder to get through. A while ago I talked about Starfox Adventures, and how its pointless activities made the game a chore to go through (e.g. In order to win, you must collect the 6 gems.
Why will those gems help?
You see, you need the gems so .. that.. you can collect the 12 special stones.
Wait.. what do the stones do?
You need the stones…. so that you can .. collect… the 3.. magic beans.
You’re just wasting my time now, aren’t you?
Yeah.. sorry. Don’t worry, the ending is lame anyway.)

So all of that to say that there are people who skip over the storyline elements and just want to get to the fighting and questing bits, and there are those who fight and quest to get to the storyline.. and I’m one who likes the storyline bits. I’m the kid who actually read the book that came with that PC adventure game. [Okay, okay, I listened to it being read by the narrator at the intro screen.] I guess at the end of the day, when someone asks me what I did that day, I’d prefer to say “I just saved the world from a great evil” rather than “I beat a game.”

3 thoughts on “The Whats vs. the Whys

  1. We recently played a Starfox game for Nintendo that wasn’t all flying. I really enjoyed it, there was this girl who got in trouble, and was captured, and in order to save her, Fox had to travel to about 10 different places freeing some gods who were hiding, each time getting a special tool to help him in the next level. I almost enjoyed it as much as Zelda.

    Now we’re playing a Spyro game, which I intended to be for my kids, but has proven quite humorous. At one point, The Professor tells him in order to use a machine he needs 10 magic crystals. Spyro said “Great, what’s a magic crystal?”. The Professor says, “Oh, umm.. I thought you knew. How about 12 gold coins? No? Umm.. Heart pieces? Light gems?” “Oh yeah, I’ve seen those!” says Spyro.

    “Light gems it is then!” That just cracks me up.

  2. I have that same thing, but it really depends on the game. For example, the Xenosaga games have a fantastic storyline, but the gameplay is pretty horrible. I don’t feel any shame in playing through that game with a walkthrough just to see what happens next in the storyline. On the other hand, Contra: Shattered Soldier was cool, but I just wanted to run and kill things rather than hearing some half-baked tale of revenge and betrayal that was trite and just a thrown in justification for limitless carnage.

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