Different cultures, as you might expect, often react differently to different things. What is humorous or thrilling or affecting to our Eastern brothers and sisters may not make as much sense to us over here on the West if only because, well, we live on opposite ends of the world. Does that mean we should hold all Japanese games' narratives up to a sort of Western 'standard,' just because they rely on plot devices that we don't find familiar? Personally, I think that'd be implementing a skewed perspective to the gaming media's reviewing process, so no.
This doesn't mean we can't still call out inanity when we see it. Idiocy is idiocy, whether or not it comes packed with big-haired melodrama or 'roid-monkey ultraviolence. Hutchinson has a point when he says that certain Japanese titles are forgiven for lazy storytelling. We have Mario games come out every year, for instance, and they continue to tell the same narrative with each new installment. And nobody ever gets too upset.
Yet, Assassin's Creed, the very series on which Hutchinson himself is working, is practically doing the same thing. The process desired here—the "is the story any good?" part—is a sound, common sense approach. But it has to go both ways. If we're going to ignore cultural context and judge a game's story solely on its own merits, then we as an industry need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and realize that, in all likelihood, nine out of every ten game narratives just aren't all that good.
It's been said time and again, but gaming is still in its maturation stage, so the sooner we get past the days where we hail games like Heavy Rain, certain Final Fantasy titles, and, yes, Assassin's Creed as exceptional stories, the better. This doesn't mean everything sucks, it just means we need to be realistic with ourselves. Game narratives do not exist in a vacuum. They're often treading well-worn ground.
Which brings us to our big point of the day: These are video games we're talking about here, not movies, not books. As such, their stories aren't really all that important to their success.
Spec Ops: The Line, for example, is a wonderful meditation on the nature of modern gaming violence. But it's stuck in a mediocre, worn-out third-person shooter, and the whole of it suffers as a result (even if the subpar gameplay does bolster the themes of the narrative, as some critics have suggested).
Compare that to something like BioShock or Grand Theft Auto 4, which tell great tales, yes, but are still played today largely because of how satisfying it is to shoot elemental powers from your hands or cause mayhem on Liberty City's streets. Without the gameplay to serve as the meat to a story's seasoning, the video game as a whole, in most cases, will fail. Good stories make good stories, not good games.
So, sure, let's take Hutchinson's advice and judge our future video games' narratives on quality alone. Try not to be surprised when we come away a little disappointed with what we're given though.
Date: August 27, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*