At this past week’s GDC, two developers from Riot Games, made a rather pointed remark about plot in video games. Noting that players remember characters over plot and that the former is more important than the latter, they even went so far to say that statistically speaking, most players don’t even finish games, which I’m not even getting to because they didn’t cite any actual statistics to prove that point. I’d also point out that games with bad plots are probably part of the reason gamers give up on them. Anyway, IGN covered Riot Games’ statements here.
While I agree that character is an important factor in video games and that plot being necessary really depends on the game (take Minecraft, for example, which doesn’t need plot), I’m going to write about my own gaming experience, which is yes, heavily RPG-oriented. There’s a reason for that, though, and it has everything to do with plot, with the game’s story. There cannot be character development without plot, so both are equally as important, at least in my world. Would there have been such an uproar over the ending of Mass Effect 3 if plot and story didn’t matter? I think not. Why is that particular gaming company so successful? Is it because they create good character or because they create good stories? I think anyone who’s played a Bioware game would vote story, especially since the characters are created by the choices the player makes. Obviously, players like these sort of games, because these games always sell well.
I also have to wonder how much game developers behind League Of Legends really know about gaming beyond that? Have they never played The Last Of Us or BioShock Infinite. Again, both of those games were highly successful and both were acclaimed by critics and fans alike for their plots.
So I would argue that yes, plot is important in video games. I took to social media to get others’ opinions, too:
@sunriserobin but…I love the storytelling and becoming part of the story. That’s why some of my favorite games are all about that…
— Marjolein (@TearSong) March 18, 2014
@sunriserobin I really only play video games with good plots–and they can certainly make up for unimaginative gameplay
— DiannaLGunn (@DiannaLGunn) March 18, 2014
Those are some very good points, but my friend Rhonda pointed out how important plot can be in video games, at least for kids with autism:
Funny. I was talking to my son about this yesterday. We’ve been working on Literary Analysis in English, and yesterday I assigned him a Character Analysis as his month project. He was telling me that he’d really like to do either a character or even a “literary” (so to speak) analysis on one of his video games. At first I chuckled and thought “Well, of course you do …” but then he dove into the discussion, giving me all of these reasons why it would work, why the plots are so in depth and why they matter. Then it came to me, for him (and I realize this would never fly in public school, which is exactly why we aren’t IN public school) – video games are very much like the books I read, put on screen. For a kid with autism or even aspergers, it’s very hard for them to read words and have it come to them in pictures. Video games…at least the ones we were talking about yesterday…make those stories come to life. So yes, I think they matter.
I could not come up with a more compelling argument against Riot Games’ statements. But I want to know what you think, too? Leave me a comment and let me know what you feel about plot in video games and their importance to you as a player.