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  • Investigating The Importance Of Narrative In Games

    - Randen Banuelos
  • Note: This article will contain spoilers for games discussed.

    As games have become more graphically and technologically advanced, the desire to tell compelling stories that fully utilize these rich and beautiful virtual worlds has become stronger. More now than any other period of game history, games are creating larger narratives than ever thought possible, creating enough lore and backstory that full textbooks could be written analyzing them.

    Yet even today, some games focus more so on their gameplay and well-oiled mechanics, with the story being the instigator for motivating the player in the early stages, but gradually fading away as players develop their own prerogatives. On the other hand of this is when a game becomes an "interactive drama," where the story itself is the game, and outside of player movement and interspersed choices, there is little to no gameplay. This article will look at three examples that broadly cover the gamut of how a narrative becomes intertwined into a game, and how important the story is to the overall experience.

    The Story is Important, But Not the Focal Point (Pokémon X & Pokémon Y)

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    The Pokémon game series has never been renowned for their artful storytelling, with each game rehashing almost the exact same plot structure each time: get your starter Pokémon, beat the Gym Leaders, defeat the regional villain team, capture the game-specific legendary Pokémon, and become the new regional Champion. While each game has their own spin on the story and depth of narrative, with the arguably most creative adaptation being the plot of Pokémon Black and Pokémon White alongside their sequels, fans of the series have come to expect the usual story beats.

    This is no different for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, the first games to use 3-D modeling for characters and Pokémon. The story of the game seems to take on after Sinnoh's annihilation story with a bit of a twist, wherein the corrupt Team Flare and Lysandre trying to wipe out the human population so that the world can become more beautiful without their toxic influence. By and large, the story, and characters especially, are sadly not very memorable, despite the game's best efforts to dramatize the narrative.

    However, the lackluster narrative of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y is made up for by the gameplay. With the new Mega Evolution mechanic, players can dramatically increase one of their Pokémon's strength, being a key turning point of a battle. Alongside dozens of new Pokémon, a brand-new Pokémon type, and much more, these games reinvigorated Pokémon fans with a breath of fresh air. Like most any other Pokémon title, it is not the story that fuels the experience, it is the journey of collecting Pokémon, battling friends and foes, and trading with people across the world.

    This is not to say that the gameplay was perfectly polished, as many fans nowadays tend to dismiss this generation of Pokémon games for being plain, yet at the time, these battles were action-packed and thrilling. The story may have fallen short of expectations, but it is not what these games are remembered for or what the main focus was, and thus these two games were able to deliver a new, fun experience while having narrative take the backseat.


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