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  • Investigating The Importance Of Narrative In Games

    - Randen Banuelos

  • Gameplay for Man of Medan involves few mechanics outside of moving around the gamespace, primarily selecting dialogue choices in limited time, completing quick-time events, and finding paintings throughout the game world that act as "premonitions" for potential future dangers. It's the type of gameplay one would expect from an interactive drama like Telltale's The Walking Dead and others, not so much gameplay as they are catalysts for the plot. These mechanics are hampered down in this game by how sudden or drastic some of the quick-time events are, where in some cases missing even one event in a series of seven to ten QTE's can result in a character dying permanently.

    Other interactive dramas will typically make a character's death something more dramatic or cinematic, something that will only occur if the player makes unwise decisions, but Man of Medan punishes players simply for not having quick reaction times or being on-guard at every moment. In essence, while some interactive drama games are able to create an intricate story that is motivated by gameplay that still feels engaging, like The Walking Dead: Season One or Life is StrangeMan of Medan tries to take it a step further and make what is essentially an interactive movie, which is an ambitious and interesting goal that turns out sullied by plot holes becoming more prominent alongside dull gameplay.

    Conclusion: How Important Should a Story Be in a Game?

    Credits to Nintendo

    The debate over narrative versus gameplay in games has gone on for decades, with "ludologists" arguing that overabundant stories take away from the experience of play, while "narratologists" advocate for more engaging narratives that give gameplay a purpose. Some games may only utilize a story as a catalyst for action and gameplay, which has become common in game series where fans keep coming back for the mechanics instead of the story, like Pokémon.

    The majority of games find a nice middle ground between having a good plot structure that blends with gameplay, entertaining story-driven players and adventure seekers alike with games like Grim Fandango Remastered. Some games even take it a step further to create an "interactive drama," games that center on their thrilling stories as their selling point, but pushing boundaries even farther like Man of Medan requires a highly refined narrative underscored by balanced mechanics.

    Ultimately, the relevance of story in a game truly comes down to the developers' goals. Do they want their well-oiled gameplay to shine through? Do they want to engage players beyond rhythmic combat? How important are dialogue choices and NPC interaction? Is there fractal storytelling, a linear plot structure, or something else entirely, and how does that impact gameplay? In the end, any story can help bolster a game's overall experience, but the level of story integration can vary drastically, and depending on how it is executed, the story can make or break a game.


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