Am I gaming in a parallel universe? I read or talk about video games daily, but I never hear anyone acknowledge what I think to myself constantly: The stories in video games suck.
True, the actual game part of video games is more important than the story, and that part remains as fun as ever. But the stories often feel put together with the finesse of a college student writing an essay the night before it’s due.
Let’s take a recent example, Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I wince when I think about the hours it must have taken to craft the game’s beautiful world, but I gave up about seven hours in. I feel guilty for not liking this one, but for as fully realized as ancient Egypt was, I had no reason to care.
You play as Egyptian warrior Bayek, whose son was killed by nefarious fellows who are manipulating the politics of the day — standard fare for an Assassin’s Creed game. In a typical “tough guy with a heart of gold versus the evils of the world” tale, you’re out for revenge, and to stop the bad guys’ scheming. But everyone in the story feels recycled. No one offers anything we haven’t already seen in dozens of movies and games before.
I played about seven hours of it, so it’s possible the remaining 23 were Vonnegut. But how good is a story if it takes you eight hours to get invested?
I’m not picking on Assassin’s Creed, because this is a problem across the medium. It’s a sore spot for me. I was a dedicated video game nerd from as early as I can remember — until about 2007. That’s when I went from playing two or three titles a month to playing two or three a year. Like a lot of people, I often try to recapture the glory years of my youth, but I now find the stories in games a hurdle.
I contacted three AAA developers, Ubisoft, Guerrilla Games and Naughty Dog, about the state of video game storytelling, but none of them got back to me.
AAA games or B movies?
The video game industry has grown hugely in recent years, and is expected to generate over $100 billion this year, according to Newzoo. But the quality of the narratives told throughout that gameplay hasn’t blossomed in the same way.