Think about some of the games that people feel tell great stories. Games like The Last of Us, The Witcher 2, Kingdom Hearts, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and BioShock Infinite. Now, think about how many times in these and other games you were watching a cut scene. How many times the game took control away from you and said "Watch this." At that point were you even playing a game? Or are games just filler, a way to pad out a 2 hour movie. A way to make you "Earn" the right to see the next scene or clip.
I should point out here that I'm not declaring games as a bad way of telling a story, or that games haven't told great stories before. I'm merely asking a question, something that I have been thinking about for a bit. Also I don't think cut-scenes are totally bad or wrong. I'm just interested in seeing more games move beyond using videos to tell stories.
But do games lack the ability to tell stories, so instead developers and writers use cut scenes as a way to tell a story. I guess the real question is can gameplay tell a story? We all have played tons of games that told fantastic stories, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you a memorable story moment that happened in game-play- not a cut-scene.
The Walking Dead game, from Telltale actually at times pulls this off. I was playing through Episode 2 of Season 2, don't worry no spoilers, and there is a part where someone is in trouble and you have to decide if you act or let this person get hurt, maybe even die. I decided to step in and saved the person and doing so was a pretty memorable story moment, that I was in control of. Now to be fair, all I did was hit one button and stuff happened. So it might be a bit of a stretch to call it "gameplay". But at least it wasn't just a 2 minute video where I sit back and watch my character do stuff. At least I was interacting, even if it was a small interaction. Also in the first season of Walking Dead there is a moment where Lee has to kill his brother, who is now a zombie, so he can get his key to unlock a room. It is a pretty emotional moment to have to kill your brother to death, and you have to smash his head a few times.And the whole time you are in control.
A bit older, but one of Red Dead Redemption's best moments happens while you are in control. Spoilers. After doing everything the feds ask you to do, John Marston is finally allowed to go home and spend time with his family. You teach your son how to hunt, skin animals and herd cows. You spend time with your wife and just enjoy life in general. But then the feds and the Army come to kill you. You fight them off, protecting your family and helping them get away. Then your trapped in a barn and exit the barn to be gunned down by dozens of armed soldiers.And for the most part you control all of this, and even control your son who gets revenge of the Federal agent who did it.
But these games feel like exceptions to the rule. The amount of games I've played where I set my controller down and watch is pretty damn high. In fact I feel its too high. Games seem so reliant on cut-scenes to tell story. Look at how many former or current movie writers are now game writers. Is that a sign games are becoming more watch then play? With next gen consoles now here, it seems that many games want to "show off" how great they look. And as I learned playing Killzone Shadowfall, that seems to mean boring but pretty cut-scenes.
What does this mean? Does it mean that games are not good at telling a story. That outside of cut scenes games just have trouble telling a story worth caring about. Maybe. But I really don't think that's true. I think its case of two things. One being how young of a medium we are. Maybe we just need more time. More time to figure out how to tell better stories, without relying on videos to do so.
And I think the other issue is that for the longest times games were chasing movies. I remember when the 360 and PS3 first came out. Every developer was talking about making their game "more cinematic". Developers talking about how they were learning from movies how to do camera angles and writing. There seemed to be this feeling among many game devs. that games were "chasing" film. That the ultimate goal was games that looked like movies. Look at Uncharted, a fun game don't get me wrong. But it is also the poster boy of this era of game development. That game was made from the ground up to replicate a movie. And it feels like it.
So, maybe as developers move away from that mentality, as they stop trying to prove that games are as good as film, we will see this reliance on cut-scenes begin to disappear. We already see indie games like Gone Home, which tell a great story with out any cut-scenes or quick-time events. Hopefully more games will try and tell stories with out taking the game away and saying "Watch this for a bit, ok."