The Narrative Failings of GTAIV

I now know how film critics felt after screening 'The Godfather.
Andrew Reiner, Game Informer, regarding Grand Theft Auto IV

Chances are, unless you've been living under a rock for the past eight months, you've heard language like that tossed around almost every time GTAIV is brought up. Countless publications awarded it Game of the Year awards, and heaped praise on it's story. Recently, the Chicago Tribune asked if GTAIV is "The best writing of the century". Good lord. Grand Theft spun itself a good yarn with some great supporting characters, but in no situation should it be put up against classics such as The Godfather, or even called the best writing of the decade, let alone the century. The narrative in Grand Theft Auto IV fails in several key places:

The gameplay and story are incongruous

This is your primary way of interacting with the world
This is the big one for me. If a game aims to tell a unique story, the gameplay needs to complement it. If your gameplay is ancillary to the story (Looking at you Force Unleashed), then your story would be better suited to another medium, and has no business as a game. Niko spends GTAIV whining about how he doesn't want to kill, and how he wants to make a new life for himself, but the game gives you positive reinforcement for shooting dudes in the face in the form of money, weapons, ammo, and fun gameplay. And I'm not talking about choosing to go on rampages through the city- the mission gameplay endorses this philosiphy. You want a hot new car? You have to steal it, even if you have more than enough money to buy it. Oh, you want to start anew? How about you actually do that instead of seeking out the local crime bosses and quickly ingratiating yourself to them. Need money? Let's go smoke some fools.  Despite Niko saying he hates all of this, the game encourages you to do so by making it entertaining, something that goes against the characterization of Niko. By rewarding you to do things that are against Niko's philosiphy, the game undermines his character. This antithesis is at the heart of the problems with the story- it just doesn't complement the gameplay.

The characterization of Niko isn't multifaceted, it's schizophrenic

Niko has been hailed as a fantastically human character, and the thing that keeps GTA IV grounded- and away from the insanity of San Andreas or Saints Row. I agree, Niko is fun, but his character is hardly believeable, a consequence of having to make an entertaining game to go along with your tragic story. Niko complains about wanting to start a new life in America, and to leave his old ways behind. However, he ignores chance after chance to do this. At a point about halfway through the game, Niko has enough money to be set for life, and due to the way the game is structured he constantly severs all his criminal connections before gaining new ones. At any point between "mission tiers", Niko could easily give up the life and fulfill his dream. But that's not a fun game. The simple point is, Niko says one thing while he does another- and not because his character is painted as hypocritical, just because the dudes doing the story and the dudes doing the missions weren't on the same page.

The game stretches on and on and on...

This again, is the conflict of the medium and story. Grand Theft Auto games are known for their longevity, and since there isn't much to do outside of the story, Rockstar felt the need to extend the story missions as long as possible, which leads to the terribly forgettable Alderney missions. A compact story allows you to learn the characters, become attached, and witness an interesting window into their lives. GTA, which you need to really hustle to complete in 30 hours, takes the concept of a clear, concise story and throws it out the window, instead deciding to go through a tiered structure where it seems as if the story starts and stops erratically, as Niko takes the time to learn a new group of mission-givers, only to have them all killed off as soon as he earns their trust and things start to heat up. Once that tier of people is gone, we start back over with a new set of people- it's almost like an entirely new plot. This segmented approach is just awkward and really hurts the pacing and characterization.

The game doesn't have an important message

Roman's the closest thing there is to Niko's straight man
Grand Theft Auto IV very, very badly wants to be a social commentary on the failure of the American Dream. It tries so hard to do this. But by the fact that Niko never even attempts anything besides crime you can't put any stock by the messages it preaches, except that crime pays, but will fuck you up good. By only dealing with the criminal fraternity and fringe elements of American society, it forfeits any right it may have had to make judgements about the average American and the validity of the American Dream. Although Niko's friends do provide a bit of a lens, they're all involved in some manner in Niko's dark dealings. GTA really wants to be a piece of social commentary, but as opposed to something like the Godfather, Grand Theft doesn't have the viewpoint of a character like Michael- Niko is, and always has been, a killer. All of Niko's friends are criminals, and all his bosses want people dead-even when he's working for the government. The game deals entirely with the seedy underworld of Liberty City, and with that in mind, it doesn't have much relevance to the average American- to come back to the Godfather again, GTA can't even manage that sort of relevance, because when the Godfather came out, people could still easily recall the Mafia, which was still quite prominent and relevant in popular culture. The Russian mob and immigrant crime syndicates are hardly well known in modern America. Regarding the immigrants, GTA misses an opportunity to make a statement on immigration as well. Niko comes off the boat, no problem, and integrates right into American society. He picks himself up a girlfriend right off, finds a group of people who don't at all care that he's an illegal Serbian immigrant, and has absolutely no trouble with the government. His immgrant experience is, essentially, flawless- except for a bit of culture shock. Most immigrants to America in this day and age have a much harder time of things, and GTA could have been a reflection of that. It wasn't.

In conclusion

The one moment from GTAIV that really stuck with me was the moment Niko confronts Darko about his betrayal. Niko asks how much Darko was paid to sell them out, and he answers $1000. Niko starts raging at Darko, angry about being sold out for so little. Darko simply responds: "How much do you charge to kill a man?", a line which so expertly connects the medium and the story, making you think back to every time you completed a mission, and saw that +$1000, or +$2000 in the top corner after taking someone out. That's the moment GTAIV truly succeeds, by masterfully linking the gamepay and story. However, throughout the rest of the product the division is painfully obvious and handicapping, with the juxtaposition of the story bemoaning the violence, and the gameplay and missions encouraging it. It's not a harmonious product, and that division seriously hurts the final experience.
39 Comments
39 Comments
Posted by Lies
I now know how film critics felt after screening 'The Godfather.
Andrew Reiner, Game Informer, regarding Grand Theft Auto IV

Chances are, unless you've been living under a rock for the past eight months, you've heard language like that tossed around almost every time GTAIV is brought up. Countless publications awarded it Game of the Year awards, and heaped praise on it's story. Recently, the Chicago Tribune asked if GTAIV is "The best writing of the century". Good lord. Grand Theft spun itself a good yarn with some great supporting characters, but in no situation should it be put up against classics such as The Godfather, or even called the best writing of the decade, let alone the century. The narrative in Grand Theft Auto IV fails in several key places:

The gameplay and story are incongruous

This is your primary way of interacting with the world
This is the big one for me. If a game aims to tell a unique story, the gameplay needs to complement it. If your gameplay is ancillary to the story (Looking at you Force Unleashed), then your story would be better suited to another medium, and has no business as a game. Niko spends GTAIV whining about how he doesn't want to kill, and how he wants to make a new life for himself, but the game gives you positive reinforcement for shooting dudes in the face in the form of money, weapons, ammo, and fun gameplay. And I'm not talking about choosing to go on rampages through the city- the mission gameplay endorses this philosiphy. You want a hot new car? You have to steal it, even if you have more than enough money to buy it. Oh, you want to start anew? How about you actually do that instead of seeking out the local crime bosses and quickly ingratiating yourself to them. Need money? Let's go smoke some fools.  Despite Niko saying he hates all of this, the game encourages you to do so by making it entertaining, something that goes against the characterization of Niko. By rewarding you to do things that are against Niko's philosiphy, the game undermines his character. This antithesis is at the heart of the problems with the story- it just doesn't complement the gameplay.

The characterization of Niko isn't multifaceted, it's schizophrenic

Niko has been hailed as a fantastically human character, and the thing that keeps GTA IV grounded- and away from the insanity of San Andreas or Saints Row. I agree, Niko is fun, but his character is hardly believeable, a consequence of having to make an entertaining game to go along with your tragic story. Niko complains about wanting to start a new life in America, and to leave his old ways behind. However, he ignores chance after chance to do this. At a point about halfway through the game, Niko has enough money to be set for life, and due to the way the game is structured he constantly severs all his criminal connections before gaining new ones. At any point between "mission tiers", Niko could easily give up the life and fulfill his dream. But that's not a fun game. The simple point is, Niko says one thing while he does another- and not because his character is painted as hypocritical, just because the dudes doing the story and the dudes doing the missions weren't on the same page.

The game stretches on and on and on...

This again, is the conflict of the medium and story. Grand Theft Auto games are known for their longevity, and since there isn't much to do outside of the story, Rockstar felt the need to extend the story missions as long as possible, which leads to the terribly forgettable Alderney missions. A compact story allows you to learn the characters, become attached, and witness an interesting window into their lives. GTA, which you need to really hustle to complete in 30 hours, takes the concept of a clear, concise story and throws it out the window, instead deciding to go through a tiered structure where it seems as if the story starts and stops erratically, as Niko takes the time to learn a new group of mission-givers, only to have them all killed off as soon as he earns their trust and things start to heat up. Once that tier of people is gone, we start back over with a new set of people- it's almost like an entirely new plot. This segmented approach is just awkward and really hurts the pacing and characterization.

The game doesn't have an important message

Roman's the closest thing there is to Niko's straight man
Grand Theft Auto IV very, very badly wants to be a social commentary on the failure of the American Dream. It tries so hard to do this. But by the fact that Niko never even attempts anything besides crime you can't put any stock by the messages it preaches, except that crime pays, but will fuck you up good. By only dealing with the criminal fraternity and fringe elements of American society, it forfeits any right it may have had to make judgements about the average American and the validity of the American Dream. Although Niko's friends do provide a bit of a lens, they're all involved in some manner in Niko's dark dealings. GTA really wants to be a piece of social commentary, but as opposed to something like the Godfather, Grand Theft doesn't have the viewpoint of a character like Michael- Niko is, and always has been, a killer. All of Niko's friends are criminals, and all his bosses want people dead-even when he's working for the government. The game deals entirely with the seedy underworld of Liberty City, and with that in mind, it doesn't have much relevance to the average American- to come back to the Godfather again, GTA can't even manage that sort of relevance, because when the Godfather came out, people could still easily recall the Mafia, which was still quite prominent and relevant in popular culture. The Russian mob and immigrant crime syndicates are hardly well known in modern America. Regarding the immigrants, GTA misses an opportunity to make a statement on immigration as well. Niko comes off the boat, no problem, and integrates right into American society. He picks himself up a girlfriend right off, finds a group of people who don't at all care that he's an illegal Serbian immigrant, and has absolutely no trouble with the government. His immgrant experience is, essentially, flawless- except for a bit of culture shock. Most immigrants to America in this day and age have a much harder time of things, and GTA could have been a reflection of that. It wasn't.

In conclusion

The one moment from GTAIV that really stuck with me was the moment Niko confronts Darko about his betrayal. Niko asks how much Darko was paid to sell them out, and he answers $1000. Niko starts raging at Darko, angry about being sold out for so little. Darko simply responds: "How much do you charge to kill a man?", a line which so expertly connects the medium and the story, making you think back to every time you completed a mission, and saw that +$1000, or +$2000 in the top corner after taking someone out. That's the moment GTAIV truly succeeds, by masterfully linking the gamepay and story. However, throughout the rest of the product the division is painfully obvious and handicapping, with the juxtaposition of the story bemoaning the violence, and the gameplay and missions encouraging it. It's not a harmonious product, and that division seriously hurts the final experience.
Posted by Bulldog19892

I always thought it would have been cool where instead of the Alderney missions, you instead get missions where you tie up the loose ends and try to integrate into regular society. Than the shit hits the fan, and Niko gets pulled back into the fray entirely against his will. There's only one moment in the game that fits that at all, which is the drive to the church and the subsequent murder, but it's not nearly enough to create the kind of emotional impact it would have had if there were multiple missions focused on cutting off Niko's ties to the criminal underworld.

Posted by dogbox

A very interesting article. I think it would be interesting for the player to be able to end the game at those junction points like you suggest. To give the player the choice of having a dramatic, climactic ending or simply blending with normal American life. What a strange option that would be! I think from a story perspective it's fascinating, because it becomes more interactive. Bulldog also has a great idea, with the game ending with assimilation into a new culture instead of a big crime finish, necessarily. I think some people would say it would detract form the game's tone, but I think allowing the individual to set their own tone is a fascinating idea.

Posted by Pibo47

That dude over at the GI is pretty damn smart, even though im not the magz biggest fan.

Posted by Steven

I very much disagree.  Of course it's not *perfect*, but I am definitely in the "GTA4" is amazing camp.

Yes, he talks about how killing can be hard, yet you can go and kill thousands of people no problem.  Because that option is there doesn't negate the story or its impact.  It's a game, you can always break a game and create certain incongruities, that's the nature of having control over something.  The game doesn't encourage you to go on murdering sprees, it never says to murder anyone until a specific story mission.  You can go out of your way to do the exact opposite of what Niko "would do", but that doesn't eliminate the game's narrative power.  The only way to prevent that would be to turn it into a movie.  They did a very good job in making killing someone in a mission feel meaningful, whereas having fun outside of that didn't feel the same...which I think was the intention, and it's strength.  You can still have fun with it as a game (you can turn the story off, literally take yourself out of it), yet they're still able to give meaning to the story (which is most definitely there).

The game does last a long time, but maybe that's just a personal preference sort of thing, I could have kept going for hours more.  I always wish movies are longer, I want to know more, I never feel fulfilled.  But even disregarding that, I definitely disagree with the quality suffering.  I thought some of the best missions were in alderny.  When you have to kidnap that girl was an amazing moment, and the whole stolen diamonds series of missions, and the heroin run.  I think each leg of the game had amazing moments, and though some missions were frustrating, boring, or not as interesting, I didn't get the impression that *any* of those were put in merely to artificially pad out the length of the game.

I think I agree with you about the game not having a particularly strong message.  At least not a pervasive one, but I definitely think it had plenty of meaningful and relevant commentary throughout.  And I think it's the story itself, as well as the story telling, is the most amazing aspect of it.

Anyway, I think none of this is likely universal.  Perhaps some people couldn't get past the fact that they would murder all the time (and wanted to) for the story to have any impact, whereas some (such as myself) felt it very satisfying and pretty astounding (and surprising).  I enjoyed what you had to say though, good read!

Posted by Milkman

Well written and a very interesting article. However, I completely disagree.

I'd pretty much completely agree with Steven above.

Online
Posted by GobiasIndustries

FUCK I accidentaly dugg Steven down instead of up. :/

Anyway I totally agree that GTA IV's story may be a little flawed, but it's fucking fantastic either way.

Posted by Lies
Yes, he talks about how killing can be hard, yet you can go and kill thousands of people no problem.  Because that option is there doesn't negate the story or its impact.  It's a game, you can always break a game and create certain incongruities, that's the nature of having control over something.  The game doesn't encourage you to go on murdering sprees, it never says to murder anyone until a specific story mission.  You can go out of your way to do the exact opposite of what Niko "would do", but that doesn't eliminate the game's narrative power.  The only way to prevent that would be to turn it into a movie.  They did a very good job in making killing someone in a mission feel meaningful, whereas having fun outside of that didn't feel the same...which I think was the intention, and it's strength.  You can still have fun with it as a game (you can turn the story off, literally take yourself out of it), yet they're still able to give meaning to the story (which is most definitely there).

The point is not that you can go on absurd killing sprees if you choose, it's the fact that there are certain missions which require you to massacre dozens of people to advance. Three Leaf Clover comes to mind as an example of a fucking nuts murder spree that was completely unnecessary for Niko to take part in. It's probably one of the best missions in the game to play, but storywise Niko ends up killing at least two dozen people on his escape for money that he really doesn't need at that point.
Posted by Rowr

They do attempt to present it as tho he is "forced" into his ways, but its just not believable.

If they were a bit cleverer with the missions i think they could of pulled it off and said, hey if you want to shoot guys in the face, thats you allowing Niko to succumb to his nature.

But then again, who's to say Niko isnt schizophrenic?

I agree that the arc of the story is a bit of a mess, the last 1/3rd especially.

Despite all this, for all the amazing things it does i still have to give it GOTY.

Posted by daniel_beck_90
Lies said:


The gameplay and story are incongruous


   That is inevitable . as long as you want fun gampeplay you can not relate everything to the story . this being said I believe most of the missions were crafted well and were directly related to storyline .

Lies
said:

The characterization of Niko isn't multifaceted, it's schizophrenic

Niko has been hailed as a fantastically human character, and the thing that keeps GTA IV grounded- and away from the insanity of San Andreas or Saints Row. I agree, Niko is fun, but his character is hardly believeable, a consequence of having to make an entertaining game to go along with your tragic story. Niko complains about wanting to start a new life in America, and to leave his old ways behind. However, he ignores chance after chance to do this. At a point about halfway through the game, Niko has enough money to be set for life, and due to the way the game is structured he constantly severs all his criminal connections before gaining new ones. At any point between "mission tiers", Niko could easily give up the life and fulfill his dream. But that's not a fun game. The simple point is, Niko says one thing while he does another- and not because his character is painted as hypocritical, just because the dudes doing the story and the dudes doing the missions weren't on the same page.

  GTA IV is meant to be a realistic game , as a result it narrate a realistic story  free from idealism . Niko could stop working half way through but how would he manage to buy a mansion full of sports cars and ladies who suck like a vacuum  !!!  . greed , something that can only be shown in a game like GTA IV .
 You said :  Niko says one thing while he does another
 Do not we all ?  I say it again , GTA IV is meant to be a very realistic game within a fictional world .

Lies said: 

The game doesn't have an important message



 Seriously  ?!!!! Have you found all the random characters ?  have you spend time going out with all of your friends till there is no more dialog ? have you visited all of GTAIV's vast websites  ( my room . NET ,  Liberty Tree , Goldberg 's website to name a few ) ?

The game is full and I mean full of messages :  corruption in the police department , betrayal , a gay basher politician who is gay himself ( lies and politics ) , hard life of a homosexual man , illegal immigration and its harms and benefits for the nation , helping a prostitute in sever need of drug who is ready to have sex with you for only $ 5  and later giving her a some money so she can travel back to her homeland and start attending college , life a wager fraud , disapproval of drug abuse and alcohol  ( Niko does not even drink alcohol in cut scenes ) , steroid and its harms ,  and so many other things that I can not remember at the moment , 
 you compare the thorough story of GTA IV with Godfather ? seriously ?
Posted by DXSSI

I approve this message.  The story was an inconsistent, sloppy mess.

Posted by PureRok

The difference here though is the fact that the Godfather sucks and this game doesn't.

Posted by granderojo

I think the biggest problem with GTAIV was the return to Liberty City.

I wanted them to do a tri-city area of Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto.

Drug running and gun running along the great lakes.

I made this a while back it was my wish of GTAIV, it is Chicago if you can't tell.


Posted by LiquidPrince
Steven said:
" The game doesn't encourage you to go on murdering sprees, it never says to murder anyone until a specific story mission. 
Doesn't that line negate everything you just said? How can you not go on killing, where most missions are designed around the concept of killing dudes...


Posted by Foil_Charizard

Couldn't agree more. The game was highly overrated. It was by all means an amazing game but the comparisons some people were making to it were insane.
daniel_beck_90 said:


 Seriously  ?!!!! Have you found all the random characters ?  have you spend time going out with all of your friends till there is no more dialog ? have you visited all of GTAIV's vast websites  ( my room . NET ,  Liberty Tree , Goldberg 's website to name a few ) ?

The game is full and I mean full of messages :  corruption in the police department , betrayal , a gay basher politician who is gay himself ( lies and politics ) , hard life of a homosexual man , illegal immigration and its harms and benefits for the nation , helping a prostitute in sever need of drug who is ready to have sex with you for only $ 5  and later giving her a some money so she can travel back to her homeland and start attending college , life a wager fraud , disapproval of drug abuse and alcohol  ( Niko does not even drink alcohol in cut scenes ) , steroid and its harms ,  and so many other things that I can not remember at the moment , 
 you compare the thorough story of GTA IV with Godfather ? seriously ?
"
Those aren't messages, they're basic observations. All of those examples are just satires of American culture that don't really offer any insight on how to change for the better or provide an alternative. Also, disapproval of alcohol?? The game encourages you to play a mini game where you drink and drive, I really don't see where you're coming from on that point =/


 
Posted by Rowr
thabigred said:
"I think the biggest problem with GTAIV was the return to Liberty City.

I wanted them to do a tri-city area of Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto.

Drug running and gun running along the great lakes.

I made this a while back it was my wish of GTAIV, it is Chicago if you can't tell.


"
hmmm.

looks like an American city.
Posted by granderojo
Rowr said:
"thabigred said:
"I think the biggest problem with GTAIV was the return to Liberty City.

I wanted them to do a tri-city area of Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto.

Drug running and gun running along the great lakes.

I made this a while back it was my wish of GTAIV, it is Chicago if you can't tell.


"
hmmm.

looks like an American city."
whats wrong with American?

Grand Theft Auto is uniquely America satire.
Posted by insanejedi

I'm going to have to disagree with you as far as to say that I don't think you played the game all the way through, either that or you were half dead when you were playing this.

Niko never said that he never wanted to kill anyone, he's the type of person that doesn't need violence in his life, he's not a psychopath wanting on a killing rampage, but he's also the type of person who wouldn't think twice about pulling the trigger on someone and shedding a tear. It's not against Niko's philosophy to be a peaceful individual, remember his whole reason for going to Liberty City was to hunt down 2 people and he was going to do so by any means necessary.

Niko never gets a chance to start anew in the game, and this questions me to saying "have you actually played it?" *spoilers* Niko lands on a boat where Roman is in a lot of debt and forced to work for the person caring the debt Vlad. Niko then kills Vlad which then the Russian Mob needs Niko to help them, if Niko does not, him and Roman will die. He is then double crossed by the Russian Mob who want to kill him so he's always on the run. Then the government gets a hold of his balls and blackmails him to doing business.  Niko even says that it's no point fooling ourselves that we can drop everything and start over, because everyday we carry the baggage of yesterday.

And the characters are no introduced erratically as you say it is. Each of the characters introduces the other characters in a web system. After Faustin, you get introduced to Elizabeta, who introduces Packie, who introduces Phil, who introduces Ray, who introduces Pegrinno. Packie also introduces you to Gereald, Francis, and other Mcquery brothers. I don't know where your comming from where you think the story just suddenly goes and stops because there is always someone to meet and do missions for.

And for social commentary? GTA4 has loads of themes from broken dreams, drug use, revenge, money, fulfillment, and immigration. This also makes me question as if you've actually played it, because Niko is really poorly off when he got off the boat. The mansion his brother promised is a shitty old apartment, the sports car is a old crappy cab, and his cousin has debts to some Albanian thugs and a Russian asshole named Vlad taking advantage of him. For the average American, it's the eyes of how tough it must be for an illegal immigrant. Sure they may be not doing Heat style robberies, but they are forced to undertake jobs that are highly undesirable and with Roman as an example, always harassed and abused because they are foreigners. It also implies the undertones of the broken American dream if you remember the last line Niko says after the credits... "So this is how it feels, this is the dream we've been fighting for." look at his life then, he lost one's he's loved, been double-crossed and no amount of money will ever fix those things. He also talks about the lies of the dreams in America, saying things like the titties are fake, and ads telling you how great a burger is when an hour later you will be sweating the chemicals out. Roman serves as the man in denial thinking the American dream still exists, while Niko see's the truth, which is America is a death trap designed to fool people thinking they will be rich and prosperous.

Posted by Meowayne

Thank you so very much for this article! It's spot-on.
99.9% of videogames have awful, awful storytelling, and those who don't usually rely on cutscenes instead of interactivity.

People saying that games like Halo 3 or GTA IV have a good story or, dare I say it, good storytelling - that hurts so fucking much.

Posted by granderojo
Meowayne said:
"Thank you so very much for this article! It's spot-on.
99.9% of videogames have awful, awful storytelling, and those who don't usually rely on cutscenes instead of interactivity.

People saying that games like Halo 3 or GTA IV have a good story or, dare I say it, good storytelling - that hurts so fucking much.

"
give an example of a good story, and I will show you how it failed in many aspects.
Posted by Claude

Niko ran like he had a corn cob stuck up his ass. The game became like work, same thing over and over. I quit caring toward the end, stopped playing and sold the game.

Edited by Meowayne
thabigred said:
give an example of a good story, and I will show you how it failed in many aspects."
What's the point? You can do that with each and every story and storytelling ever produced in any medium.
That being said, I cannot even think of a single game that does everything right - Story, storytelling and script.

Half-Life 2 has an awesome script and the most brilliant interactive/immersive storytelling, but the story itself is rather weak.
Silent Hill 2 shines in story and in non-cutscene and subtle storytelling, but the script is really, really awful.
Many games like Soul Reaver have above average stories, scripts and voice actors - But tell it exclusively in non-interactive cutscenes.

For people interested in literary studies and intelligent narrative, games like Portal, World of Goo and Shadow of the Colossus are the most impressive video games - When developers are actively using the medium, look for and manage to find ways to communicate a mood and a certain amount of narrative to the player while playing - But of course, such games are more like interactive paintings, and are neither recognized as such by the average gamer (who, in 9 out of 10 cases, cannot even distinguish between story, storytelling, narrative, immersion), nor do they make profit.

I can enjoy Halo, Gears of GTA as much as the other gamer, but as a lover of being told stories and people that know how to use the respective medium they're narrating it, Video Games leave me disappointed almost every time.


Edit: I imagine the perfect video game with the quality and subtlety of story from Team Silent, art directors from Team Ico, writers from Valve and foley artists from Bungie. And put whoever was responsible for the self-awareness in Mirror's Edge there, too.

Posted by chililili
Meowayne said:
"thabigred said:
give an example of a good story, and I will show you how it failed in many aspects."
What's the point? You can do that with each and every story and storytelling ever produced in any medium.
That being said, I cannot even think of a single game that does everything right - Story, storytelling and script.

Half-Life 2 has an awesome script and the most brilliant interactive/immersive storytelling, but the story itself is rather weak.
Silent Hill 2 shines in story and in non-cutscene and subtle storytelling, but the script is really, really awful.
Many games like Soul Reaver have above average stories, scripts and voice actors - But tell it exclusively in non-interactive cutscenes.

For people interested in literary studies and intelligent narrative, games like World of Goo and Shadow of the Colossus are the most impressive video games - When developers are actively using the medium, look for and manage to find ways to communicate a mood and a certain amount of narrative to the player while playing - But of course, such games are more like interactive paintings, and are neither recognized as such by the average gamer (who, in 9 out of 10 cases, cannot even distinguish between story, storytelling, narrative, immersion), nor do they make profit.

I can enjoy Halo, Gears of GTA as much as the other gamer, but as a lover of being told stories and people that know how to use the respective medium they're narrating it, Video Games leave me disappointed almost every time.

"
I agree with you, most of the people around here do not know what makes a good story. The GTA IV story is not a captivating narrative that or an interesting social commentary. Its stuck somewhere in story quality between an american summer flick and a bad mafia movie. The people who hail it as a literary or narrative achievement, I would guess they do not read any books or watch any movies that try to do things differently. Its the sort of people who say that the Godfather is one of the greatest movies ever, but don't understand why it is. I again agree with you (narrative games wise), my favorite games (story wise) are ICO, Shadow of the Colossus and World of Goo (world of goo particularly blew me away as I was not expecting it to have that story and view of the world). Everyone who is arguing that GTA IV has narrative relevance (specially the writer of the article which calls it the writing of the century), needs a Lit 101 class or something. Read Naked Lunch or something for a good American social commentary. I think that even something mildy well-thought (the Bourne trilogy) has a much better written story than GTA IV.

Its painful to me whenever people keep saying that the game is a narrative achievement. Because it just isn't, not by literary, movie, or general art standards.
Posted by Jayge_

This post contains SPOILERS.


I don't understand why the game has so much "meaning" for so many people. I don't know if it's the fact that they aren't trained (as I sadly have been) in the art of predicting generic story twists by watching tens of thousands of hours of TV, or what. People, Jeff included, often talk about "oh... the moral decision of killing someone in a mission... or a random character... that touched me." What? Is it me that is so jaded that I see that crap as superficial and dumb? The game freaking flashes red and blue at you, like "CHOICE HERE NUB, FEEL EMOTION." The moral choices weren't moral choices unless you forced them to be. Ironically, if you really think about it, people who thought of them simply as calculations of potential losses and gains were emulating Niko more than anyone else was. Everybody is dirty in that city. Who gives a shit? It's just another corpse on the several hundred that Bellic apparently "needs" to kill to get by.

By the time the end of the game came and I was standing on a runway with a pistol, I didn't even wait to here all of that little asshole's arguments and pleas. That man, as written by the assholes who created the story of GTA4, was responsible for most of the completely unnecessary ordeals that I had to steer some sorry sunuvabitch immigrant through for no apparent reason. I wasted no time creating a cavity in the back of his head. I honestly have serious trouble mustering any degree of respect for anyone who sat there for a few minutes deliberating over whether or not to shoot the guy. I just can't fathom why it would make you sit there and think so much. His killing would be the only one with any moral calculation to it in the game, that much is true. Either way, he was out of your life forever. Would Niko kill him? Were you playing as Niko? Were you playing as you? Who cared at this point, all you wanted was the achievement or trophy, and again, he's just another "corpse" in the pile.

Although not nearly as "polished" as Grand Theft Auto 4, at least Fallout 3 managed to create a world in which your actions had a literal and figurative weight, and where it was acceptable to sit there and weigh the benefits of all of your choices for long periods of time. GTA4, as much as it tried to escape its goofy roots, never did. There was absolutely no point in busting all of that money and time creating some "masterpiece" narrative that, as many point out, falls flat on its face. People say it's the evolution of the series, but it isn't. It stripped the game of what it should have been, and for examples of what it should have been look to Saints Row 2. That game knows what it is, and it's much more enjoyable for it. There is end game content in Saints Row 2. Not shooting fucking pidgeons and jumping off of setpieces. There is co-op. There are inventive and fun online modes. All things that Grand Theft Auto dropped on the side of the road as it walked itself into hell.

A buddy of mine put it aptly today when he saw the Kotaku article Lies referenced and said, "Who the fuck WANTS that? Movies are already ruined by overdramatic pieces of shit getting awards thrown at them for no reason. Are games supposed to become that to to get legit?" To which I agreed with him. It's fine if you want to have a great story in a game, but it's clear that there is nobody in today's playing field who is apparently up to doing a game well. Fuck, I spent more time considering the moral "killing" choices in SUIKODEN, a 1995 jRPG for the PS1, than I did in GTA4. Looking at stories as they have progressed through the years, it's clear that they haven't at all. And once people accept that and stop fellating the Houser brothers for destroying their own franchise, there might be progress.

If you couldn't tell, I'm obscenely bored right now.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Coming from a writer's perspective, I thought GTAIV had a decent story, but nothing nearly on the level of the hype and reviews upon its release.  Comparing it to the Godfather is flat-out ridiculous for many of the reasons you've listed above.  GTAIV is a giant step in the right direction for game storytelling, and I'd argue that it is indeed the pinnacle of gaming stories, but it's not anywhere quite on the level of cinema's greatest.

However, I disagree on the idea that the game's length is a detractor.  If anything is a detractor, it's the "fill-in" missions that could have easily served as side-quests.  Getting beyond those, though, a meaty game doesn't make for a bad story.

Moderator
Edited by daniel_beck_90
Foil_Charizard said:
The game encourages you to play a mini game where you drink and drive, I really don't see where you're coming from on that point =/

   The game never encourages the player to get drunk and drive  , instead it wants him/her to  take a cab .
Posted by Oni

I completely agree with you Lies. GTA 4's story is massively overrated. I enjoyed the game, and the story, but at no point did I feel like I was watching the medium progress to the next level of anything, ever. It was not a landmark in a video game story. It was not a landmark in writing. It was good. That's all.

And yeah, it's kind of /facepalm to see all the people going and hailing GTA 4 as the bestest story evaire. No it's not, not even in video games.

All that said, I can't wait for The Lost and The Damned to bring the "FUCK YEAH" back to GTA.

Posted by crunchUK

The narrative failings of gta4 were trying to make it sotry focused in the first place

I mean what happened to the awesome days of sand andreas where it didn't TRY to be real and as a result you didn't keep thinking "wtf"

Posted by Milkman
Foil_Charizard said:
"Couldn't agree more. The game was highly overrated. It was by all means an amazing game but the comparisons some people were making to it were insane.
daniel_beck_90 said:

 Seriously  ?!!!! Have you found all the random characters ?  have you spend time going out with all of your friends till there is no more dialog ? have you visited all of GTAIV's vast websites  ( my room . NET ,  Liberty Tree , Goldberg 's website to name a few ) ?

The game is full and I mean full of messages :  corruption in the police department , betrayal , a gay basher politician who is gay himself ( lies and politics ) , hard life of a homosexual man , illegal immigration and its harms and benefits for the nation , helping a prostitute in sever need of drug who is ready to have sex with you for only $ 5  and later giving her a some money so she can travel back to her homeland and start attending college , life a wager fraud , disapproval of drug abuse and alcohol  ( Niko does not even drink alcohol in cut scenes ) , steroid and its harms ,  and so many other things that I can not remember at the moment , 
 you compare the thorough story of GTA IV with Godfather ? seriously ?
"
Those aren't messages, they're basic observations. All of those examples are just satires of American culture that don't really offer any insight on how to change for the better or provide an alternative. Also, disapproval of alcohol?? The game encourages you to play a mini game where you drink and drive, I really don't see where you're coming from on that point =/


 "
You have not played the game. And you're a complete dumbass. Grats.
Online
Posted by Milkman
Jayge said:
"

This post contains SPOILERS.


I don't understand why the game has so much "meaning" for so many people. I don't know if it's the fact that they aren't trained (as I sadly have been) in the art of predicting generic story twists by watching tens of thousands of hours of TV, or what. People, Jeff included, often talk about "oh... the moral decision of killing someone in a mission... or a random character... that touched me." What? Is it me that is so jaded that I see that crap as superficial and dumb? The game freaking flashes red and blue at you, like "CHOICE HERE NUB, FEEL EMOTION." The moral choices weren't moral choices unless you forced them to be. Ironically, if you really think about it, people who thought of them simply as calculations of potential losses and gains were emulating Niko more than anyone else was. Everybody is dirty in that city. Who gives a shit? It's just another corpse on the several hundred that Bellic apparently "needs" to kill to get by.

By the time the end of the game came and I was standing on a runway with a pistol, I didn't even wait to here all of that little asshole's arguments and pleas. That man, as written by the assholes who created the story of GTA4, was responsible for most of the completely unnecessary ordeals that I had to steer some sorry sunuvabitch immigrant through for no apparent reason. I wasted no time creating a cavity in the back of his head. I honestly have serious trouble mustering any degree of respect for anyone who sat there for a few minutes deliberating over whether or not to shoot the guy. I just can't fathom why it would make you sit there and think so much. His killing would be the only one with any moral calculation to it in the game, that much is true. Either way, he was out of your life forever. Would Niko kill him? Were you playing as Niko? Were you playing as you? Who cared at this point, all you wanted was the achievement or trophy, and again, he's just another "corpse" in the pile.

Although not nearly as "polished" as Grand Theft Auto 4, at least Fallout 3 managed to create a world in which your actions had a literal and figurative weight, and where it was acceptable to sit there and weigh the benefits of all of your choices for long periods of time. GTA4, as much as it tried to escape its goofy roots, never did. There was absolutely no point in busting all of that money and time creating some "masterpiece" narrative that, as many point out, falls flat on its face. People say it's the evolution of the series, but it isn't. It stripped the game of what it should have been, and for examples of what it should have been look to Saints Row 2. That game knows what it is, and it's much more enjoyable for it. There is end game content in Saints Row 2. Not shooting fucking pidgeons and jumping off of setpieces. There is co-op. There are inventive and fun online modes. All things that Grand Theft Auto dropped on the side of the road as it walked itself into hell.

A buddy of mine put it aptly today when he saw the Kotaku article Lies referenced and said, "Who the fuck WANTS that? Movies are already ruined by overdramatic pieces of shit getting awards thrown at them for no reason. Are games supposed to become that to to get legit?" To which I agreed with him. It's fine if you want to have a great story in a game, but it's clear that there is nobody in today's playing field who is apparently up to doing a game well. Fuck, I spent more time considering the moral "killing" choices in SUIKODEN, a 1995 jRPG for the PS1, than I did in GTA4. Looking at stories as they have progressed through the years, it's clear that they haven't at all. And once people accept that and stop fellating the Houser brothers for destroying their own franchise, there might be progress.

If you couldn't tell, I'm obscenely bored right now."
In the end, it comes down to personal experience and personal opinion. There are many ways to look at GTA IV. You obviously went down the route of "Hey, I'm a 15 year old playing a video game! I'm gonna kill some bitches!", which is fine if that's what you want out of games. But other people choose to look at GTA IV has something a little more than that. The game medium is evolving. Look back to roots of movies. When the first movies were released no one considered them art. People just said "Hey, this is fun!" But over time, movies evolved from these silent moving pictures to sprawling emotion epics and intense action movies that made you feel something. And at this point, video games are going through the same progressive. Games have gone from this faceless 8 bit mazes to games that make you feel for its characters and where you care about what's going on in the story. Games are much deeper now than just saving the princess. And when we look at video game progression, Grand Theft Auto IV is at the top. GTA IV is now the ground work of what a game can make you feel and how far game storytelling can go.

But on the side of the spectrum, there are people out there like you and many people in this thread who just see games as fun, which is perfectly fine. There are still people who look at movie as just fun. Look at people who go see movies like Epic Movie or Date Movie or [Insert Name Here] Movie. And while we would like to scream in those people face's about how much those movie blow, it's all about their perspective. 
Online
Posted by Foil_Charizard
Milkman said:
You have not played the game. And you're a complete dumbass. Grats.
Care to elaborate dipshit? Probably not because you don't have anything other than a generic response.

 daniel_beck_90 said:
   The game never encourages the player to get drunk and drive  , instead it wants him/her to  take a cab ."
I disagree, but even so the game encourages you to keep up relations with friends and they often call you up and ask you to go get smashed. Whether or not you should take a taxi or not it still encourages you drink. Personally i don't give a shit but anyone who actually thinks that GTA IV is Anti drugs, drinking, and violence is a fucking idiot.
Posted by JoelTGM

Ok I'm not going to read all that right now, but the reason I post here is because I was just thinking about GTA 4s story/characters and why it didn't work for me.  They were too serious about the whole thing.  The story was in the cutscenes, and that was it.  So in every cutscene they're loading you full of information about characters, and then they just tell you run over and grab that car or shoot some dude.  So what was the point of all that story crap if it means nothing outside of cutscenes?  It wasn't memorable at all, even though they put so much effort into it.  Some of the most memorable game characters for me are in Gears of War.  They are very simple characters, and I'd rather hang with those guys than anyone in GTA 4, heck I can barely remember what characters were in GTA 4.  They talked a lot about moral choices, I don't remember who I killed or didn't kill though.  They need to stop with the gangster drama and just give a proper story experience without relying on cutscenes.

Edited by daniel_beck_90
Foil_Charizard said:


 daniel_beck_90 said:
   The game never encourages the player to get drunk and drive  , instead it wants him/her to  take a cab ."
I disagree, but even so the game encourages you to keep up relations with friends and they often call you up and ask you to go get smashed. Whether or not you should take a taxi or not it still encourages you drink. Personally i don't give a shit but anyone who actually thinks that GTA IV is Anti drugs, drinking, and violence is a fucking idiot."
  

Let me give you a few examples available in GTA IV :

1-The game shows drug abuse (specially cocaine ) at various cut scenes but at the same time  Niko who happens to be player’s manipulation and manifestation never accept the other offering him dope .

2-At the beginning of the game Niko goes to bar and order merely a glass of water while everyone else is drinking some sort of alcoholic drink.

3- Niko frequently blame Little Jacob for smoking weed .

4- When confronts Derrick while he is high Niko criticize him and ask him “why do you do this to yourself ? does it stop you from caring ?  

5- When Niko meets a junkie hooker named Marnie while she is in need of dope she begs  Niko for money and tells him to have sex with her for merely $5 . not only Niko refuses her offer ( disapproving prostitution ) he helps Marnie and advice her about visiting a clinic . Niko later give her $500 so she can travel back to her homeland ( ) .

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

considering many NPCs in GTA IV  who have indecent habits while Niko despise them is enough reason to believe that the game has anti drug / alcohol messages ( Along with many other messages of various categories )  .

Also the fact that Niko can go and get severely drunk , or hook up with a prostitute  is only because GTA IV is a sandbox which lets the player do whatever he/she wants but it is not necessarily tied up to Niko’s characteristic .

BTW calling someone stupid without giving the reason and explanation shows lack of wisdom and understaing itself .

Posted by chililili

I think part of the disconnect that people are having in this discussion is that for example you are going "GTA IV is anti dugs" or "GTA IV provides social commentary" or "it provides a mob story", but you have to look at how and what the quality of the message is. Both Analyze This and The Godfather have mob stories. What sets them apart is the way the story is presented. You can have a very crappy story executed masterfully or a very good story told like shit. That's why people say oh GTA IV has drugs+mobs+moral choices and the Godfather has drugs+mobs+moral choices, they must be of a similar quality. When its obviously not, I am sorry but if the GTA IV story touched you, then an average Michael Bay movie story should touch you because it goes no deeper than that, and it brings nothing new to the table. That's why I felt that San Andreas was better, because that stuff was so far out left field it was funny and could keep you entertained.

The problem is GTA San Andreas was a caricature that satirized american life, and GTA IV is trying to be a social commentary on american life through satire. The thing is that the mob is no longer as socially relevant as it used to be, and it did not have enough quality writing or story to stand on its legs. It does not engage the audience properly, it does not keep it interested in the story and it does not keep it particularly interested in the critique either.

Posted by TheGreatGuero

Going into this thread, I thought I'd really disagree with what it had to say. However, dude makes some good points and his statements are well argued. I think it may be a bit far to say it's narrative is a failure, however, it is by no means the best writing of the century. Not only does he point out what GTAIV did wrong, but he shows us what it should have done. Perhaps we should have had more choices. The game probably should have showed Niko struggling more being an immigrant having just settled in America. However, instead, I think it focuses on the the point that maybe this kind of violence is all Niko has ever known. He grew up in a war-torn country, and even fought in the war. Maybe it's the only thing Niko has ever been really good at, and it's possible that is why he felt stuck in that path and unable to break free.

Posted by Jayge_
Milkman said:
"In the end, it comes down to personal experience and personal opinion. There are many ways to look at GTA IV. You obviously went down the route of "Hey, I'm a 15 year old playing a video game! I'm gonna kill some bitches!", which is fine if that's what you want out of games. But other people choose to look at GTA IV has something a little more than that. The game medium is evolving. Look back to roots of movies. When the first movies were released no one considered them art. People just said "Hey, this is fun!" But over time, movies evolved from these silent moving pictures to sprawling emotion epics and intense action movies that made you feel something. And at this point, video games are going through the same progressive. Games have gone from this faceless 8 bit mazes to games that make you feel for its characters and where you care about what's going on in the story. Games are much deeper now than just saving the princess. And when we look at video game progression, Grand Theft Auto IV is at the top. GTA IV is now the ground work of what a game can make you feel and how far game storytelling can go.

But on the side of the spectrum, there are people out there like you and many people in this thread who just see games as fun, which is perfectly fine. There are still people who look at movie as just fun. Look at people who go see movies like Epic Movie or Date Movie or [Insert Name Here] Movie. And while we would like to scream in those people face's about how much those movie blow, it's all about their perspective. "
You make many assumptions that you are not in a place to make. I didn't enter GTA4's world to go and "kill some bitches." I'm not a "15 year old playing a videogame" (although if memory serves me right, you are). I came at it with the belief that the narrative (as extolled by many respected critics) was something exemplary or extraordinary or paradigm-shifting. I was looking forward to an emotionally mature Grand Theft Auto. This was not the case. As it has been pointed out by myself, (possibly) Lies, and many others on the internet, the story is nothing to froth at the mouth over. It wasn't progressive; it didn't feature anything that hadn't ever been seen before, 10 years earlier. The characters, for the most part, are shallow. The story, as I mentioned in my original post, is predictable. The conclusions were completely unaffecting. Abundant plot holes, cognitive disconnects between the story and gameplay, and a general lack of attention to detail (despite how "fleshed out" extra content may seem) all contributed to a general failure in Rockstar's attempts to convey some sort of meaningful story. The game, overall, is shallow. Mechanically and story-wise. It doesn't deserve any of the credit it gets for doing things it just plain-out didn't *do*. The truth is the ironic converse of your assertion; it's not those who claim the game failed who are the ones failing to see some magical "evolution" in gaming represented by GTA4. It's those who see one who are claiming that the game is some sort of masterpiece who will not allow the medium to progress.
Posted by Jensonb

Grand Theft Auto IV is the solemn tale of one man's mistakes.

The story is fantastic, and if you find yourself playing it in ways which do not match the story, that's your business, but it's not the game's fault, nor is it the fault of the story. I, for one, played "as" Niko for the most part, so I saw no disconnect.

Posted by Lies
Jensonb said:
"Grand Theft Auto IV is the solemn tale of one man's mistakes.

The story is fantastic, and if you find yourself playing it in ways which do not match the story, that's your business, but it's not the game's fault, nor is it the fault of the story. I, for one, played "as" Niko for the most part, so I saw no disconnect."
It's not that "you find yourself playing it in ways that don't match the story", it's that the gameplay missions required to advance the story don't match the story. That's the inherent problem with the design.
Posted by Jensonb
Lies said:
"Jensonb said:
"Grand Theft Auto IV is the solemn tale of one man's mistakes.

The story is fantastic, and if you find yourself playing it in ways which do not match the story, that's your business, but it's not the game's fault, nor is it the fault of the story. I, for one, played "as" Niko for the most part, so I saw no disconnect."
It's not that "you find yourself playing it in ways that don't match the story", it's that the gameplay missions required to advance the story don't match the story. That's the inherent problem with the design."
Not really, that's just the way you choose to see the missions. The narrative gives plenty of reasons for Niko to do what he does. The whole point is that he came to end the old ways (By finding and finishing the man who betrayed him) and find a new life and things don't work out that way. The reason he does missions where has to kill people is because, unfortunately, that's what eh does. He doesn't like it, but he accepts it.