Story Time: To Lag or Frag?

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I wanna be a pirate!” - Guybrush Threepwood

"Dear Jumpman Mario: Please come to the castle. I've baked a cake for you. Yours truly - Princess Toadstool."

"Secret projects paid for by the Pentagon's black budget. You can avoid a lot of red tape and get a great lead time on your weapons production. And no one can bother you... not even those bleeding heart liberals on the military oversight committee..." - Kenneth Baker

"Well, so much for the government, their idea of containment is to kill everyone associated with the project! Judging by your hazard suit I'd say you were part of what went wrong, isn't that right?" - Scientist

"I can go no further. You alone must stand against the Prince of Destruction and his Mortal Servants. He must not have the Amulet of Kings!" - Emperor Uriel Septim VII

Question: Do we really care?

Undeniably noble aspirations aside, what drives us through our gaming campaigns?

As John Cheese has so cleverly pointed out, a fair number of modern (youthful) gamers tend to burn through their skip-scene buttons in order to get to the 'good stuff.' So, how far is the historical depth of each gaming universe carrying these titles? Is a thorough and air-tight narrative necessary for an immersive experience, or have game developers realized that they can simply tack on a generic nuclear or alien threat and still sell copies due to an intriguing or addictive gameplay mechanic?

Are video games being used as an entertainment medium through which developers can present a well-tuned story, or has plot mutated into something that only briefly squeezes itself into the limelight between all the shooting and explosions?

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Sure, I'll admit it, sometimes I'm just in the mood to frag. Throw me a weapon, mutter an obnoxious line or two, and let me start slaughtering the baddies. There's simply no debating the sheer joy of that experience. I will say this though: these moods are the reason id Software developed Quake (Okay, fine. If you want to say I'm contradicting myself by ignoring the captivating tale of an unnamed protagonist sent to take down Quake following the abuse of a Slipgate, fair play to you. But hush now, you're ruining the flow). I've seen an unfortunate of number of gamers take on the likes of Oblivion while in these fragging moods, and it makes me cringe every time - skipping entire conversations and then running around aimlessly for half an hour trying to figure out what to do helps nobody (Also, leave the poor NPC townsfolk alone, they're only trying to give you XP - isn't that why you're playing?).

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It's debatable whether the story arc in any commendable franchise presents a vivid conceptualization of a digital world from the very beginning of the tale or, instead, has an in-depth universe come to fruition as it's slowly constructed bit-by-bit throughout the series. Was Alyx always in the back of Marc Laidlaw's mind while constructing the events of Half-Life, or was it a befitting afterthought that was only called for following the success of HL1? There is truly a vast wealth of information detailing nearly every major event within the Half-Life universe, spanning those events which take place prior to, during and following Gordon Freeman's stasis (Sorry, but if that's a spoiler, shame on you). If you don't believe me, have a quick peek at the brilliant compilation of work by Chan Karunamuni. Again, whether or not these details emerged as a direct result of Half-Life's success may be a point of contention, but in my eyes it's irrelevant. The universe and all the vivid detail within it is there for gamers to soak up and enjoy.

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If you haven't noticed yet, I'm a huge fan of a captivating storyline. Why are we button mashing our way through important plot points? Why have a large number of gamers turned their back on dialogue? Am I alone in feeling at least somewhat concerned for the state of video games. Thankfully, with Skyrim and all its promise around the corner I can let out a sigh of relief. Not to mention other high quality titles in the works such as Mass Effect 3 and, dare I say it, Half-Life 2: Episode 3 (Too optimistic? Too soon?). Nonetheless, if the way we choose to experience this form of entertainment is changing, how will developers respond? Where will they shift their focus during development? I hear plenty of moaning and groaning at the thought of streamlining the gaming experience, not to mention a good deal of finger pointing at console gamers. I don't mean to make any claims here - maybe things will change, maybe they won't. Either way, the state of video games as a story telling device is rather thought provoking.

I suppose it's important to consider what we're all taking away from the gaming experience. Are we playing to quickly satiate our bloodlust or to involve ourselves in a gripping and immersive journey? Are we interested in the history behind each characters struggle to survive, or would we prefer to have +XP! thrown our way? I'd like to believe we can have it all if that's what we desire, but I feel that some gamers are running into far too many titles with blinders on. Whether that's the fault of gamers or a result of popular game development trends is surely yet another point of debate.

Let me ask once more: What is driving us through our gaming campaigns? Are video games being used as an entertainment medium through which developers can present a well-tuned story, or has plot mutated into something that only briefly squeezes itself into the limelight between all the shooting and explosions? Do you value one more than the other? Furthermore, are video games designed to present the gamer with a thoughtful story, or are those stories simply a generic platform from which developers launch new gameplay mechanics? Conversely, should we lay the blame on developers at all, or shall we look at the manner in which gamers approach these titles? Should we lag behind and embrace the dialogue, or run and gun our way through fragging mayhem?

Perhaps I'll readdress this post once I actually formulate my own opinion, but for now I think I'll leave this topic with a giant question mark.

Disclaimer: If this blog post sounded obnoxious, pretentious, snobbish, conceited, or any other synonym for the word, I do apologize. Although I have only one more thing to say: I just completed my "Dear Diary" quest - Thanks GiantBomb. w00t.