Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Stories and Softballs

Are we giving some games a free pass, just because of where they're coming from?

Getting away from the whole mergers and acquisitions dance before I spontaneously generate a tie and dapper suit (as fun as that would be...) I'm calling attention to something that I found on Game Politics that got me thinking from the moment I read it. Basically, the creative director of Assassin's Creed, one Alex Hutchinson, has a complaint regarding the criticism of the stories presented in games, and it's not one without controversy either: he thinks that if a game comes from a Japanese developer, that the story is given a pass, regardless of how bad or ridiculous it is.

Why do Nintendo get it right? It releases a new edition of the same franchise every year and no one bats an eyelid. Why?

You want my real answer? I think there's a subtle racism in the business, especially on the journalists' side, where Japanese developers are forgiven for doing what they do. I think it's condescending to do this.

Seriously?  

Yeah. Just think about how many Japanese games are released where their stories are literally gibberish. Literally gibberish. There's no way you could write it with a straight face, and the journalists say 'oh it is brilliant'.

Then Gears of War comes out and apparently it's the worst written narrative in a game ever. I'll take Gears of War over Bayonetta any time.

It's patronising to say, "oh those Japanese stories, they don't really mean what they're doing".

Strong words indeed. I'm not sure that I necessarily agree with everything he's saying here, but I can't help but wonder if he has a point. Certainly no one is going to really be saying that Master Chief's journey through the world of Halo is the most gripping piece of narrative ever, but is it really any better or worse off than say, most any story from the Mario series? In these cases story is really more of a means to an end then anything else: the core of each of these games is the gameplay itself, as should be the case with most games. That's not to say that a game couldn't or shouldn't have a good story, just that as a form of media it's one that doesn't necessarily need one in order to be good.

The more I think about it though, the more it kind of just seems to be sour grapes. Aside from that lawsuit from the author that created a LINK which he claims Assassin's Creed ripped off the Animus from, there hasn't been that much talk regarding the story. The story of Desmond's ancestors is somewhat compelling in certain cases I'll grant you (the story in the present is kind of ... not, but I won't address that because spoilers and whatnot), but you don't see anyone really saying that they were compelled to play further and further into the game because of its engrossing story.

He mentions Bayonetta in his rant, and even though I don't really know anything about the story in the game I'm willing to bet a month's wages that it's probably fairly straightforward and/or ridiculous; we are talking about a game where the protagonist uses her own hair as clothing, weapons, and other junk after all. Given that it's from the same mind that made Devil May Cry, it's probably to be expected, and believe me, you don't play a game like Devil May Cry for the story unless you're very strange.

So really, in the end I wonder if soft ball really applies here. Sure, some games like Gears of War have stories that are harped on, but are those stories better than any of the Japanese ones? Having played a fair share of games, I can answer that with a "not really", and they're not really worse either. Certainly a game can have a memorable story, but that's because people worked hard on it, not because it did or didn't come from a certain continent or background. Sure some games like RPGs lend themselves to stories more readily, but there's nothing stopping a compelling narrative from taking place in just about any genre. So when he talks about problems, I think that more than anything he's talking about ones that he has, not that are really present.

Maybe I'm wrong, but to me, a crappy story is a crappy story, and a good one a good one. It's not a complicated issue.

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