I have been playing a lot of Halo 4. It has caused me to come to a realization, one that I fear may lead to excommunication:
I don’t care about story in games.
Caveat: I love me some lore.
This has been true for quite a while, although I didn’t realize it. I have spent a while typing out a really long, meandering explanation of why this is so, but doing so has pretty well clarified my thinking and it can be summed up as follows:
Both gameplay and spectacle are the enemy of directed narrative. In other media, directed narrative still leaves plenty of room for imagination, and so I am fine with it there. In games, directed narrative only serves to diminish the possibilities of the world, and concessions such as locked doors and limited paths are constant reminders of that. And, since you see, hear, and interact with everything that the developers have put into place, there is precious little left to the imagination while playing. So when the narrative portions come along, I just don’t care, because, frankly, I would rather experience those things in a book or movie. What I do care about is the spectacle that games like Halo 4 provide–give me your dyson spheres with skyscraping machines of ancient devise and unknowable purpose. Let me gaze upon them from afar as the god rays stream through, and let me walk right up to and explore them. Give me the broad strokes of future history and alien past, and let me ponder what has been and will be. But Cortana is going rampant and we need to get back to earth and an ancient alien is hell bent on finding a particular machine that does a particular thing and we totally need to stop him and also Master Chief is like a combination human and machine and let’s explore that? Don’t care. Call me when it’s lore.
Still a shorter way of putting it: lore and spectacle give context to imagination. Directed narrative snuffs it. I’ll happily plow through a Halo campaign to see the amazing sights and learn about the past; I’ll yawn through the breathless narrative. Lest ye think Halo 4’s narrative just isn’t up to scratch, I feel this way about pretty much every game I’ve ever played.
Even more critical than lore/spectacle, of course, is gameplay, which is why many of my favorite games are entirely devoid of lore and spectacle. Indeed, this is why my game of the year is Trials Evolution.