Which is more important in a videogame, story or gameplay? This is an old question that has been sparking debate for a while. Even though I’m a story guy through and through, I find this debate to be trivial and somewhat outdated. Despite this, I still read articles (especially with VR capabilities coming out) that gameplay is king and always will be, or that nothing can beat a good story and that story is the reason people play games. I agree and disagree with both statements. I find that when they are well utilized, both story and gameplay-driven games produce a stellar experience.
Story. Who needs it?
Take a look at the first-person shooter (FPS) genre, my all-time favorite. This is a genre that survives mostly on gameplay. A lot of FPS franchises don’t even have a story mode. People mostly buy the games for the multiplayer capability, but I’m not a big fan of gaming with strangers. I’m kind of a videogame hermit. However, it doesn’t matter that I don’t like those type of games because millions of people do. The mechanics are fun and the fast pace is addicting.
Puzzle games like Tetris also prove that you don’t need story to make a game great. The same could be said of any old school platformer. Games like Mario and Donkey Kong, that had stories, but the narratives were so thin they could be supermodels. The gameplay is so well designed that nothing else is needed.
Gameplay is for the birds!
On the other end of the spectrum there does exist games that are story heavy, but lack in gameplay. Check out Spec Ops: the Line, a game with a great narrative that deconstructs the tired military shooter story line and really makes the player question their role as the hero. The story behind this game isn’t new, it draws heavy inspiration from two sources, but given that the player is an active participant in the story, it becomes its own. Now compare the narrative to the gameplay. The gameplay is your standard run-of-the-mill third person cover shooter, but the game doesn’t suffer for it. It’s still a great experience that at times can make you think along the way.
The end is not near.
These are a few examples that only really scratch the surface. The reality of the gameplay vs. story debate is that it doesn’t matter. Amazing games have been made and are still being made that focus on one or the other, and a few have even gotten the balance right (*cough*Half Life 2*cough*).
So even with VR capabilities coming to the forefront of gaming, I don’t think for a second that story or gameplay will suffer. Instead, story and gameplay will work together to create even more immersive experiences. The technology will hopefully be utilized in a way that enhances both.