Damn good storytelling can indeed carry non-traditional gameplay
The Walking Dead was widely considered one of the best games of 2012. The only “problem” with this is that it wasn’t a game in the sense that many are used to. We weren’t exactly playing The Walking Dead, but rather exploring our surroundings, taking part of conversations, and following a story. At its heart, it was a cinematic experience, at times hampered with weird aiming (on Xbox 360) and occasional bugs. That didn’t stop it from winning Game of the Year awards.
Flash forward to 2013 and the same theme is appearing: Gone Home and The Stanley Parable are far from games in the truest sense. Yet they’re still winning plenty of praise and acclaim from critics and gamers alike. That’s not to say they’ve been free from criticism, however.
While critics haven’t been afraid to stand up for the indies in their year-end accolades, gamers haven’t always been as warm. Granted, no matter what someone picks as their game of the year, controversy will follow. The Last of Us is a “safe choice.” BioShock Infinite was “overhyped and nothing but a shooter with a twist ending.” Grand Theft Auto V is “lol, of course.” Gone Home is “no game that’s only 90 minutes will ever win GOTY.” The Stanley Parable is “that’s not even a real game.”
While it may technically be true that titles such as The Walking Dead and Gone Home aren’t games in the “truest” sense, they’re still pieces of interactive media. You’re not going through the motions on auto-pilot. You still have to converse with others, interact with the environment, and explore your surroundings. No game is perfect: some falter in execution, some in narrative, and others in visuals. Just because these games don’t have traditional set pieces doesn’t mean they’re not games; they’re simply a different genre.
Sadly, that hasn’t stopped the continued backlash. People aren’t realizing that these story based games are no different from the more “traditional” titles we all know and love. There are plenty of games that have solid gameplay with an absolutely horrible narrative. With games such as The Stanley Parable, the only thing that’s really changed is that things are inversed. The narrative is incredibly well thought out, but the gameplay can be viewed as lacking. In a year where no game was perfect (other than Rayman Legends, of course), it seems foolish to judge any games in this manner.
The Walking Dead’s story kept me playing through all of my gameplay frustrations. Gone Home’s mystique changes its seemingly dark and dreary setting into a welcome one worth exploring. It’s not just the little guys, either. Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s villagers have me invested in returning to my town after a hiatus as a Pokemon trainer. These are all narrative reasons for playing a game. These stories are making me forget about my issues with the actual gameplay. The writing has me hooked.
It’s a nice change of pace from simply playing a game and ignoring its story.