Does story make a better game? Usually, I think, yes, but of course there are varying degrees to what extent ‘story’ is necessary. The primary purposes of story in games are to give the characters [and players] motivations for their actions, to lay out a beginning, middle and end, and to make the player become emotionally connected to the game. I think this aspect in particular is easily overlooked. It is the difference between a game you enjoyed playing that is fun, and something that stays with you in the same way a novel or film does, and games have perfect capability to do that to the same extent. They have the same tools as film – image, sound, and voice. But they also have the extra dimension of interactivity. Depending on the genre, the depth of the story is of arguable importance. For instance, in a puzzle game, an interesting premise/theme is enough, and usually a narrative is a nice bonus that I think should be included more often and usually works well, for example in the Puyo Pop series, the puzzle battles are connected by a simple but appealing narrative that corresponds with the light-hearted style. On the other hand, in games that deal with human killing and other weighty issues, I think they require a heavier level of depth to justify those kinds of themes without appearing arbitrary and shallow.
Reaching a certain point in the game can make the storyline progress by the use of cutscenes, but those are still linear narratives. Some games take the concept of narrative and make progressing through the story the main element of gameplay. The player can be presented with choices at different stages of the plot which lead onto different ‘routes’, and branch off even further to a multitude of outcomes. Even with that type of setup, all the player is really doing is switching from one linear narrative to the next.
After looking at some articles dealing with story in games such as this, and this, while making some interesting points which I will not quote or analyse at the risk of making this entry too long, seem to ignore a genre of game that immediately came to mind after I read the title of this task, Visual Novels. Although classed as ‘games’, examples of this genre are more like interactive fiction, hence the term. All the gameplay consists of is choosing options at decision points; in other words the ‘gameplay’ is completely limited. Does it sound unappealing? Gameplay is usually the thing which we focus on completely. Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series is the best example of a popular visual novel, and I am struggling to think of any more games released in the West which incorporate this style, apart from maybe Atlus’ Persona series as Miles' mentioned or maybe even some parts of Harvest Moon [but even then it’s more of a dating sim, different to a VN as they’re based on statistics where as VNs are based on routes and ‘flags’]. 70% of
The fact that there are pretty much no non-linear narratives in video games could suggest that they’re simply inappropriate for the medium, but I somehow doubt that. Game creators are not postmodern novelists, and I just don’t think the majority of the audience would [literally] buy it. However, considering the standard of game writers, I don’t think the narrative aspects should be ‘dumbed down’ into an easy to follow story when they’re capable of producing more complex things. Instead let people be dazzled and set the standard for other games. I wish. Amateur works probably have a better chance of attempting it rather than big producers which have risks and audience targets to reach and so on. Also, related to the topic I found this which I’d read about in an essay on storytelling once, but I can’t get the Java on my browser to work for this site.