Games are terrible for telling stories, says Jonathan Blow

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Stayawhile

Braid was an amazing game, and helped kickstart a revolution in indie games being appreciated and enjoyed by the mainstream. Its clever, time-twisting puzzles and plot-twist ending hid some incredibly nuanced, appreciable storytelling. Its creator, Jonathan Blow, contends however that the medium is bad for telling stories.

“I think videogames are pretty terrible for telling stories,” Jonathan Blow told UK’s Play magazine in an interview. He says that games’ stories are too often at odds with their conflicting mechanics – which is something he may be quite right about. It’s especially noticeable in sequels to games that have some sort of light RPG bent, where for no good reason, your character’s forgotten everything they’ve learned in the previous game.

Blow also takes issue with the AAA model of storytelling which he says is a cycle of “cutscenes interrupted by gameplay bits that get you to the next cutscene,” which, he asserts, “pretty much sucks”.

Where I don’t agree with him is that he says that “storytelling in games is in about the same place it was in the 1980s, except now our cutscenes are more-frequent and in high res.” He says that creators – if they’re looking to tell stories – should probably look to other mediums.

I certainly think we’re seeing a maturation of storytelling in games – a far cry from the sort of thing you’d see in games from three decades ago. Bioshock, The Witcher 3, The Last of Us – and so many more. While I do agree that games aren’t the best way to tell a story, there are games able to weave worthwhile narratives.

What do you think? Are games good at telling compelling narratives or are they still stuck in the 80’s with shoddy storytelling? What games have told you great stories?

Last Updated: June 3, 2015

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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