So why do all video games have to be epic anyways? I look around and the storyline of every game is some epic scale… save the universe/world/girl/etc. Nothing real. In fact these are the same type of stories you tend to get from action, fantasy, and sci-fi movies. I use movies here mostly because much of the game industry compares itself to the movie industry, even if done so unintentionally.
It is common knowledge that game storylines are aweful nearly accross the board… has anyone realized that those genres in the movie industry are known for having bad stories nearly across the board? Sure, we see a rare gem like Lord of the Rings that is actual quality, but for the most part, the storylines of these genres tend to be nothing.
I think the reason is that in general people don’t care about the epic stories, what really affect people far better is the personal story. For instance, I think in general to most people will find more personal meaning by watching Schindler’s List than they might find in watching James Bond. That is not to say that many people don’t prefer to watch James Bond over Schindler’s List, but people respect the List more than Bond, and people think it is a much higher quality film as well. This difference really goes towards mood of the viewer more than anything else. When push comes to shove… Schindler’s List is the better movie despite not making the money that James Bond likely makes.
So why is the game industry trying so hard to mimic James Bond instead of Schindler’s List? Because not only is the industry trying to mimic pointless movies that are not taken seriously, they are mimicing pointless sequals that are rarely as good.
Money is one thing, but this really only works for the original in most respects… quite often it is the first that makes the most… Metroid Prime did better than Metroid Prime 2, and Metroid did better than both. There is a caveat to older games though. These can often be rejuvenated, but even here we tend to see greatest return on the first of a new revision. For instance, FFVII did much better than previous Final Fantasies, but it was also the first real 3D FF game, and has largely done much better than any FF game since that point. Likewise, Mario 64 has done much better than the 3 or 4 Marios that have come since then, and has done better than many of the previous Marios as well. Of course in every rule there is exception, but this seems to work nearly across the board.
I think there are three more real issues than money though. First… talent. The industry is just not geared towards writing talent. Movies and Television employ screenwriters, and while there are more writers coming into the industry, they are still not relied on much in the field. In most cases programmers think that they can write stories as well as anyone else, which is ironic because I doubt they would think that everyone else (like say the secretary answering the phone) could program as well as they could. Because of this, the stories are weak at best that get produced, often failing to even outdo high school level stories in many cases.
The second is somewhat related to the first but not entirely. And that is familiarity. The game industry is a copy cat industry. And what we see work once is copied beyond belief. Doom was hugely successful, and it was successful with a bad story. Now we see countless remakes of Dooms, in fact nearly every FPS put out is just a remake of Doom with a slightly different setting, but mostly the settings and stories are the same damn game. This can be said nearly everywhere… Tied to this is that game developers often develop games they want to see based on what they like to see in stories. Unfortunately, game developers tend to be the types who really enjoy Sci-fi, fantasy, and action genres and thus this all we see, even down to copied bad stories. Not to say anything against this, I personally love these genres too.
The third problem, is ease… it is just easy for everyone to shell out the same game over and over again. This is why you see copy cats and sequels in the movie, book, magazine, news, and television industries as well. If it has little to no effort, that is better than any effort at all.
But we as an industry really need to get over it, because we are not taken seriously by anyone else. Maybe we could easier make the claim that we are art in some fashion if our games actually were art in some fashion. And using the last issue, one of the easiest ways to create art is through story. Why not have it if it would help the respectability of the industry so much? Why in god’s name would the industry not want to be respected?