The Designer’s Priorities

In my last research post I touched on the debate about the role of narrative and storyline in a video game. Some believe that story lines are insignificant to a video game’s quality. The video game, by this view, is judged strictly by its game play, and not at all by its plot. A way to analyze the relative importance of story to video games would be to firstly examine the intentions of the game designers. How much attention do they give the storyline of a video game? Do they view it as significant, or is it merely a vessel for the game play?

The below article focuses on the differences between the study of narratives and the study of games. The core distinction is that someone examining the narrative looks at the causality of the events that led to the protagonist’s final state, meanwhile a game theorists focuses on the strategies the player within the game employed or could have employed, and how the final state of the game would have been altered based on these choices. So for instance a game theorist will look at a game of Bioshock and analyze the choices could have been made, and how the choices affect the desired outcome, while someone focused on the narrative will examine the keystone moments that to the eventual outcome of the game. As this relates particularly to video games, I think it is important to note that it appears that the designers of a video game seem to be far more focused on the game theorist’s end of this equation. What seems to be most important to a video game’s design are the strategies that a player can employ in order to beat the game, (button mashing, attention to detail in the virtual environment, cooperation with others, etc.) rather than the storyline’s eventual resolution.  

As it relates to my research, this insight seems to diminish the role of narrative in video games a bit, for the creator’s intention seems to be bent on forming a unique strategy and game play, while storyline is something of an afterthought. This is to say that video games are strategy-first medium. Storyline is whip cream on the cake.


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