50comments The Tales We (Poorly) Weave
Posted Thu 26th Apr 2012 5:00pm by Ruser Saldana
Chuck Beaver's comments on Gears of War were harsh but much needed.
Chuck Beaver said that his comments on Gears of War were taken out of context, but saying that the game “contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics” doesn’t strike me as context-sensitive. Even though Beaver later praised Gears of War, I think his opinion on its story is clear. Still, I wish he had publicly stood by his comments.
Here is a not-so-well-kept secret: videogame storytelling is bad. It is better now than it was 10 years ago, and there are a few games that have done it well (Bioshock, Shadow of the Colossus and Portal for example). But generally, it’s been a constant struggle for developers.
This is even true of games held in high regard. Beaver said that Gears has “literally, the worst writing in games” but Jill, the master of unlocking, might have something to say about that. By now, you’ve probably heard that Mass Effect 3 suffers from some plot holes and continuity issues. Skyrim (like Oblivion and other Bethesda RPGS before it) appears to go through great pains to make its narrative as boring as possible: must I read virtual books and silently stare at someone’s face as they statically talk at me?
The media can criticize and gamers can complain, but the most effective assessment of videogames comes from within the industry. That isn’t to say press and fans can't be influential; it’s just that the majority of us lack the forum and/or working knowledge of games to intelligently discuss what’s wrong with storytelling in videogames and how to fix it. On the other hand, people like Chuck Beaver have the opportunities, knowledge, and credibility that most media and gamers don’t.
Beaver’s opinions on Gears of War were harsh and not conducive to a dialogue about the problems with storytelling (to be fair, those comments weren’t made in an attempt to partake in such a discussion). Still, there’s value in someone within the industry calling attention to the issue in one of this generation’s most popular franchises.
In this case, he's talking about a series that doesn’t take its narrative too seriously, but that’s part of the problem. Was Epic Games simply too lax in their treatment of Gears’ story? Or did they just lack the ability to craft a proper one? Regardless, that a franchise can be so successful despite a poor narrative devalues the importance of storytelling (press is in part to blame for this: high review scores despite heavy story criticisms is a rampant problem). Yes, Gears of War is an action game largely focused on guns, shootouts, and explosions. But why do such games have lower writing standards than others?
Some, like Ken Levine, have shared their thoughts on storytelling, but it’s important that more people within the industry get involved: in a blog, an interview, at a trade show, whatever. If there’s going to be an improvement, it won’t simply be from publishers addressing media and consumer concerns. The industry must challenge itself and hold itself to a higher standard, and do so publicly so that their peers, gamers and the press can hold them accountable.
As for Beaver, I thought he was given a great opportunity to justify his comments and discuss the problems with Gears of War’s story. I was disappointed when he instead tried to take back his words. It was nice to see him jump into the discussion - a shame he decided to jump right back out.
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