‘Videogames Are Terrible For Telling Stories’ Says Jonathan Blow
“I think videogames are pretty terrible for telling stories,” Jonathan Blow, the man behind The Witness and Braid, told us as part of an interview in the latest issue of Play. Blow outlined the way in which games’ stories and mechanics frequently end up conflicting and laments the AAA model of storytelling of “cutscenes interrupted by gameplay bits that get you to the next cutscene, ” which, he says, “pretty much sucks”.
Blow suggests 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” and argues that, if your primary interest is in telling stories, then videogames may not be the best medium to choose.
However, we also spoke to two videogame storytellers with a differing perspective on the state of videogame storytelling and its future potential. Greg Kasavin of Supergiant, the team behind Transistor and Bastion told us that “there’s limitless territory to explore when it comes to using game mechanics to tell stories in games. It’s very fertile ground,” he said, “though also tends to create some big challenges both in a game’s design and during its production. But to me it’s the entire point of making games.”
Techland’s Rafał Orkan, who worked on Dying Light and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger also offered his opinion on the difficulties that videogames present to storytellers, particularly when it comes to open worlds. “You’ve got to forget about controlling the timing or pace,” Orkan said. “Writers for open-world games have to avoid many traps and invest as much time in designing the story as to overcoming those obstacles. For instance, will a fast and aggressive player experience and understand the story in the same or similar way as a person who plays slowly and carefully? Will a character’s motivation be clear to someone who spends most of the time on side-quests and goes back to the main storyline after long breaks?,” he asked. “There’re many more such pitfalls, so whether you like it or not, when you write a script for an open world you have to change your approach to storytelling.”
For more from Blow, Kasavin and Orkan on the strengths and weaknesses of videogame storytelling, the challenges faced today and where things can go in the future, check out the latest issue of Play, also available digitally.