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‘Videogames Are Terrible For Telling Stories’ Says Jonathan Blow

‘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.

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  • TwinspectreGaming101

    i agree with him , the so called gamers are confusing games with movies and that’s pathetic , if you think that videogames are made for telling story then GTFOHere

  • Jhora Zakaryan

    I play Witcher 3 now. Nothing wrong with the storytelling in that one 🙂

  • asadachi

    more clickbait crap, video games are great for story telling, they just don’t need to be. The ones that focus on the story are though.

  • Jason Mounce

    Stupid Blowfish.

  • John

    Dude makes one indie game and thinks his input matters. I think we might have another Phil Fish on our hands.

  • oo7PorscheMGS

    Couldn’t disagree more. EVERY game tells a story.. Cinematics or not… The environments, characters, sounds, etc… The feel y get while playing a game can tell a “story” to you apl on its own.

    Again, I couldn’t disagree more with his comment. I mean, look at Braid, does that not tell a story too?!?!!

    Games are like any other form of art… Art has always (ALWAYS) been used as an expressive method for humans to pass stories + experiences down to future generations.

  • oVg

    People overlook the fact that ambiance and atmosphere in games can be more emmersive than any other medium. Just running from cut scene to cut scene in TLOU was more powerful than reading or watching I am Legend.

  • oVg

    Not to mention it has more content than 10 seasons of Game of Thrones, 950 actors, 5 Novels worth of writing that adds up to over 50hours of recorded dialog and an atmosphere thicker than a tropical jungle.

  • oVg

    Said every Destiny fan 😛

  • kreator

    Jonathan can blow me!

  • TwinspectreGaming101

    i don’t have Destiny

  • oVg

    good man 🙂

  • Miyamoto said he creates experiences, rather than tries to tell a story. Is the holodeck on the Enterprise a storytelling device or one for creating an adventure for the users? The problem when you try to TELL a story is you undermine player interaction. You can create a world, and allow a player freedom to act, but the more you drive a narrative, the less control a player has. The Order had this issue. That is the problem with trying to tell a story through an interactive medium, as the player has to end up driving the flow in the game, to be engaged. It is also why they heavily edit reality TV, to try to tell a story with events that happened. And this doesn’t even start to touch on the point that competent storytellers don’t understand interactivity well, and competent game designers usually aren’t competent at telling stories. And I also didn’t get to the dev costs going through the roof having to script more content than is in the entire Game of Thrones novels AND also TV series, that players likely won’t see most of. But, you can feel free to be a “gamer” and demand that the world feed your need for content, and whine when it sucks, thinking of a game a superior form of a movie. That approach doesn’t even begin to touch on the deeper issues Jonathan Blow spoke of here.

  • Miyamoto said something similar actually. Maybe his input doesn’t matter, because he is just too old. And of course, Jonathan Blow is too new.

  • Is a player told an experience, and the game is a storytelling device, or does a player create an experience that, when they describe it, they tell a story? In regards to games being art, there is debate over whether or not a game is art or not. The problem is the issue with interactivity as a tool, and the difficulty of using it as a means of communication.

  • Not all immersive experiences are a story being told. I can have a great meal, solve a puzzle, or even go on an amusement park ride. That doesn’t mean that the experience is having a story being told.