At Kingdom Games we believe that games as a medium offer us the chance to go beyond shoot-em-up action and adventure (which we do think are awaesome!), and challenge ourselves to think about how our decisions and choices impact lives and the world around us. A story can be fun, but also get the mind thinking about these important elements of life. These titles offer that interesting element of storytelling in a way that pushes the medium forward in a way that we respect and aim to achieve with our own titles.
What makes a great story?
As a general set of rules, a good story will be believable given the setting (suspended disbelief), will show growth of the characters (the character arc), and will leave an impact on you beyond the game, often in the form of questions. Spoilers will occur past this line. Beware.
The wackiest choice on this list is my favorite game of all-time. Psychonauts has everything: 3d-platforming, a boy-meets-girl (that he sort of cares about a little I guess?) story, and an evil robotic surgeon that wants to steal children’s brains.
I think of Psychonauts as more of an anthology. Each level takes place inside a character’s mind. You open their emotional baggage, collect figments of their imagination, and traverse their psyche. Each level aims to examine and fix the trauma that lurks beneath the surface of these characters. It may be masked in a wacky setting, but this game asks real questions.
What have your experiences done to you? What holds you back?
Ratchet and Clank is another favorite series of mine. They do everything right. Usually the story is very light and comical, essentially a buddy-comedy. Tools of Destruction, however, went for a slightly darker tone. The story started to dig heavily into Ratchet’s origin and raised a lot of questions of identity. Who was Ratchet? What was home to him? And, where did that leave Clank if Ratchet did find home? These themes are explored in addition to the expected humor and buddy-comedy lines. There is this incredibly authentic moment when they are reunited and not knowing, do we hug, do we shake hands?
In the end, Clank is kidnapped by the Zoni (think tiny ghost robots). The ending shot is Ratchet without his partner in crime. We haven’t seen him like this since the tutorial of the first game. Game over, enjoy the credits! Of course they reunite in A Crack in Time, so there is eventually a happy ending.
What is identity? What is family? Where do friends fit into those roles? Aren’t Ratchet and Clank essentially adopted brothers?
The Stanley Parable has the best game story of all time. It’s a metafiction that is so twisted and turned and self-referential it goes way beyond confusing. The basic premise is that you are Stanley, a character in a story about Stanley at work. A narrator tells the story, but being a human being playing a game (as Stanley), you have the ability to disobey, ignore, and change your fate (well, not really). It’s sort of like Stranger than Fiction, if that were written by a Philosophy student.
For instance, the narrator tells you to take the left door, so you go to the right. It might seem harmless, but the butterfly effect can take hold quickly. This game may give you an existential crisis.
What is choice? Is there free-will?What is control?
RPGs often have epic stories that change based on choice. What blew me away about KOTOR is not just the reveal that the evil Sith Lord you’ve been chasing the entire game is actually you. Rather, the idea of a redemption story where you aren’t redeemed. What is redemption? Is it change? Or is it being punished for your bad choices? These are tough questions raised by KOTOR.
You can play KOTOR as a monster the entire game. It might not shock you to discover that you’re character arc didn’t shift. You started as a Sith monster, and you’ve continued that legacy. Or you could have played the game as a Jedi, helping those in need, using violence only in defense. You might be shocked to realize how far your character has come, and you chose that path without knowing your history.
What is redemption? What is destiny? Do people change? Do they stay the same?
You are a humanoid robot exploring the plains of a vast landscape. A god, Elohim, tells you to solve puzzles for him and heed his word. Meanwhile, a text-based entity encourages you to disobey Elohim. Are you locked inside the Garden of Eden, trapped inside a matrix-like computer system?
Is the text-based entity just a part of the simulation, another test to examine your devotion to Elohim? There are an abundance of text logs, audio files, and QR-codes to paint the entirety of this story. Regardless of which ending you choose, it’s an incredible examination of what faith asks of a person.
What is faith? What are the limits of faith? What is temptation? What are the consequences of disobeying authority?
There are obviously way more than five great gaming stories. Tell me some of your favorites, and don’t forget to add the SPOILER warnings!
Your Most Humble Community Servant,
Rules of the list:
- Nostalgia is not a factor
- Nothing rated higher than T by the ESRB
- Try to show a variety of publishers, developers, and project sizes
- I must have actually bought, played, and enjoyed these games
- Story can be implicit or explicit
- Story is the only factor being considered. Other elements are not considered
- Spoiling portions of the game should not affect your ability to love the story
- The list is in alphabetical order
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