The games that we all play (at least if you are reading this, the games YOU play) are mostly fun based on their rules. The rules of a game are paramount to the experience of that game, be it a roleplaying game, board game, table top battle game, etc…
Rules give the frame-work that all people sharing the experience can work with and have the same expected outcomes. Playing a game like Warhammer or Firestorm Armada will give a specific set of instructions for moving play pieces and attacking enemy models. Board games like Eclipse and Terra Mystica give rules for expansion and interaction of the players on that board. Roleplaying games super impose a unified system for skill checks, spell casting and fighting. All of these rules in a game are universal to all the players in that game. We all need to be on the same page.
But outside of the rules, there is the story.
The story of a game doesn’t at first glance seem important at all. It’s got no function within a game unto itself. Sure you could get a certain faction or class or something that has intrinsic rules for why they can do something that ties to the story, but for the most part the story doesn’t interact with the game.
As an example if you take Warhammer Fantasy and look at the Elven wars between High Elves and Dark Elves you can see them reflected in the ‘Eternal Hatred’ rule that the Dark Elves have, but the rules aren’t based around specific conflicts or specific characters from the stories.
But in some ways the story is really the most important part. Without the story, most games fall flat.
You can take a look at many popular games that our parents and grandparents would be more familiar with. Games like Chess, Checkers, Monopoly, Crazy 8’s etc… Most of us here either don’t play these games, or at the least prefer the types of games I mentioned above over these ‘classics’.
And it’s easy to see why.
A game like Chess, while one of the best and oldest games available – has no story. It may have had one in its inception, but the game has no lore or background as we would understand it now. You don’t find novels about the Black Pawn fighting great odds to slay the White Knight. You don’t find in-depth political intrigue novels based on the works of Monopoly (although you can find games like Monopoly based on the works of fiction e.g. Star Wars Monopoly).
Stories are important to the games we play. It allows us to really get behind a faction or character. It allows us to delve into the plots that characters can reach and it allows a frame-work for the narrative of the play experience.
I think this is one of the reasons that Warhammer (Fantasy and 40K) have done so well. They have a vast selection of novels, loads of lore in the rule books and tons more in the codices and army books. There are many criticisms I can levy at Games Workshop, but one thing they excelled at was the lore.
I’m not saying it’s well written. There are a lot of books based on Games Workshop’s intellectual property that are very basically written and many more that have extremely simplistic plots without any surprises.
But people still love it.
I think that’s why so many people disliked Matt Ward – because he messed with the stories of Warhammer. A cardinal sin for many gamers.
I really hope that many other games that have excellent game experiences work at creating a vast lore and an extensive narrative. I really think that it will help the developers continue their products for years to come. It pulls people in and makes them crave more. A good story sells.
What do you think? What’s your favorite stories in games you play?