Hands off my skills

Yes, I know: There are also video games that tell a good story. And yes, in my thirty years of playing video games, I’ve come across games like that, and yes, in recent years there have been more and more positive examples of good storytelling in video games. Okay. Still doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority feature bad plots, uninspired twists, one-dimensional characters, and banal storytelling techniques. I don’t even mind mediocre writing in video games – my expectations are just barely measurable after so many years, ruling out great frustration or incredulous horror from the get-go.

But it is also an extremely thankless medium for script and story writers. This stupid interactivity inevitably forces the stories to make (gameplay) compromises, because what can’t be technically implemented and narrated can’t be adequately present later in the finished game. It’s no wonder that most video games to this day rely on cutscenes to ensure the progression of the plot, because gameplay freedom and classic drama theory simply don’t mix. During the interactive game phase, there are a few story snippets now and then, for example in the form of collectable diary entries – the actual plot is packed into too many / too long cutscenes, which are then passively consumed by the players. Even pseudo-interactive quicktime events don’t change that: “Press X at the right moment to actively shoot your arch-enemy after five minutes of cutscence.”

And yes, I think it’s a bit of a shame that this young and immersive medium is so often put into classical (in the sense of old) narrative corsets. But the last sentence also contains the solution to this phenomenon: video games are a young medium, and compared to music, literature or film, they are still in their infancy. Hach, what a conciliatory, swaggering and bland conclusion!

Maybe one more thing: I hate, hate, hate it when they take away my acquired skills/abilities/powers during the course of the game and then sell it as a groundbreaking story twist. What the fuck? I’ve worked for hours so that my character can fight through the game world with painstakingly learned combos or unlocked weapons, and then all of a sudden they put me back into my initial beginner character? Suddenly I have to fight a late part of the game again without special skills, super jump and with fists instead of firearms? Some magical barrier that I’m forced to cross sucks the abilities out of my character. Some technical device suddenly allows the enemy to block my skills. Some (supposedly) overpowered arch-enemy captures me and steals all my painstakingly collected weapons (which he usually hides so badly that I can easily get them back after this annoying story part). Some strange flashback beckons me back to an earlier time, when my pimped-out character was still a little weenie. Yikes!

I hate this so much. Not only are these parts always, always terribly dull, but they usually drag the game out agonizingly. And it’s so often so predictable that this “story twist” is unleashed on players right away. It’s a worn-out plot twist from the video game script mothballs that no one can seriously like. It’s bad writing. I hate it. Please don’t.

While we’re at it: Could filmmakers please dispense with these terrible mix-up twists? Films whose entire plot is based on a suitcase being switched at the airport should be banned. As should any film in which the characters swap bodies and then encounter each other’s unknowing private lives. Please don’t do that.

This post is also available in: German