“I just feel sorry for the people … for whom story is the big thing. They’re starving. It is a desolate wasteland in video games. Just go read a book.”
Such sorrowful words were spoken on last week’s Podtoid — Destructoid’s podcast of pure insanity — by Conrad Zimmerman in an act of actual gaming-related discussion so rare to the show. And it hit right at home.
If you follow me on Twitter, listen to our podcast, are familiar with my editorials, or have ever had a single conversation about video games with me, you know that story is the driving force behind most of my motivation to game. Without a strong one, I quickly become disinterested. Bethesda RPGs fail to ensnare me as they eschew strict narrative drives for exploration that allows you to piece together your own tale. I turned my back on Borderlands 20 hours in because sidequest jibber-jabber and the potential promise of opening that elusive Vault can barely be called a story. My for-instances are essentially endless, and in contrast, I easily ignored the gameplay flaws within The Walking Dead as a result of its masterful narrative delivery.
Now I’m starting to feel sorry for me, too.
Few games place a heavy emphasis on storytelling, and fewer still create something as expertly crafted as Telltale’s 2012 triumph. Truth be told, I’m having trouble going back. Like being asked to return to a CRT TV after experiencing the glory of HD, settling for less when I know the arguable pinnacle — have tasted the potential — is damn-near impossible.
This isn’t an issue I expect to affect the majority of Walking Dead survivors. Unique in their interactivity, video games primarily provide entertaining times through gameplay. Story is more supplementary to the common crowd, a welcome frame to enhance the picture though never thoroughly making or breaking the painting.
Unfortunately, I’m uncommon.
Ever since I first started The Walking Dead at the end of December, I have not been invested in anything else. At all, and not without attempt, either. I’ve taken advantage of my long-running and relaxing holiday break, dedicating every waking opportunity to play more games for more time than was ever possible in at least the past four months. Whether sticking to my stalwarts or seeking out unknowns, both approaches have come up short. As first-world problematic as it gets, I sit and stare at my ridiculous collection of Steam games, sometimes for upwards of 15 minutes. Lately, though, I’ve been more likely to eventually turn to other media, moving toward the movies and — yes, Conrad — books that trade interactivity for a tighter focus on story.
Video game stories are often incomparable to other means of entertainment and I didn’t truly realize it until discovering last year’s standouts. And yet, I wouldn’t dream of doing things differently, of passing my gaming passion to novels or films. For all the mediocre examples, there will always be a Walking Dead. There will always be a Journey or, from long ago, a Kingdom Hearts (yes, really — I was a hormone-ridden teenage at the time) that moves me in a way exclusive to this medium, causing me to care for characters and come close to tears to a degree unseen from any Academy Award winner or New York Times Bestseller.
Conrad Zimmerman certainly feels sorry for me, and admittedly, I do too. Most of the time, until those monumental gems made by somebody with a special story to tell make their way to one of my machines. For those magical moments, all the rest is always worth it.