Sorry John Carmack, Story Does Matter

This past week, the guys over at Penny Arcade mentioned a quote that id Software brainiac, John Carmack, had said about story not being important in a game.  Carmack said some pretty disparaging words that caught my attention and I really can’t let it slide by without addressing it.  Actually, before I continue, here’s the actual quote:

“Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” – John Carmack

It’s an interesting thought to be sure, but outside of some of the modern-day military shooters, I really can’t agree with him.  For me, story and gameplay work hand in hand to create a unique and fun experience.  One without the other just doesn’t feel complete.

What’s interesting is that this concept can be seen very easily in id Software’s last major release, Rage.  Gameplay wise, the game felt great.  Where it was severely lacking was in the story department and that was so disappointing because the world they created had the potential to be incredibly interesting.  There was so much untapped potential that by the later half of the game, it felt more like a chore to slog through it.  You hadn’t made any real connections to the world, characters, or really even why you were doing what you were doing.  You joined a freedom group called “The Resistance” and you were fighting an oppressive group called “The Authority.”  No offense to the people who worked on the game, but that should give you some indication of the time and effort put into the story.  You’re character is an Ark Survivor, someone who went into this chamber underground while the asteroid hit the Earth above.  Pretty cool right?  Well, that’s about as far as they went with it.  Don’t get me started on the ending either…

Compare that to a game like BioShock where it nailed the gameplay and the story and it’s just about night and day.  Irrational Games did a great job throwing you into an extremely unique location and slowly peeling back the layers of who you are, why you’re there, and also introducing you to characters that actually matter and are not one-dimensional.  How fun would RPGs be if they didn’t have a compelling story to help push you past the 20 hour mark.  Would you still want to invest all that time into a BioWare game if the story wasn’t there?  What about games like Uncharted, Batman: Arkham City, or Bastion?  Would they still work?

I kind of feel like his mentality stems from an earlier era, where games relied heavily on gameplay and downplayed the story aspect.  Back then it was much easier to get away with that is the industry wasn’t as popular as it is today or even in the limelight like it is now a days.  Also, the technology back then was constantly improving but nowhere near the quality developers can hit today.  Look back to the NES days where many games gave you a simple premise and then sent you out on your way.  Hell, look at the very first, Legend of Zelda.  No intro, just Link standing waiting for you to guide him up, down left, or right around Hyrule.  It was very simplistic, challenging and yet it worked.  Now a days with all of this technology at our disposal, you just can’t get away with that.  People notice.

Obviously, some games can get away with this for one reason or another, but on a whole, I don’t feel like you can accurately say that about the game industry anymore.  There are too many examples out there of games that perfectly married gameplay and story together and were very successful.  There’s also plenty examples out there of games that were one-dimensional.  Sure, some can get away with being this way, but ultimately, you have to bring a lot to the table to get attention and praise.  John, while you’re a genius and a living legend within the industry, I’m afraid your way of thinking is a little dated in this day and age.

Well, that’s my piece, but what about yours?  Let me know how you feel about this in the comments.

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3 Responses to Sorry John Carmack, Story Does Matter

  1. Ben says:

    You said it better than I could. Rage was a solid enough game but, as you said, it really was held back by how shallow the world felt and a big part of that was due to the lack of any meaningful story. It’s a game that really could have been amazing if they put that extra effort into it. I feel like if id wants to reach the levels of excellence of today’s best shooters, they need to recognize the importance of storytelling.

    Certainly not every game needs a story, but I don’t think id’s work even come close to falling into that category. Primarily single-player shooters need a good story more than ever these days (That, or some incredibly unique gameplay ideas), especially if you’re releasing it at full price.

  2. Meyers07 says:

    Necro-ing time here, but sorry, it was YOU now that were thinking dated. Now look upon the state of modern gaming, and look, how Metal Gear was turned into a shell of its former self as a zombie survival game while games with little to no story such as PUBG, Animal Crossing, Fortnite, and DOOM (especially DOOM Eternal) thrives.

    • Sure, the modern landscape of games have changed. To be fair, I wrote this 8 years ago, which for video games is an eternity.

      DOOM Eternal has an insane amount of story and lore if you want it, which is cool, but I’d argue that big story games like God of War are still very important these days. Yes, not every game needs a story to be compelling or fun (look at the rise of Battle Royale and live service games these past 8 years) but gaming would have a huge void without story-centric games like the Spider-Mans and God of Wars of the world.

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