Game Design Talk: Do You Need Context in Your Video Games?

Having recently completed Vanquish, the game got me thinking about the context behind any given video game. What I mean by context in this sense, is the context behind your actions within a game. For instance, the story of a Super Mario game might be paper thin, but the context for actions is clear: you’re trying to save Princess Peach. Oftentimes, people will use the word ‘story’ in place of ‘context’, but I think context is a better fitting word in this sense.

The context behind Vanquish is awful for a number of reasons, yet I really enjoyed playing that game strictly because I loved the gameplay mechanics that drove the experience. I simply chose to tune out the convoluted story, poor dialogue and bad voice acting.

Though I’ve sort of talked about this topic in the past, I wanted to open this up for discussion. Do you need context in your video games in order to enjoy them?

The correct answer to that question is, “It depends on the game.” None of us need to know why we’re dropping blocks down a well in Tetris. On the flip-side, none of us are looking for exciting gameplay mechanics when we play a text adventure game like Zork. Odds are, the answer will lie somewhere in between Tetris and Zork.

However, to generalize a bit, think about the games you like to play. Take a look at your collection. Do you generally prefer games with a lot of context, like Mass Effect or Heavy Rain? Or do you generally prefer games with little to no context, like Tetris or Plants vs. Zombies? Speak your mind in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Game Design Talk: Do You Need Context in Your Video Games?

  1. Josh August 16, 2011 / 5:05 AM

    Depending on what I’m in the mood for I guess, I really enjoy Mass Effect / Heavy Rain / Uncharted / God of War when I’m in a sophisticated mood for a good story or deep game play (not in Heavy Rain’s case lol) but when I just can’t invest myself in them and give them the respect and attention they deserve or let them immerse me completely then I feel like a little Street Fighter instead. I know that this is a pretty lazy attitude to have towards gaming but no one is paying me to play them and it’s not hurting anybody. You ever feel the same way Jett?

  2. Lauren August 16, 2011 / 5:49 AM

    I think a lot of shooters try to do these big epic stories that actually turn out terrible. I think there is a lot more to learn about how story and gameplay can interlink properly. Total immersion is really hard to achieve.

    • Jett August 16, 2011 / 7:17 AM

      Thank you for the comment Lauren! I actually have to run off to work as I type this, but I look forward to reading through your site when I get a chance.

      Yes, there are a lot of shooters in particular that are guilty of that exact fault. I don’t necessarily blame developers for trying, but there’s definitely a lot to learn about linking story and gameplay together.

      Speaking of ‘shooters’, two games that I felt nailed the balance of context and gameplay for what they were trying to achieve are Portal and Left 4 Dead, coincidentally both Valve games.

      • Josh August 17, 2011 / 5:19 AM

        No surprise there that they are Valve games, one of my most favoured developers of all time!

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