Jeff Vogel on Video Game Stories

The latest entry on Jeff Vogel's personal blog acts as a delivery method for some observations regarding video game stories and what makes them work or, more frequently, not work. It's a pretty insightful read overall, and while I don't necessarily agree with all of it, some parts ring especially true. Like this one for example:

Observation 4: The three plagues of video game storytelling are wacky trick endings, smug ironic dialogue, and meme humor.

One of the biggest problems the industry has as a whole is that it is miserable to work in, so almost every worker bails after a decade or so. Alas, it takes many years to become a good writer. Video games are a tough medium for writing, so it takes a lot of practice to become good at it, practice most workers never get.

Thus, they have to resort to cheap tricks.

Every game writer saw The Sixth Sense and thought, "Wow! I want to do my own wacky trick ending!" Unfortunately, this almost always results in something less engaging than just telling the story in a straight-forward, honest way. Don't cheat.

Joss Whedon mastered the art of mixing serious events with wacky dialogue. In the 20th century, this was fresh. Now this is everywhere. (Borderlands is a particularly gruesome offender.) Making everything wacky and funny means that it becomes very hard to be serious, emotional, and sincere. And that is a mode you need to be in sometimes to create good writing. If everything is a joke, why care?

And meme humor is instantly dated and cringe. Portal and Portal 2 have very solid, funny writing because they made up new stuff. Every game that cribbed off of them ("Oh. The cake is a lie? You don't say.) is now dated and bears the eternal mark of lameness. Seriously, make up your own jokes! It's more fun that way!