Story in games is like story in porn

“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, some point in the ’90s

#NoPictures #WallOfText

So, I was thinking about that quote by J C-Mak, as he’s called by his close confidantes. And I have three responses to it. (I’m not going to bash John Car-Car, I’m just am taking this old quote as a jumping off point for some ideas).

1) It’s wrong.

Story is important in porn. Sure, we can all enjoy some good ol’ fuckin’, but if that’s all that happens then it gets boring.

There’s a reason there’s porn involving maids, sexy nurses, naughty schoolgirls, plumbers, professors, and whatever the hell else. Those simple costumes and characters tell stories. They may not be deep stories, but they are stories, and if they weren’t useful then porn wouldn’t waste time on them.

The context provided by the story is part of why the sex is enjoyable to watch. There’s the fact that the narrative context can make something old and familiar seem new and exciting. But there’s also the fact that porn isn’t just voyeurism, it’s also a vicarious form of entertainment. We’re aroused partially because we are projecting ourselves into those situations, and having characters and stories helps us to do that.

2) It’s correct.

It’s actually true that story is unimportant in porn. Porn doesn’t actually need to have a story.

But here’s the thing. Neither does anything else. Books don’t need story. Movies don’t need story. All those things can exist without having any story at all.

But, man alive, are all those things a lot more fun and enjoyable when they have some sort of story pulling us through.

3) It’s music

So, to really understand how to interpret the nature of story in video games I think it’s best to look at a different analogy: music.

Music is kind of a weird genre of entertainment/art, kind of like video games. It’s got some similarities to other genres, but also seems to occupy territory that is wholly unique to itself.

And while music can also have a story I want to take a step back and look at what the story is told through, and that’s the lyrics.

Music doesn’t need to have lyrics. We have entire genres of music that don’t have any lyrics or vocals at all, and they’ve been around for hundreds of years. And people like them! But it seems that, in general, people like music with lyrics much more than they like music without. Even when the lyrics are nonsensical or barely intelligible we still seem to enjoy a song more when it has them.

And music with lyrics sells WAY better than music without lyrics. There is clearly something special about adding lyrics to music that just captures peoples’ attention and imagination.

So, I’d like to take that original John Carmack quote and revise it:

“Stories in games are like lyrics in songs. The songs don’t need them, they can be enjoyable without them, but sometimes it’s just so much more rewarding to hear the words and maybe even sing along.”

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