I Want The Full Story

Over the years, games have gone from addictive time wasters with little to no plot – unless Pacman held some deep and meaningful subtext about being trapped inside your own head, haunted by the ghosts of the past with the random pieces of fruit signifying a healthier approach to life that I’m just not picking up on – to being packed full of arcing storylines, crossing into various forms of media such as books, anime and occasionally feature films. But what if you’re not interested in, say, comics? I’ll pause for a second while you gather your jaw from the carpet at the mere idea that a gamer doesn’t automatically like comics.

I’m not saying that I dislike comics, or even books for that matter but I just don’t have the time to read all the ones I want. I barely have enough time to watch movies and play games and they are usually around a quarter of the length of a good novel so what happens if I get engrossed by the story of a game, only to find out that said story leaks over into 3 novels and an hour long anime story?

Take Mass Effect as an example. I’ve played both games through to completion several times, trying different approaches to find alternative endings and stories within the game but what about the lore told through the series of Mass Effect novels? Unless they’re reiterated in the game I’ll never know the full reasons and motivations behind key plot elements. I’ll get the basic gist of the story but that’s about it. The Mass Effect universe also provides a second example of audience segregation, with its relatively poor iPhone/iPod Touch game Mass Effect Galaxy, which tells the story of how Jacob and Miranda came to work for Cerberus. But what if you don’t have an iPhone or an iPod Touch? You miss out on yet more back story for two of the main characters in Mass Effect 2. Why bother telling a story if you’re only going to allow people who buy a £300 gadget on top of their £200 console access to all the details?

Another problem arises from the inclusion of items in special or collector’s editions for games. For example, Halo: Reach. Not content with spreading the Halo lore over several games, comics, novels and anime episodes that are available for everyone to buy, whether they have the time to look at them or not, Bungie and Microsoft went one step further with Reach, releasing a journal of arguably one of the series’ most important characters, Katherine Halsey – The woman behind the Spartan-II program – as part of the limited edition of the game.  Granted the book has had a staggering amount of detail put into it; the illustrations that genuinely look hand drawn, the extra little notes that have been left loose through out the book, the string bound spine, the torn out pages etc. but that’s not the point. The point is that say the limited edition really was limited and you weren’t fortunate enough to grab a copy: you would be missing out on a huge chunk of information about Halsey’s motivations, her thoughts and even the chance to see some of the events in the Halo series through her eyes, all because you couldn’t get to the shop quick enough to buy the Limited or Legendary editions of the game.

The Alan Wake Files and Halsey's journal from Halo: Reach are prime examples of 'extra' story elements

I suppose some might argue that console exclusivity could also be a problem in terms of missing out on vital plot points and to an extent I can agree, however there is a big difference between not knowing any of the story and only knowing half the story. For example, if you’ve only ever owned Playstations, there’s a good chance you don’t care about Gears of War. You probably know the general plot line but don’t really care enough about the whole story to buy a 360 and both games, but what if Gears of War 3 was made as a cross platform title, with no chance of the first two being released on PS3? You would only get a part of the story and be left with the choice of spending out for a new console to fill in the gaps or try and make do with what little you have.

All I ask is for a game’s story to be kept in game. Expanding with sequels is fine to an extent, but cross media expansion means I have to spend time and money I don’t have trying to find out why the fuck that one character decided to shoot me in the face. I know all this development through books, comics, interpretive dance theatre or whatever else developers can think of equals big money for them, but if I don’t have the cash to afford it, I’m not going to buy their shit, leaving them with one less sale (which I doubt they really care about but still, it emphasises my point a little) and me with half a story.

Last five articles by Iain



  1. Samuel Samuel says:

    Interesting argument, Pix. I personally love it when I get to learn more about a game from books and comics, and I’m a collector too, so those really special limited editions make me very happy. Unless there’s one I want and can’t afford, anyway.

    I think the key point here is that these additional materials are not required to enjoy the game by itself. They’re meant to enhance the experience for those fans who aren’t satisfied and want more. So long as you can play the game without needing to know any of these extra details to complete it, I’m not sure it’s a problem.

    It’s not something that’s exclusive to games either. TV shows and films have had graphic novel and novella tie-ins for years now. Some franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek have built up massive extended universes of stories and characters, some of which DO cross over and get referenced in the actual films so that only a die-hard fan would get it. When games start to blur the line more, I’ll be more concerned, but for now there is a clear demarcation line between most games and their additional materials.

  2. Richie rich says:

    Interesting article, excellently written.

    I’ve more or less tuned out of the stories in games completely now. If I’m on the Xbox, I’m usually in party chat or listening to the radio or some top punk rock tunes. As a result, I keep the sound down. Stories told through text can fuck the fuck off.

    Thing is, who needs a ten hour retelling of something that has already been done in books or movies? Give me something to run/shoot/drive at and that’ll do me these days.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    For me story is a key part of a game and personally, I love all the extras and bits and bobs that can help to flesh out a world and its characters. Yes, it may mean that some folk miss out, but I see anything which enhances a story and its inhabitants as a great thing, sorry ;) I love books, magazines, discs, and other gubbins – it makes for a more immersive experience and as Samuel says, as long as it isn’t something which is crucuial to the game and to progressing, there is no real harm done other than annoying the socks off those who, sadly, miss out through time or finances.

  4. Ste says:

    I agree with Lorna, the story is a big thing for me. Whereas I don’t mind the odd mindless game every now and again the best games I’ve played recently have been story driven. Additionally, I think the extras are a great way to flesh out a universe if your someone who wants to go out and learn more about it. If not then its no big deal. The original game is by no means made worse because of some obscure book somewhere.

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I love a good story, as long as it’s not being spoon fed to me through countless drawn out cut scenes. If a game hints at something and allows me to use my own imagination to fill the gaps, then I’m certainly at my happiest. If, however, I was playing a game and had no idea what was going on, either from having only bought the vanilla version or because I wasn’t spending my summer watching webisodes, then I’d be pretty hacked off. I think that the game should contain everything you need to know in order to understand the story and sympathise/empathise with the characters and anything outwith that, such as why one person may have a limp, is fine for a separate medium.

    I can’t think of any specifics where I’ve been engrossed in a game’s story and then suddenly been left wanting for more details… other than the ending to Borderlands… and I doubt I’ll ever understand what happened with that. If I found myself playing a game and literally had no idea what was going on because I’d missed out on a graphic novel or an iPhone app then I’d be writing complanatory letters to the developers and publishers who are, let’s face it, staggering information throughout various outlets in order to coerce their customers into spending more money. That is something I’m dead against.

    Really enjoyed this piece dood :)

  6. Ben Ben says:

    Is funny this should come up today as I’ve been working on my dissertation project today, which just so happens to be about the narrative within games.

    For me story is very important, but then I quite like the extended universe to stories as well. The amount of Warcraft books on my shelf will testify to that. It’s not that Blizzard do a poor job at putting across the story, just sometimes there’s so much a book, manga or comic is the only way to fill the gaps.

    I really enjoyed the Mass Effect 2 story but felt it was a bit empty, there were areas where more information would have been great, but due to the nature of the game it just wasn’t possible, if I had picked up a book or something then my appreciation for the game would have likely grown.

    Games as a form of entertainment aren’t really up there yet with the likes of cinema and print when it comes to story telling. We’ve been telling stories on paper for hundreds of years, and cinemas has had a pretty big head start too. As the industry grows the ability to tell a story within the game will no doubt increase. Sure there are those that do know how to tell stories, Bioshock was a fantastic narrative piece for example but even then games are constricted more so to the players that play them, people only have so much attention span. Games have to cater for so many varying people, where as a fiction writer knows that everyone picking up their book is, odds are a fiction reader.


    So yeah, story? Very important, but the way it’s delivered is equally important.

  7. Rook says:

    I enjoy a good story in a game, interaction with the characters, quality cut scenes and plot driven gameplay. The main game that comes to mind that I actually delved deeper into the story was with Dead Space; I downloaded the animated stories through Xbox Live Marketplace and also watched the animated movie Downfall. They all told part of the same story about the necromorphs on the ship and the artefact and I was glad to watch them; had they been in a book however and then I wouldn’t have read it, I’m not a reader.

    If the developers want to expand on certain elements through other forms of media then I don’t have a problem with that as long as I have a complete story in the game I am happy. Although personally speaking I would say the worst offenders would be Assassins Creed; the way that game ended felt like I hadn’t actually achieved anything and Soul Reaver which ended with a To Be Continued which was so unexpected and again it didn’t feel like I had a proper end to the game I had spent so long playing through.

  8. Kat says:

    Really interesting article Pix and something I hadn’t really thought about before. i’m not big on storylines but if people who are are missing out on extra info due to lack of money, time or just not knowing about the relevant novel etc then that is a shame. I can also see the side of the collectors. Valve recently did an online comic which expanded the background of characters from Left 4 Dead 1. That added to the game for me but didn’t take away from the original game itself. Good read!

  9. Adam Adam says:

    Its an altercation of the arguement currently against DLC -Are developers leaving things out that should really have made it into the game?

    It’s a tricky balance. I think with Mass Effect 2, as put forward as the example, the game acts perfectly as a stand alone sequel, it still can’t be judged as it’s own product because you really still need to have played the first game to appreciate the sequel, despite the allowances made for newcomers.

    That franchises are extended to other mediums I think is a great thing and I look forward to seeing more of it. So long as the evil big wigs aren’t lessening the experience to provide for it of course.

    Great Read Pix <3

  10. Edward Edward says:

    I think it’s something to keep a balance for. Personally, I think a neat compromise would be something like having the standalone books packed within the game somehow so you don’t have to go out and buy the books unless you want a portable version. However, there’s a lot of flaws with that too.

    I’ll readily agree that I don’t like the story flowing outside of the games, because if I want the whole story it feels like I’m being punished just for not going out to buy everything in relation to a game. It’s also more difficult when it’s a popular game or one with a lot of hype such as Alan Wake or Mass Effect where an incredibly key part of the game is the story, which is then left incomplete in a cynical attempt to make money with other media. While it tries to nudge you to buy other stuff, it also means they’re leaving the game as a weaker effort to those who aren’t aware or don’t have the time or effort to delve outside the disc.

  11. Lorna Lorna says:

    I see a fair few problems with that, Ed. It just comes to a point though where it is impossible to pack everything into a game, storywise and becomes unrealistic to expect otherwise. People don’t often appreciate what is already there, let alone devs putting anything else in. In terms of pacing and everything else, you simply can’t cram vast amonts of backstory and extra stuff in when it wouldn’t be appropriate, nor would packaging books with a game…this would send the price skyrocketing which would only cause more complaints from gamers who will always find some problem or other.

    If we aren’t talking key story elements, just delicious extras, then I don’t see the game as being weakened at all…these are usually extra layers which compliment and expand. If you want them, you should be expected to pay for them – they are someone’s creative time and money after all and, while it may be irksome, you don’t get something for nothing and nor should you. We have a ton of clients who feel that they have a right to something for nothing because they have the original base unit, despite the fact that the extras cost heavily in terms of time and are a separate commodity. They aren’t essential to the running of their original product, they merely expand upon it in a pleasing or helpful way, so they aren’t weakening anything, they present a choice for something more in-depth at a cost which refelects the time and money of creating it.

    Some folk are happy or able to save up to pay out for extra books and comics which expand the world they enjoy and if that sort of thing vanished, it would be a great shame. I see them, if done properly, as a great way of taking a world beyond the confines of a game…while some are happy and would be bored/unappreciative of anything else being in a game, others can enjoy new stuff to explore if they so choose.

  12. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    What Lorna said about something for nothing (which is all the more pertinent today actually)… also, I wouldn’t read any books even if they came free – I bought a game to play and enjoy, not a game to wonder what the hell was going on because I was being forced to read a book to find the rest of the info. I certainly wouldn’t even consider reading a book if I don’t really have the time to the game in the first place!

  13. Samuel Samuel says:

    I remember when games DID come packaged with massive books that you HAD to read to fully appreciate the game. I had several such games on my Atari ST. Now, I’m one of those people who enjoys the additional materials, and even I found it somewhat frustrating when I used to have to sit down and read a 500 page book before I could boot my game up. Things aren’t like that any more. The books and DVDs and comics that come out these days are complimentary.

    For example; Mass Effect. There’s a picture of one of the Mass Effect novels in the article. The first two books don’t mention Shepard at all. They take something from the game, in this case the story of how Captain Anderson failed to become the first human spectre because of Saren, which is mentioned in the game enough for the player to know how to proceed, and the books flesh that out. It’s stuff that happens two decades before the events of the game, which was included in the game to the extent that pacing and time could allow, and makes a really cracking fully formed adventure out of it in a way that isn’t possible in the game.

    Other good additional materials do the same. And it’s not a new thing at all. I have an X-COM book from the early 90s, based on UFO: Enemy Unknown. It’s utterly unneeded to enjoy the game (which is good, as it’s rare as hell), but it’s a great way for diehard fans to get a little bit more of a fix.

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