A good thread to kick things off:
Games are first, and foremost about their gameplay, NOT their story.
Story in games can be great. You can tell stories in unique and interesting ways that other mediums just can’t do.
However, gameplay is a prerequisite for a gaming experience to be… well, game.
I never finished The Last of Us because its gameplay was, quite frankly, too boring. It also looked boring. The story started off with a good hook in the form of tragedy, but then became a slog. There was very little game at the macro level, and none at the meta level. Having to go through repetitive, boring actions in service to “interractivity” to access a mediocre story does not make for a compelling experience.
You end up asking, “Why isn’t this a movie?” But that then raises the next question:
If this was a movie, would it be a good one?
The fact that it ended abruptly should provide a good answer.
Had the gameplay been good (or just even a little better), I probably would have finished the game and enjoyed the experience. I would have forgiven the mediocre story and bland visuals, or even felt better about them overrall.
At the same time, we have an answer as to why mediocre storytelling is praised in games: The standards are low within the medium and people are used to bad stories in all other mediums they consume as well.
With all that in mind, here is where I think energy should be focused to make a game good:
For more on how gameplay orders work, and how stories in games can be achieved, check out some of my recent videos:
Just to reiterate, you can have a great story in a game, but both gameplay and aesthetics are a more important part of the gaming experience, so those need to be functioning before a story can have its full effect.
You can grab my latest book on achieving excellence as a creative professional now:
If I want a story, I’ll read a book. And I say this as a big fan of JRPGs from back in the day (Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, Vagrant Story, Secret of Mana, etc.) as well as Western ones (The Elder Scrolls, Quest for Glory, Might and Magic, etc.).
The same way if I want a story, I won’t play a tabletop RPG either. D&D is for getting loot and killing monsters. Novels are for “the narrative.”
Gameplay and aesthetics are why older games still resonate, at least with me. The Ninja Gaiden series on NES is great because of the gameplay and the aesthetics. The story and cut scenes are just fun little extras. Game-makers think just because their industry is more popular–and in some cases more expensive to produce–than Hollywood, they need to be LIKE Hollywood. Big mistake!