“What is more important: story, or design?”
I’ve had this argument countless times, and come down on either side of it (really, whichever side made me right and the other guy wrong). But I’ve been thinking about this lately, and without an ego-interest in either side I’m having a hard time defining the difference between design and story.
One way of splitting the two is this: “Design is what the player does and the story is what is done to the player.”
I don’t really like that one, because it limits story as a non-interactive element. This definition breaks down when you think of games like Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto, where the most interesting stories tend to be the ones players create for themselves.
Another way of splitting the two is to say that “Story gives meaning or context to the design,” but I don’t like that one either because it minimizes the impact of the player on the events in the game. This one breaks down when you think of a game like Portal or Bioshock, where many of the emotionally impactful moments come only through the player’s willingness (or lack thereof) to perform a task that is forced upon him.
In the end, I think that story is not subservient to design, but definitely serves design (and vice-versa). They are both really two sides of the same coin — story is the aspect of design where the vision of the designer and the player’s ability to interact with the game come together. To put one over the other is, therefore, a wasteful activity.
After all, how can something be better than itself?
The line of thinking begs the question “Why, if design and story are the same thing, are many (otherwise good) games’ stories such utter shit?”
I have some ideas, but no time to write them up right now. I’ll save that for the next post.
In the mean time, let me know what YOU think. Why do many games with good design have bad stories? Also, while you’re at it, feel free to let me know what you think of the whole Design VS Story idea.