Hey, SLAENT. It's been a minute.

So, I love video games, as both a hobby, and as a form of art. I'll take a video game over a book, a TV show, or a movie when it comes to legitimately entertaining ways to kill time. But if I'm being honest, video games fall short compared to other forms of modern media when it comes to telling a compelling story. And it's not due to the actual plots within the games themselves, or the voice acting, or the quality of the graphics in a cutscene. But rather, it has more to do with the way these stories are conceived on the cutting room floor, and how these stories are presented to us when we finally get to play them.

For the purposes of this post, I'm gonna be picking on David Cage a lot.

Cage's work has made people have very drastic & polarizing opinions on not only his ability to tell a story, but his overall quality as a person. Some view Cage as one of gaming's few important auteurs in the vein of Hideo Kojima or Jonathan Blow; the kind of visionary that producers & creative leaders within the gaming industry follow the lead of. Others view Cage as a hack, with ripped-off cliches, played out tropes, and redundant plot points making the majority of his work seem like half-assed attempts to channel the ideas from better source material into his works. One thing is true, regardless of your perspective of him: he & his team at Quantic Dream manage to turn heads with their focus on visually capturing the human emotion via high polygon counts. And every now and then, it works out for Cage in undeniable ways.

Let's start with his best work to date - not anything from Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls - but from one of his tech demos: Kara.

There's no denying the technical prowess of this media demonstration; this is one of the most impressive visual displays to date, especially when you consider the fact that it was running on the PlayStation 3 in real time. But it's also Cage's best moment of writing & directing.

Cage has never been one to shy away from putting female characters into awkward & sexually precarious situations. Most of the time, it lands with a loud thud at best, and slaps you in the face at worst (DRINKING GAME IDEA: Take a shot for every rapey scene in a Cage game. DISCLAIMER: I'm not responsible for your death). But here, the combining of the baby-like wonder and curiosity of a woman-like android literally taking her first breath and living, with the concept of an assumedly multi-national corporation creating retail-model humanoid robots that can be used for, among other things, sexual pleasure... it works really well. It creates a feeling of unease in the viewer, as he or she comes to grips with the idea of seeing something that was literally meant to be an object become more than that. Kara, the character herself, sells the ranges of emotions she displays very well. The dialog between her and the engineer assembling her is really good, as her emotional responses to being disassembled eventually breaks the otherwise cut & dry demeanor of the engineer, making him realize he's not just disassembling a robot - he's actually killing a person.

But, details aside, the main reasons for why this scene works is because of Cage's focus. He's not just linking a bunch of loose plot threads together, or weaving a bunch of intricate details and ideas into the plot. He's actually focusing on a singular idea, and executing on that idea solely, with no distractions.

But, that's just the thing about why video games mostly suck at telling stories: there's no focus. Mainly because a video game has many different aspects to it that add to its overall value as a product. And because all of those aspects have to be considered when creating a video game, some aspects have to take priorities over others. For example, Kara is a tech demo. As in, you aren't playing it. You don't have to be considerate of random physics calculations, or input lag, or AI. It plays itself, as all cutscenes do. Now, imagine how different Kara could've been if player input was actually involved. Cage could've potentially lost his focus on the message he's trying to sell to the viewer by having to create a more "gamey" scenario.

A lot of video games have stories that seem to be written in bits and pieces. Imagine if you were working on a screenplay. But instead of writing it in a linear fashion from beginning to end, you wrote the ending first, then the beginning scene, and then wrote every other scene randomly in order until you came up with the final draft. Most video games have plots that seem to be written in this manner. As if the development team developed their game scene by scene, but instead of the writers creating an interesting scenario from scratch, the dev team said "I WANT THIS TO HAPPEN IN THIS SCENE" and the writers wrote around that central idea, out of context with the rest of the other scenes that have been written up to that point. Added to these problems is the dissonance between narrative & gameplay, aka, the "ludonarrative dissonance". A lot of games have gameplay mechanics that are at odds with events & themes in the game's plot, like for example, if a character has super acrobatic abilities during gameplay, but lacks those super-acrobatic abilities during a specific segment of the plot, or throughout the entire plot.

For a perfect example of both segmented writing & dissonant scenarios is another David Cage work: Indigo Prophecy. A lot of stuff that happens in IP is... stupid. I mean, how else can one describe how a supernatural crime thriller turns into the Matrix meets The Invisibles? The game is constantly throwing new plot points at the player from out of nowhere, especially after the halfway point, and none of them really make sense or connect with one another. This game, along with Beyond: Two Souls, suffers from the scenario-to-scenario approach to writing a game's plot.

Then you have games that were written cohesively, then seemingly had portions of the game removed for certain reasons. I recently completed Final Fantasy XV, and it's a good game and the plot is understandable. Problem is, I couldn't take-in the plot by playing the game alone. I had to watch the associated film Kingsglaive, watch the anime, and play both DLC's. No game should ever have parts of the game removed just to sell external media or DLC. Imagine if Breaking Bad had you paying for Jesse's individual scenes separately. That would be ridiculous, right? It would basically ensure that only a small number of people would actually be able to see your content, and the mass majority of viewers would be left with massive plot holes in the central show.

Because of the lack of focus on the content within the game itself, XV ends up with massive plot holes. Character motivations go unexplained, and characters we're supposed to care about end up failing to gain the player's attention. For example, Lunafreya is supposed to be the main protag's love interest, but she spends literally no time together with Noctis outside of a few small seconds in the middle of the game. Most of the development of their relationship occurs in the form of cryptic love letters being delivered by a time-traveling dog. There are also moments in the game where members of the main party randomly take off, and the only way the players can get any insight of their whereabouts is if they buy the damn DLC. And to be honest, at least only one of those DLC's, Episode Prompto, is actually worth it so far, as it actually delves into Promto's character backstory and motivations. Episode Gladiolus is worthless. SPOILER ALERT: He fights Gilgamesh. Yay?

And finally, sometimes even when the narratives are solid, the story falls apart due to the characters within them. Final Fantasy XII is a great game with a plot that should've been way better than it was, with a heavy focus on political upheaval and the instability that can come in the midst of global war & conquest. The problem? It was told through the perspective of a worthless character in the name of Vaan. Crucial moments in the plot are interrupted by Vaan's nasally voice injecting worthless dialog about being a sky pirate. By the halfway point of the game, Vaan becomes virtually invisible in the plot, as his arc was pretty much settled in the first six hours of the game. It makes you wonder why he was even there in the first place.

All of these examples point towards a lack of focus. Instead of creating a central narrative first, from beginning to end, then designing the game around that, most developers design the story around the game, piece by piece. And what you end up with are plots that feel disconnected and broken, with narratives that don't flow well together from scene to scene.

One could argue that gameplay trumps story, and I would agree. But since most modern games are heavily inspired by film, they would do well to create better stories for the player by creating focused narratives to draw the player in. But I don't know if the gaming industry has the right kind of people who can properly create narratives. The nature of the gaming industry makes it so that there are very few auteurs, since most game developers are considered expendable, even in the indie scene. And the auteurs we do have may lack the ability to fully realize the full storytelling potential of the medium. Personally, I would rather that Cage not be in charge of any creative decisions in any medium, due to his lack of self-awareness, his frankly uncomfortable portrayal of women & people of color in his games, and his overbearing pretentiousness. But he's one of the only ones willing to push the medium's ability to tell a tale, even if he fails spectacularly most of the time.