Why can't videogame stories be more in line with their gameplay (or vice versa)? (Light God of War Spoilers)

(This has been brewing for a good few days, apologies if it comes off as a bit of rant)

The new God of War is really rubbing me the wrong way for a whole bunch of reasons, but last night I hit upon the bit where Kratos makes a big deal out of “having to face his past and grab this specific item”. It made me laugh because Kratos buddy it’s fine we’ve specced into unarmed / shield combat. We don’t need the axe to beat these guys, we’re good. I mean it turns out I needed this item to destroy bushes, but that was about it?
It’s this big emotional story beat that just sucks, because it’s completely out of synch and under cut by the gameplay itself.

Now I get why that is there. It’s meant to be this awesome, cool oh-shit callback, but why can’t the game then just be honest about that? So much about God of War’s story is this po-faced and serious narrative, while so much of God of Wars gameplay is how cool Kratos looks while murdering shit, how good it feels and how exciting it is to upgrade your murder tools.

This made me think of stuff like Trevor from GTA 5 and all of Wolfenstein New Colossus, the former I liked the second I loved. Reason being, I think those games had it’s characters in sync with what the player was doing while playing the game. Character motivation and player motivation felt kinda perfectly aligned? If the game is an absolute murder fest, where I am meant to feel psyched about killing all this stuff, I need the character I am playing to reflect that? I mean, imagine going through Wolfenstein with BJ complaining about how unnecessary all the violence is and how he’s tired of killing…
A good subversive, less pulpy example would be Shadow of the Colossus.

To end on a more positive note, what are some great examples of character motivation and player motivation being aligned?

whenever i’ve tried to play dota i wanted very badly to quit and so did all my teammates and the control scheme, apparently

I can’t say much about the new God of War, since I haven’t played the new game yet, but having played the entire series over the past couple of weeks, it keeps having this problem where the desire to make a better game and story are constantly at odds with the need to keep it a power fantasy. It really locks them into a very tropey, predictable storytelling.

I will be obnoxiously self-promotiony, though, and will mention that I’ve done videos on this subject. Specifically, I’ve done one on why I think NieR: Automata really fails on this aspect. On the other hand, I agree Wolf 2 did a really good job with that, better than it’s ever given credit for (I’ve also done a video on that - the Wolfenstein part starts at about 20:46).

Also, I know a lot of people will sneer at this example, but A Way Out actually plays with player motivation really well, especially when the twist with Vincent happens.

Kratos needs The blades of chaos to get through helheim since all enemies are immune to frost and his fists alone do significantly less damage. I’m really not entirely sure him obtaining that item is entirely out of sync to be honest. It’s also an important step towards Kratos officially revealing to his son his past. The item is a physical manifestation of the emotional turmoil and guilt Kratos is tormented by, and to have to see/use them again is a way for Kratos to officially confront what he is. Idk, it worked well enough for me. In addition I think Atreus’ steady growth as a valuable companion in combat is an important part of his arc, and is a great way to get across to the player how far he’s come. It ties into the narrative quite nicely as a way of showing and not just telling the player that Atreus has grown and gained experience from the journey.

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I get what that storybeat means and why it’s there. While I’d agree that blades of chaos makes the section easier, it’s still, overall an easy section to play with just his fists (relative to previous bits). I’m not saying hitting that narrative beat is the wrong choice or whatever, I’m saying the way it’s justified in the narrative doesn’t ring true, because it is actively contradicted by the gameplay?
“you have to have this item to kill the enemies in this area”
“no i dont, these enemies go down easily without said item”

I played God of War when it came out (holy cow, 13 years ago). And loved it. I vividly remember impaling the big hydra thing at the start and ripping the head of a medusa. I also have zero interest in going back. I was (looks at calender) 15… And feel very confident in saying, there was a time and place for those games in my life.
Will watch those vids laters, out of curiosity how far into the series are you? Very interested to get your take on the new one then! Since it arguably tries way harder than the older ones.

Considering Atreus is also deathly ill at this point and Kratos is trying to get though this as quickly as possible and be as prepared as he can be (Freya is very insistent on how dangerous helheim is and Kratos doesn’t even know what to expect until he’s there) it just makes total sense to me. Kratos wouldn’t gamble on punching his way to victory while his son wastes away. He needs a weapon he is familiar that will give him the edge, and is willing to dredge up all the painful memories that come with it in order to do what he needs to. As a player, I know I would’ve got my ass handed to me doing that final boss on hard with just my fists and no Atreus around to assist. We won’t agree on this probably, it’s cool.

I doubt you made this thread just to debate GoW so I’ll say that this is a problem in most games that want the player to enjoy themselves and also have some sort of emotional response. It’s tricky since a lot of devs still think that the primary thing everyone needs from a game is for it to be “fun” first and foremost, which I just don’t agree with. Other mediums offer up a variety of experiences that we recognize as valuable and important because they’re tense or gut-wrenching or unbelievably sad, but when it comes to games devs are too scared to incorporate mechanics that could be interpreted as dull or odd even when they might be crucial to telling a story.

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Oh my, I’m being extra naughty with the self-promotion today: I actually have a thread chronicling my time with the series. I’ve just finished Ascension and am about to start the new game. I’m gonna throw up a summary post soon, but the tl;dr is that I loved Chains of Olympus and III and was somewhere between meh and outright hostile to the rest of them.

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Mainly because there are only a handful of verbs that are considered marketable to a mass audience. Themes and ideas age out faster than mechanics because we actually think about them, and so we get a shortfall between big game’s thematic ambitions and the degree to which they harmonise with the systems and mechanics.

In the case of God of War I’d argue that the degree to which the game requires you to solve all its problems violently is consistent with its veneration of a very narrow, myopic, and noxious type of masculinity.

i think there’s a certain suspension of disbelief you have to be willing to do with games otherwise it’s really easy to nitpick small contradictions. same as other media really.

that said I do think GoW has plenty of points where it undercuts its goals, both mechanically and thematically, and its desire to keep pointing out how genre savvy it is only highlights it. but that’s a rant for another day.

to talk about an example I like, Even the Ocean does a subtle job reinforcing its themes via mechanics, while still being overall rather traditional in play:

basically it’s story is about the binaries we find ourselves trapped in out daily lives, and the framing of the gameplay and its analogue failure states work that into its play.

it’s kind of similar to what Actrasier (and if argue some other Quintet games) does with its themes, with the mechanics acting as a certain interpretation of a biblical God

No one’s said it, so I’ll say it.

This is what the term “ludonarrative dissonance” often refers to.

Some people like this term, some people don’t, but it exists for a reason.