Paul uses Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to talk about how lore improves a gamer’s experience.
Storytelling in video games uses a lot of the same mechanisms that other mediums do. While games do also have the interactivity element that a book or a movie cannot match, the fictional worlds and stories created in a game share the same features as those created in a novel. For a story driven game this aspect of a fully realized world and setting is every bit as vital to success as it is in movies, TV shows and novels.
Not every game needs to have a rich world filled with people, places and long histories. There are plenty of amazing games that exist purely on their gameplay alone. Classics like Tetris and modern day hits like Angry Birds are so well loved because they are built on a simple concept that is fun to play. And those games deserve every bit of success they have achieved.
But games that look to tell a story cannot rely on their game play alone no matter how well done it is. Usually the games with the most fully-realized worlds are RPGs but other genres have great examples as well. It is so important for these games to have a complete world because as great as their story might be if it exists in a vacuum things feel kind of hollow. Venturing to save the world is great and all but why should even care about this world? This is where lore steps in, it makes the world real and gives you a reason to care.
After sitting in my Steam library for about two years (and my being a decade late to the party in general) I finally began playing BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic last week. The other night I completed all of the quests on Tatooine but before I left the planet, I went back to Sand People’s camp and spoke to the Story Teller. I spent a good half hour or so just listening and asking questions (although I unintentionally came close to upsetting him a few times). While I realize I have a lot more of the game to go I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite moments of the game.
I earned my degree in history so perhaps this just the nerd in me geeking out but it was absolutely fascinating to listen to the Storyteller recite the history of the Sand People. I know it is all fiction but I could not shake that feeling of excitement at learning the history of this strange culture from a primary source! In game no one else at that point even knew or really cared at all about the Sand People. Yet instead of just being the bad guys of the level, they had their own culture and their own history! Beyond Tatooine the Sand People do not really factor into the main story of the game (at least I do not think they do) and they still have all this lore written about them.
Now this does show that BioWare is extremely thorough when they make games. Their other franchises like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and even Jade Empire all have extremely rich lore. This lore also serves to make the world feel real. To be fair Star Wars has a lot of material outside of the main movies that flesh out and enrich the universe but BioWare did something special with KOTOR. I was learning the history of the Sand People 4,000 years before they took pot-shots at Anakin during the Boonta Eve Classic. And that history stretched back even longer than that! I was learning a culture’s own version of its history and it added to the richness of that fictional universe.
I will admit that I get way more excited over reading history than most but when a game or a book or anything actually takes the time to make its own world complete with its own history, there is just something almost magical about it. I can get lost in that fictional world and discover its secrets and it feels real. I love it.