Gaming and Lore
Lore: A body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth. Synonyms: mythology, myths, legends, stories, traditions, folklore, culture, beliefs, sayings, superstitions, fantasy, oral tradition.
Certain genres of games love to steep themselves in faux lore. Then there are titles based upon existing intellectual properties that have a wealth of material to draw upon. Either way it would seem that such content is very popular among gamers. Perhaps it has something to do with how an in-depth sense of history can bring a virtual world to life. Or maybe it’s more about being human and our compulsion to share stories. Regardless of the armchair psychology, the bottom line is lore can be a major selling point for a game.
Personally I like strong narratives in the games, whether it’s based on an established franchises such as Star Wars, Star Trek or Middle-earth, or wholly original like The Elder Scrolls. When questing in a MMO or single player RPG, I like to know why I have to vanquish the Nibble-pibblies, rather than just blithely go and exterminate them. Ultimately it comes down to the old literary device of “investment”. Providing a back story makes the player more likely to empathise with the characters and the narrative. This contributes to the sense of immersion, which for many is a key aspect of gaming.
The Lord of the Rings Online is a text book example of an MMO whose lore is integral to its popularity. In some respects it is quite unique beast in so far that it’s IP has the capacity to attract non-gamers. The game developer’s Turbine have always managed to work within the confines of the established lore and create stories that although are not canonical, are inventive, measured and engaging. LOTRO is one of the games that I always ensure that I read all bestowal and dialogue text. I am interested in how the in-game characters link to existing plot elements from Tolkien’s source text.
Sadly not every game is successful at creating a vibrant and involved lore. The fantasy genre can often be extremely generic, self-plagiarising and even arbitrary. Where the lore in Skyrim prompted me to conduct further research outside of the game, due to its depth and sophistication, the storyline of Arcania Gothic 4 was lost on me. The latter game seemed to have a very inconsistent narrative that had precious little new to offer. Thus by the time I completed the RPG after thirty hours plus of gameplay, I was left confused as to the meaning of the ending and ill disposed towards installing the expansion.
Lore can also find itself at odds with pre-established material when it pertains to popular IPs. Both Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Trek Online have complex and well written storylines that were designed to work in harmony with existing content. Sadly both are officially non-canonical, marginalising the hard work of the writers. This is especially galling for Star Trek fans as there is not any official new material being created at present, outside of the recent movies which are set in an alternate timeline.
Earlier this year I attempted to complete Dragon Age: Inquisition. Having not played through the previous two games in the series, I was not au fait with the lore and as a result struggled to keep abreast of the wider story. Although I enjoyed the fully voice acted character interactions I couldn’t apply myself to the various codex entries that regularly appeared. Despite having an impressive legendarium I was far more concerned with trying to master the various game mechanics. As a result the lore actively became a distraction rather than an embellishment.
As ever with gaming there are always opposite points of view and the matter of lore is no different. I know many a player who will happily skip cutscenes, ignore bestowal dialogue and are not in the least bit interested in the prevailing back story of the virtual world they inhabit. If that is their chosen play style then so be it. There is no right or wrong way to play a game, despite what some may tell you. There are players who are more interested in the task in hand, rather than the motivation for it. As long as they are having fun, then that is all that matters. However for me, lore still counts as an integral part of my game enjoyment and I shall continue to seek it out in the titles I play.