We tend to play video games because we like some aspect of the game. Games tend to be centered around a couple of things, either a story or the gameplay, or in the case of some games, both. Whether you choose gameplay or story, all games that are good excel in something.
Stories are seen as essential parts of a couple of video games, but they are not the top priority in all of them. Here is a breakdown of how important a story could be in a game.
A Story is Important When:
The gameplay is lacking. If a developer knows that their game will be lacking in gameplay or that the gameplay will be bad or simply put, not up to par to current standards, then they need something else, and this is where the story comes in. A good narrative can turn a bad game into a good one.
Stories are also important if a game is narrative-based. Some games are RPGs, but they are still story-driven, like the Witcher 3, which is why it is one of the best games out there. The gameplay is great, but the story is even better, and for a narrative-based game, that is one of the most important things to get right.
Games like Planescape: Torment, are among the best written games out there. The story can take you anywhere, depending on your choices. The gameplay is also great, for a D&D game, but the story is out of this world. Without the story, it would be another D&D game.
A Story Isn’t Important When:
The game has great gameplay and replayability. Some games are more combat-oriented and gameplay-based, so their storyline doesn’t need to be as good. Think of various RTS games, some of which have a story just so that they could have one. Some games which are gameplay-based also get a good story, but not all of them.
Take Skyrim as an example, an RPG which has decent mechanics, but is in its core an RPG. You start as a nameless character, you need to build yourself into something. The game gives you space and doesn’t put you in a box through a narrative. You can be the Dragonborn, or you can go do Ivarstead and chill under a mountain, chopping wood.
Stories are also not important in games which are primarily online games, like shooters and MOBAs. You are there to play and compete.
Some Games Are a Mix of Both
Some games have that extra mix of a good story and good gameplay. Examples of such games were mentioned above and typically, RPGs have both the gameplay and the story. Some Assassin’s Creed titles had both, when the developers remembered to leave out the grinding element out of a game which is supposed to be an RPG.
All in all, depending on the game and its development process, the story is really important or not at all. Some games have great stories and are terrible games, while others have no stories and are great games, many combinations are possible.