Snared by stories.
I’m a sucker for a good story. Give something a storyline and you’re certain to have me hooked. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of professional wrestling. At its best, there’s great athleticism alongside a satisfying story arc (though your mileage may vary). But pro-wrestling isn’t the only thing that uses stories to hook me. Video games have evolved to have the same capacity for excellent, engaging storytelling. I no longer give a crap about high scores or fast play-throughs. I want to see how the story ends. Big-budget games have been making use of this for years, but recently it’s mobile games that have also started to hook me, and I’m such a sucker for a story that you don’t really need to have much of a story. Mobile games are bite-sized distractions for me, so the quicker the narrative the happier I am.
There’s a delightful game called Does Not Commute, and the objective is to drive your car from one end of the map to the other. Then you have to drive another car from one end of the map to the other, while avoiding the path of the car you previously drove, and so on. It’s light fare and my toddler loves watching the cars swerve around the screen. But before each car starts, there’s a little snippet of a story for each driver behind the car, like “Dentist Charles Schneider drives home to his house on Glower Boulevard.” And with each level, there are recurring characters and their little snippet stories build into a narrative. I found myself caring less about my high score and more about what happens next! Why is the dentist talking about wormholes?! I need to know!
A mobile game I recently downloaded is Full of Stars, and it makes heavier use of a narrative, though still in bite-sized chunks. On its surface, you fly your spaceship through a level while avoiding rocks, moons, planets, lasers, and other cosmic dangers. You have to reach the end of the multi-level journey before you run out of resources, or it’s game over. Then you add the storyline. The ship is full of refugees escaping a galactic war, and it’s your job as the pilot to guide them to a new home. Each crash risks losing resources, and sometimes those resources are people. The “game over” isn’t simply you running out of tries, it’s your heartbreaking failure to save people. On the other hand, the satisfaction of reaching the end (and the game’s clever use of narrative in getting you to replay it) is worth the hardship and heartbreak. All this from a little game about a spaceship avoiding obstacles. Slap a good story on it and it becomes so much more, and I become hooked.
I’m certain there are more mobile games that make superb use of story, but I need to keep my playtime limited. Mobile games are like cookies for me. They’re so small and easy to eat that I don’t think I’ll eat a whole box in one sitting. Three boxes later I’m full of regrets… and cookies.