Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton dispels the heated debate and explains how gameplay and story are to games as music and lyrics are to songs. Consider this: the music of the song, the part that bears the rhythm, beat, and/or harmony, is ultimately the backbone of the tune, while the overlaid lyrics cannot stand alone as a song. The same is true with videogames:
Gameplay is the foundation of any game. Almost every day, someone says “This isn’t a game” about a game we’ve written about. The medium is newer, the definition is fresher, the creators are still playing with it, and so we’re still discussing it more openly. But with the majority of games, it’s clear which parts are the “game” and which parts aren’t.
But where does this leave narrative? Well, consider stories as a whole: there are plenty of bad ones , though they may improve when written out as a novel through the language or adapted to film with the use of engaging visuals. Stories are an extremely multi-faceted and adaptive feature, one that changes with the form they take on. For gaming, elements from sound design to visual style have the potential to heighten the narrative.
Check out the whole piece for a thorough, logical breakdown on a decades-old debate.