Music and lyrics help us to better understand the debate on gameplay versus narrative in gaming.

Since the advent of intelligent discussion on gaming, the argument over the importance of gameplay and narrative has grown to be a tired one. Enthusiasts and theorists alike discuss at great length why gaming should be purely for the game’s sake or, hey now, games bear great potential to tell compelling and culturally significant stories. Both are pretty true! But pause, hold on, perhaps they are mutually exclusive. 

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.

-Lyndsey Edelman