Lore VS Story: What Drives Narratives In Games
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Lore VS Story: What Drives Narratives In Games

Lore is not a substitute for story.

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Lore VS Story: What Drives Narratives In Games

Those who are in the know about video games have probably heard of the “Destiny 2” announcement by now. For those who aren’t “Destiny 2” is the sequel to a game released back in 2014 by game developer Bungie, which lets players take control of space faring protectors of Earth in a post-apocalyptic/fantasy setting. Chances are that you were bombarded by its overwhelming advertising campaign at the time. While many fans are excited about the launch of the title; those who played the original “Destiny” at launch probably recall the games many lackluster elements including: a large open world with nothing to do, characters who were boringly flat, and a main plot that made no coherent sense. To make up for the lack of content within the game Bungie decided to place caches in the many locations across the solar system players were meant to explore. The caches would unlock lore about the events and characters of the game, which was known as “grimoire.” Unfortunately, the lore provided also had to be read on a separate website while not playing the game and it didn’t remedy the mistakes the developers had made. There is a very specific reason for why the developer’s solution didn’t work; namely, lore is not a substitute for story.

At first glance it could be assumed that story and lore are interchangeable, and they often are. However, there are very important distinctions when discussing their usage in books, movies, and games. Lore, is a term which typically refers to both histories and cultures. The sentence “that mountain is home to a great god,” would be considered lore. The statement makes a claim that is largely unsubstantiated, but it carries a certain air of mystery. Things like myths, fairytales, and folklore can all be considered types of lore; in many ways it is simply a form of hearsay. Story, deals mainly with character and conflict and how the two interact and progress. A story or narrative should have a character: who has their own goals, flaws, and personality and a conflict which is important to the character and is resolved in some way by the end of the story. Lore tells us about some great hero and story lets us see that hero grow.

Lore and story are also not mutually exclusive in works of fiction, especially in the genres of fantasy and science-fiction. Often, stories take place in worlds that are not our own or on an Earth which is far in the future. Stories that take place in these settings often have backgrounds which are built on lore and other histories to add a sense of nuance to the world. The sentence used in the last paragraph, about the god on the mountain, imagine if the main character of a story heard that. They may have a lot of questions about the statement or maybe they don’t care at all; however, the fact that a character can have an encounter with the world’s lore is important. A character’s response to what is around them helps provide a sense of who they are to the audience, and since lore is a large factor in the world it plays its part in the characterization of protagonists. An example of lore working well without being intrusive in games comes from Bethseda Software’s “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.” The game is packed with books, treasure maps, and notes all of which are completely optional to read or find and aren’t necessary to fulfill plot development. However, if a player wants they can find secrets hidden in those items that will lead to quests, locales, and sometimes dead ends which adds definition to the character you’re playing as.

Story and lore may be different, but they can have a symbiotic relationship which benefits the narrative and those who engage in it. I recall “Destiny” being a flawed game with a lot of potential, and its main disconnect with me and many other players was its way of storytelling. There were never any interesting character moments, and players were given limited information about conflict and the plot destroyed itself before it got anywhere. The games tag line was “become legend” but that never panned out for my character. Bungie’s goal was probably to have players discover old legends of the world and strive for player characters to become that; unfortunately, they built the game around that lore and it made for an empty and story less game. Many of the announcements for “Destiny 2” have mentioned the removal grimoire cards so maybe Bungie can take some of the seemingly hidden lore of the game and use it to help craft a more interesting story.

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