Sure you could say that games don’t need narrative or plot like other entertainment mediums (like movies and books) do. You can easily make a successful game with mechanic alone, take Candy Crush, Flappy Bird and Bejewelled or even Agar.io. All brilliant games made with mechanics alone. But what do you notice about all these games? If I asked you to name 5 games off the top of your head, it wouldn’t be any of those would it? That’s because games made solely with mechanics in mind are made to be time wasters, they aren’t made to be something that sticks in your mind. So how do games stick in your mind? Why do some games seem more remunerable than others? Putting aside games with exceptional fame (Mario, Pokémon, CoD), a game with a good plot will stick with you more than a game with bad narrative or none at all.
If you’re asking yourself why that is, it’s an easy question to answer. People aren’t good at remembering things, only a few exceptional people in the world can say that they are. Most people can only remember 7 articles in their short term memory and long term memory can be just as bad. As time goes on we begin to muddle our memories and sometimes the longer we dwell on them, the muddier they get. We mix things around, forget certain things completely, add in things that didn’t actually happen and can be influenced by other people. However, there is one thing that people can easily remember, even after years of not thinking about it, and that would be Narrative. By stringing together a series of events with plot, people can easily remember what happened and can do so more accurately. Narrative can be used as a mnemonic device (something that can help you improve memory).
So how does this tie in with games? Well if you want to make a memorial game what would you do? Hopefully it would be to make a games with good narrative (after what you’ve just read). You have to remember that games are an entertainment medium just like books and movies and what sells books and movies? A good plot. And what do you want your game to do? SELL! So just like books and movies, games have begun to take upon more complex and more engaging stories. While I’ll easily admit that games are appalling at telling narrative, we are getting better at it (it’s still a relatively new medium after all).
Narrative in games is finally starting to become a normal thing (here’s hoping good will come of this) and more narrative driven games are getting bigger spotlights. As more publishers and developers start to figure out that narrative is a good thing more people who wouldn’t usually even look at a video game might start to gain interest, because narrative is something anyone can use and can easily remember. It’s what is at the base of all our big entertainment sources and not only that but we’ve been at this for thousands of years, we like it and games adding in more focus on narrative is an inevitable thing and hopefully, a good thing.
Take a look at Daniel Floyd’s take on Narrative in Games
A good look at how Narrative and its Mechanics
A quick look at mnemonic devices