I thought more about why it had not, and I realized that although what I remember wasn't typically what people use to describe the word narrative, it was the important story to me.
Every medium has a way to convey narrative. Historically, video games have used similar techniques to books and film. In the days of 16 and 32-bit graphics, it was nearly impossible to convey emotion through the characters on screen. As a result, developers turned to a narrative style that was already established and introduced the cut-scene. Valve later found a way to integrate the narrative into the gameplay itself in Half-Life.
Much of the talk about narrative in video games is between these two styles. To me, neither has grabbed my attention. I think the important aspect that sets video games apart from other mediums is that it is interactive. Therefore, shouldn’t the narrative in an interactive medium be equally as dynamic?
When I think back on memorable gaming stories, I think to a game of Hearts of Iron III where as the United States I was able to convince the public to invade Canada, and later helped Germany invade Great Britain. This narrative was one of a countless number of possible results that unfolded directly as a consequence of the actions I took in the game.
There is the same sort of narrative, albeit more mechanical, in a competitive game of Quake III or Starcraft. It’s not a story in the classical sense of the eye-robot with legs gaining revenge on the weird alien thing, but of the set of events that happened. While seemingly bland, the drama and emotion can be just as intense as a tightly contested sporting event.
Many have heard of the arching stories in EVE Online. Though there is no real central plot to the game, the account of players spending a year to infiltrate a corporation, assassinate it’s leader, and steal it’s assets is a legend. Giving players a blank slate in which to explore and create allowed the development of a story so rich with deceit and betrayal to rival a Shakespeare tragedy.
The exploding popularity of open world games speaks to the engaging nature of emergent story. In games like Oblivion, Fallout 3, or Farcry 2, there is space to explore both a classical narrative or your own anecdotes. In this aspect, story serves as a way to narrate progression and give some sense of what to do for players who need guidance.
The story that emerges from a player’s actions is a lot more meaningful to me. In a way, I feel as though I'm being invited to help create it. Additionally, the story that I experience is uniquely my own. When 100 people watch The Wire, the same experience is shared. When 100 people play Minecraft, we end up with everything from castles to U.S.S. Enterprise replicas.
This doesn’t seem to be an evolution of video games, as emergent gameplay has long been a staple mechanic. Additionally, I don’t think emergent narrative and classic narrative is a binary choice as plenty of games have shown there is room for both. Where I think it’s important to take into account is that player driven stories seem to be that magic ingredient to make a game truly interactive. In the end, isn’t interactivity the reason why we choose to play games?