Lost Garden just posted an extremely long essay on the (over)use of stories in games. I suppose I shouldn't complain about length, as someone who wrote a seventeen page review of a bad movie.
Much of what Danc...
Danc? Hrm. If I have that name wrong, I'll fix it upon request.
Some of what Danc says is, to me, correct. But he's missing some pretty important aspects of what a story gives you, at least in a single player game.
A story really isn't just "another kind of reward". A story establishes a pattern of expectation that allows the player to invest more heavily in the universe. It also allows you to gracefully set mission objectives.
In Gun Shy, I put in a story. The story was... painfully simple. But it allowed me to establish a universe, explain the variations from character to character and level to level, and put in a reasonable progression. Extremely efficiently!
It also allowed me to bind the players to otherwise faceless little characters. Sure, I won't claim you're going to cry for them, but at least you'll feel some faint hint of emotion.
Anyone who thinks I put the story in there because I really wanted to have a good story in the game is sorely mistaken, and it shows that a story is very different from a simple gameplay reward.
A story is a way to efficiently and effectively set up the world, get the player to emotionally invest in it, and vary the gameplay in fun and transparent ways.
Sure, not every game benefits from a story. But even the games which used to not contain stories are starting to realize that a touch of humanity to their systemic manipulations will make some players enjoy the game more. Even word games and TIM games are starting to include stories.
Poor ones, like my Gun Shy story.
Their purpose isn't to reward or corral, although they can be used that way. Their purpose is to pull the player in, to make the game both more interesting and more transparent. Stories make the feedback juicer, the urge to continue stronger, the variation more interesting, and the tension tensionier.
Now, you might be fine without a story. But it's a very, very powerful tool, and I have encountered very few single-player games that would have been better without one.
Totally different story.