Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before: The hero, Sir Protagonist, must travel around collecting all of the magical Mcguffin Stones before the evil Lord Jerkface because if all of the Mcguffin stones are brought together, it will bestow ultimate destruction blah blah blah onto whoever uses them. Sir Protagonist ventures bravely forth and collects all the Mcguffin Stones but “Ohz Noes!” the villain takes them from SP and then they must fight in an epic showdown to save the world of Setting Land.
Does that sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because it is one of the most overused plotlines in all of gaming and IT NEEDS TO DIE! Let me rant to you about why.
First and foremost, it’s cliche. Games have been using this basic formula for decades. I’ve seen games as early as 1990 using it but I’d be willing to bet there are earlier examples as well. It’s easy to see why games have used this formula for so long. Hero must travel the world collecting several plot items before reaching a climactic conclusion. It’s perfect for games that focus on action and exploration such as Metroidvanias or RPGs.
The problem, even from the beginning though, was that it was BORING! You remember playing any of the God of War games, right? You’re slashing through baddies left and right, making your way towards whatever goal you happened to have at that moment when you suddenly reach a giant door. Athena pops up and is like, “Yo, Kratos. To open this door and continue on, you have to find three keys. That’ll be fun, won’t it?”
No, Athena, ya jerk! That won’t be fun at all! What it will be, is tedious and boring as I’m collecting meaningless plot items so that I can keep going with what I was doing before. This happens in literally every single God of War game and happens with countless other titles too and I can’t think of a single time it was ever fun. Now, grow that into an entire game in and of itself and you have this plot formula.
Despite some padding and story bits thrown in here and there, these games always feel like you’re just working down a checklist until you can get to the end. Maybe it feels like an accomplishment for a moment when you get one of the fabled Crystals of Light but then you remember that this doesn’t actually do anything for you and now you have 7 more to find.
It’s a bad formula that has built in gamification but here’s the second thing. The plot doesn’t even wind up making sense. Imagine this, you’re in the shoes of the protagonist and you are told that if the baddie gets all the stones together, they’ll get ultimate power and it’s up to you to stop them. What do you do?
NO! You find one of the stones and you’re done! If the bad guy needs all of the stones, taking one of them and keeping it safe will accomplish your goal. Mission over. Why go around finding all of the stones, doing the bad guy’s work for them, if keeping one safe defeats their plans? It doesn’t make any sense!
Instead, the game is always telling you to go and collect all of the magical mcguffins yourself and then you can keep them all safe together. Hey, idiot, they were kept separate for a reason! Bringing them all together tends to have… bad consequences.
So next time you’re playing a game and they’re telling you some BS about how you have to save the world by collecting all the pieces of a dark, evil puzzle, maybe think twice about it, alright? And game devs? CUT IT OUT!