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Last night’s Bafta Games Question Time panel was kicked off with a brilliantly divisive first question from the audience, “what’s more important – gameplay or story?“.  The divergence in responses from the panelists, backed up with the hard evidence in the form of their successful games demonstrating their beliefs, shows just how great a question it was.

The Chinese Room’s Jessica Curry stated that the highly successful Dear Esther was created to answer the question, “what happens when you remove all the gameplay from a first person game”. The answer seemingly being that you get an atmospheric critically and commercially successful indie hit.
On the gameplay side of the spectrum, you have Fireproof Games’ rockstar like Barry Mead nonchalantly stating that games aren’t a story telling medium for him, a statement backed up by Fireproof’s hugely successful title, The Room, which contains minimal narrative. Meade also cited titles such as Civilization where the story occurs solely in the players own head. You could also argue that titles such as Tetris, which don’t feature any story at all wouldn’t be improved by the addition of one.
The other two panelists, Mike Bithell and Telltale Games’ Dan Connors were representing Thomas Was Alone and The Walking Dead respectively, two titles that sit a little closer to the middle of the story-gameplay spectrum. The success and variety of all these games’ approaches just goes to show how neither story nor gameplay is the more important element. You can make a great game by utilising one or the other, or both. It just depends on the kind of game that you want to make.
It was a pleasure to witness the tackling of a topic that can prove so hugely divisive, and observe it being answered so deftly not merely by the words that the panelists used, but by the games that they have created, which say more for their opinions on the matter than words ever could.
[You can watch the full discussion on Bafta’s website here]