Can games survive without a story? Well, obviously not because there has to be some sort of goal for the player to reach, which can loosely be defined as a party, but could you have a game in which the story is not the main point? A game based on puzzles, the items that need to be collected and the steps the protagonist must do to solve those puzzles? Could this exist?
Well, technically, yes. There are a few examples that you can look at from history, and there are some games today that you could potentially call entirely about the game play.
One game that focuses more on puzzles, less on story is one of the bestselling games ever — Tetris. The 1984 game which has sold more than 495 million copies (More than four times more than any other games) has no story and is just a simple puzzler with an endless (until you lose) series of random blocks dropping for you to place.
Another classic game without a story line is the game found on every old Windows machine, among others, Minesweeper, which is a simple logic puzzle game that involves you simply pressing on squares and using numbers to deduce the location of hidden mines which you didn’t want to hit.
More modern games, again usually simple or puzzle games such as Bejewelled or Snake don’t have plots. Moving to the realm of non-video games for a second, most card games, along with board games like Mastermind and Connect Four, or even a game like Guess Who? have little to no plot.
Of course, neither of these are adventure games — and some aren’t even video games. Moving back to the realm of adventure games, you can take the game Antichamber, a 2013 indie game.
The game, a first-person puzzler, has no story line, rather, it is a series of puzzles in a sort of sci-fi setting. It’s just puzzle after puzzle until the game ends.
A more famous example of the plot-less adventure game would be the first Zork game, the simply titled Zork I, which was very close to this spot. The game’s story line is the barest of bones possible, with the goal of getting in the house and then collecting the 19 treasures.
This wasn’t really a story line, more an excuse for the puzzles, mazes, and other game play elements, such as Grues and the Thief to exist. Amazingly, it worked — his game sold over a million copies and is considered one of the most significant games ever created.
Ironically, the game’s sequels, including its direct ones The Wizard of Frobozz and The Dungeon Master tried to fix this so-called problem, inventing a increasingly convoluted and complex story line featuring a empire lasting eons, a huge company (Frobozz Magic Co.) and multiple, sometimes corrupt and always stupidly named leaders. This wasn’t really required though, as Zork I is still a memorable game with it’s simple story and puzzling elements.
Later Infocom games had more complex stories though they still often had complex and deeply baked in puzzles, with the story line in more than a few cases being an excuse for the puzzles, such as the infuriating Bureaucracy, where you play against the seemingly endless bureaucracy when you moved.
In these games, it is impressive to look at and examine how they are able to keep the player interested and hooked, getting them to continue playing even though the goal is only to continue playing, as in the case of Tetris or Minesweeper, or solve the next puzzle.
In opinion, this is done differently by different games. Zork, for instance, does it by having impressive descriptions, intriguing puzzles and generally simple and well working mechanics. Tetris, though, does it by getting our brains going on dopamine (something many modern mobile games use) and letting our pure logical side go.
So, as we can see, though most games do have some sort of plot, games don’t necessarily need a plot and they can, even plot less, be fun and addicting. Of course, most games and players need a plot, but when there is a game that doesn’t, it is a rare and magical thing.
So next time you play Zork or another rather story less game, take some time to think if it can still stand up.