Let’s talk about video game lore

Put down the controller and break out the reading glasses

Odds are if you’re talking to someone who loves storytelling in video games, there’s lore from at least one game that they can recite by heart. Especially when it comes to games that really focus on the gameplay first, like League of Legends or Bloodborne, lore is a great, indirect way to get players engaged in the story of your world if there isn’t much time in the game itself to tell that story.

It can be a case of “come for the game, stay for the story,” or sometimes players get into a game because they learned about all the lore first, but either way, loving a game for the world it creates for us is a beautiful thing. But I have to be honest. For someone who loves story in games like, a lot, I just can’t bring myself to get into video game lore. I know, I know, bring out the torches and pitchforks.

Bloodborne screenshot

I think a lot of the problem for me is that learning about lore requires a lot of reading. Now I do consider myself an avid reader, so usually that’s not a problem for me, but when it comes to reading anything longer than a paragraph in a game, well, I just can’t do it. It’s because when I turn on a game, I want to play the game.

Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain

In his video “Naughty Dog’s Game Design is Outdated,” YouTuber NakeyJakey explains a phenomenon he affectionately calls Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain, which means you have “little to no patience for anything that isn’t fun or engaging second-to-second gameplay.” When I first started getting back into games, it was because I was watching cutscene compilations on YouTube. I thought for sure I cared about story and story alone, but as I started branching out and playing more and more games, I caught Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain. I think it was Hades that did me in.

When I play a game, something in my brain switches, and I have Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain. I still love to sit down and read a book, but I know when I do so, that’s all I can expect to be doing. Now if I’m presented with more than a hundred words at a time, it doesn’t matter how compelling the lore is, I’m just not gonna read it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I don’t like story in games at all anymore. I just prefer when the narrative design is really baked into the moment-to-moment gameplay. I’ve found that not only when it comes to games, but all kinds of storytelling, I like character-focused narratives over world- or lore-focused stories every time. Give me someone to root for, and then I’ll care.

I’m not saying that video game lore can’t be awesome or doesn’t have its merits, I just think it’s not for me. I’d love to be proven wrong here, but I’m hard-pressed to find a game that makes reading codexes or reading up on the game while I’m not even playing it compelling to me in absolutely any form. I don’t want to have to interrupt my playthrough to feel like I’m doing research for a school essay, you know what I mean?

Lore done right: Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium screenshot

I think a great example of a happy medium for me is Disco Elysium. That game is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling on so many levels, but one thing that blows me away about that game is that they actually do tell you a ton about that game’s world — its geography, its politics, its socioeconomic status, and so on.

The thing is though, it’s not hidden away in journal entries or codex entries, but instead, it’s woven into how you interact with the world itself. You get introduced to the ideologies, religions, politics, etc. of the world because you’re always hearing about them through the lens of what other characters think.

You hear about the war through René’s melancholy, patriotic recollections, and you learn about Humanism through Kim’s reserved stance on the religion. It’s so elegantly done that I walk away from each playthrough amazed at how much I learned, and care, about Revachol, its history, and its inhabitants.

If every game presented me with lore like that, I think I’d be a whole lot more interested in backstories and events that happened before I showed up. So, how do you feel about lore? Which game do you think has the best lore out there? Let’s discuss in the comments.


Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.

Noelle Warner