The Armchair Empire is starting a "starting a semi-regular feature discussing story telling in games". It's first installment covers the 1981 classic Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. Specifically, that the seminal RPG did not in fact have a story. Sure there was a back story about the land of Llylgamyn and that Trebor and Verdna were bitter enemies. However, the actual game consisted of, "find Verdna, kill the bastard, and take his amulet." The narrative, if you could call it that, unfolded in the players imagination.
"Those times truly felt like they were my adventure and my story, and I wasn’t simply an observer that was being allowed to watch the events unfold."
Procedurally generated games seems to be taking off. Does such a scripted story matter? What about relying on the player to create their own drama?
Whoever wrote the article is a moron. They claim that the first Wizardry was THE game that got them playing video games, that they have fond memories, yadda yadda yadda. But they keep typing "Verdna". I wonder if it occurred to this "fan" that it's actually Werdna, and is not hard to remember because Werdna was Andrew backwards (Greenberg) and Trebor was Robert (Woodhead). The author cites that there is no story, yet he doesn't even understand or remember the fundamental characters in the game.
Furthermore, the author says that the first installment didn't feature plot points, dingy cells, ancient statues, or stone walls. Uh, it featured all of that, even if on a very basic level.
In any case, a lot of time story doesn't matter. Did Tetris need a story? What about pac-man? It really depends on the game and the player. For those that play a game because they want to be involved in a complex story, then it's everything. For others, gameplay quality is far more important.
I don't think that a story, by default, should be considered a factor in a gameplay experience. It should only apply to specific titles where it is most appropriate.
It also depends on the genre. An arcade game usually doesn't need a story, for example. An RPG often does... even if it allows the player to avoid the main story (Oblivion/Morrowind for example).
Ohmigosh! The player pretending that he is involved in an extremely classy story with an existential twist a la Kafka that reveals the darker side of our natures (oh, that naughty unconscious mind full of it`s kinky sexual fantasies) and dares to ask the question "Did God screw up when he created us?", when in fact he is just clicking on monsters 120 per second. That`s so... boring.
I don`t play games so that I can pretend that the game is something that it is not. I do love many old games, but Wizardry is quite boring even for an old game. There are others made in that period that deserve the credit for standing out from the masses. Games without stories, without unique characters like Guybrush, Gabriel, Iolo, David Warner... erm... I mean that evil guy from Baldur`s Gate 2... Irenicus, Dakkon, Bastila, Kreia only last as long until the next game comes that does the gameplay better.
That`s why I think Oblivion is better than Morrowind... because of the graphix and havok engine that makes the combat more cooler and other stuff. That`s why Morrowind is better than Baldur`s Gate 1, because of the graphics, more involved combat, etc. Writing wise these games lack punch, attitude, unique characters that would make it still interesting in this day. Of course, as a side-note, I love making screenshots in Morrowind more, because they really look like their photos made in an distant land... and also Mobygames could use a forum where we could post our screenshots and generally show off.
So unique writing in my opinion is needed to give the game life. It doesn`t have to be Planescape: Torment unique. For example, recently I was persuaded to play a game called Shin Megami Tensai II (I won`t point any fingers). Now, it`s one of the most horrible, dreadful, disgusting, soul-sucking, life-destroying games I`ve ever played (well it`s like Wizardry with random combat every 5 seconds and the gameworld being a one big maze to get lost in.... ugly-looking maze really). But that game has an attitude, it has interesting ideas that made the experience amazing. It makes it stand out, even when if it has 10 times worser graphics and gameplay than Final Fantasy 6 that came out the same year (and let`s not even talk about Wing Commander 3)
And the game doesn`t have to be full of scripted events to have uniqueness. For example Ultima 7 and U5: Lazarus are with very loose narratives, but they have almost as much text as Planescape: Torment. They are very character-heavy, each NPC is a book of his/her own (or to be more precise, each NPC is a 30-paged short story). And you know what, talking with them is not required; you can just shoot fireballs at trolls if that is your pleasure. And that`s why I think Ultima`s are so brilliant. Sure flirting with Bastila is fun, but there is something in exploration that linear story-driven RPG`s just don`t offer; sure questing and freedom is fun but there is something in characters and writing that open-ended RPG`s just don`t offer. And what Ultima`s do, is that you have that freedom, but they also have that character depth that me and 10 other guys desire for. And they have no silly quests like Mr. X wants you to go to Abu Dhabi and yell that you sleep with pigs. Of course they have no quests, but that`s beside the point.
Bottom Line: Graphics, gameplay last only so long when a better game comes. Characters and writing are what makes the game unique. Bastila is sexy. Ultima`s rule. And Picard kicks Kirk`s ass.
Well said, my friend. Two things, though:
1) It's Shin Megami TensEi, not Tensai.
2) I'm still waiting for your review of this game.
YID YANG Has Left In Protest Wrote:
1) Damn, it`s just so much easier and melodical to say Tensai than Tensei after Megami for my estonian tongue.
2) Working on it. Probably finish it before my birthday, which is in March. I get distracted too easily.
Yet you give specific examples of games that you like more simply because the graphics are better.
Tell me, what games other than Wizardry "stood out from the masses" in 1981? Did TI Invaders leave an impression on you, or was it perhaps Bug Attack that inspired you? Bitching about no story in Wizardry I is like complaining that you can't gain experience and level up in Pong, or Grim Fandango doesn't run in directX 10 and is therefore a failure.
My complaint is that the author of the link flipkin gave us probably never played Wizardry yet writes an analysis of the game.
D Michael Wrote:
I can`t say anything about 1981. Oldest games I`ve played are from 85.
Yeah, I only have played 5,7 and 8 (by played I mean played at least a week... never finished). And I wasn`t bitching about Wizardry. I was actually discussing on flipkins last two questions " Does such a scripted story matter? What about relying on the player to create their own drama? ". I just somehow messed up with the quoting. Frankly I just don`t care about Wizardry series enough to bitch about them.
And I honestly don`t judge games by graphics. Elder Scrolls games ain`t my favorite games, I only named them to make a point. And my point was that games oriented on graphics and gameplay last only as long when the next game comes that does graphics and gameplay better. I have no desire to waste my life on ugly-looking pictures when it doesn`t give me something new.
I prefer feeling "Whoa! This is shocking! Human beings really are good! God, now I really do understand what you mean by that you love each and everyone of us, and what you mean with that forgiving nonsense! Heiveinu shalom aleichem!" to "Wow, killing monsters is fun! Ohmigosh! I just waisted 18 hours of my life! Man, I wished I had a girlfriend. Something`s gotta be wrong with me, when I start to notice how beautiful emerald green eyes the actress has in a porn movie. She did have beautiful eyes though. Hmm... I wonder how it`s really like to be alive... and do real women really look like girls from japanese cartoons. Hmph! Mom`s yelling again about me still living in her basement. I wonder what`s her problem. Yeah, yeah, Dad`s successful and all that but he also ran away with gay men from Alaska, mom!" after playing the game, so having action for action`s sake is a rare thing for me, and that`s why it needs to be spectactular if I am going to do it.
If I gotta choose between an old game which is oriented on gameplay (killing monsters) and a newer game where I kill monsters, I`ll stick to newer game because I don`t really care about killing monsters in the first place, and if I am going to do it I wanna see some high-class animated action. I can kill monsters and feel all hardcore in more sexier games.
I do love many old games, but when they don`t have that time-lasting quality then I won`t bother to praise them. And just to really bitch about Wizardry series (sry... you just got me all interested in this bitching stuff). Wizardry 5 and Ultima 5 both came out in 1988. Ultima 5 (the original, not Lazarus) is far more comfortable to play for spoiled gamers as myself (and it also manages to satisfy that crave for character depth in me). In 1988 it was already possible to do things like dialogue and stories, so that Wizardry 5 being without unique writing is not justifiable anymore. What I mean by uinque writing is... well, let`s take Thief for example; if it had only been just astealth game with random settings and no character, then obviously a newer stealth game would be better. But what Thief had was Garret and the unique world.... and that`s why it`s everlasting, because there will be no other Garret`s. What does Wizardry have that a newer and better game can`t replace?
But if Wizardy series influenced JRPG`s which in turn influenced the games made by Bioware and Obsidian, then on some higher scale I can appreciate their existence.
Happy Rabbi Wrote:
If you're on drugs, maybe you should quit. If you're not on drugs, maybe you should consider trying them.
D Michael Wrote:
I shall add that to my things to do list.
365. "Drugs are good for you," says D Michael.
nope, looks good though. Not as old as Wizardry if that's what you're getting at.
No, I was referring specifically to use of a procedural universe (fits on one DD floppy) and random generated missions and encounters.
Argh these forums! I thought you were talking to me.
There's one big weakness with non-authorial stories that the writer doesn't touch on. If the player doesn't want to imagine a story there's really nothing there for him. If you have a good imagination you can put a compelling story in any game, but many (or most?) people can't.
Example: two people are playing Pacman. One of them pretends to be an escaped hostage who is fleeing from terrorists, deactivating bombs on the ground as he goes. The other doesn't. They're both playing the same game, but one of them is participating in an immersive story while the other is simply manipulating colored blips on a screen.
This is probably the same reason movies like Deathwatch and The Usual Suspects rarely do well at the box office. They're so dependant on the audience's imagination to supply missing facts that they alienate people who just don't feel like doing that.
True, but there are also those that want to play their own story, so no story is a plus in this case.
Just explain me, what`s so great in pretending? What stories to you go through when you play a game without a story?
Happy Rabbi Wrote:
It's not for everyone, but also Wizardry I, the game in question here was made in 1981. The fact that there was even an RPG for a computer is phenomenal at the time.
Some people play games almost entirely by imagination. Ever hear of Dungeons and Dragons? It was a big deal back in the 70s and 80s where you played with pen, paper, and dice. People even created their own scenarios and their own games and stories.
Obviously Wizardry games don't have much place in the modern world due to scientific advancement. But being down on it for the story is kinda like calling the Egyptians stupid for the way they built pyramids because today we have cranes and other heavy equipment. Maybe the Mayans were ass-backwards with the way they did math for not using a calculator. The game and series was a marvel for its time, and contributed to PC gaming in a unique and remarkable way.
You don`t need to talk down on me. I just asked a simple example, I wasn`t asking about Wizardry. What stories to you go through in a game without a story? I have heard this lecture before, that yadda-yadda some people like to imagine their own stories, but no one has yet told me what stories he imagines. What do you imagine? What does it give you? Does it inspire you? I am asking this questions because I am curious of different point of views not because of malicious intentions. I find people and their small pleasures fascinating.
Happy Rabbi Wrote:
I'm highly autistic, and as a child I used to sit down and could literally role-play for hours with small household objects...safety pins, plastic toys, lego bricks. I'd enact swordfights, pretend they were kings ruling some great country, do anything I felt like doing. Mostly they weren't "stories" in the traditional sense meaning they had a beginning and an end, but rather settings or mental dioramas. They were also a way of letting out my feelings. If I was pissed about something I'd release the anger through playing with my toys. I know that sounds retarded now but it's what I used to do, and I can easily understand why some people enjoy creating their own stories as they play a video game.
Really? Or are you one of those self-diagnosed aspberger (or whatever) nerds...?
I do have AS now you mention it. I've often thought that maybe I have OCD as well, although no-one's ever diagnosed me with it.
I did similar things and I have a feeling the majority of kids do as well. However, as you get older, many people lose the interest in imagining what's happening and would prefer to experience it through visual and audio information (physical as well, if it's not a computer game or uses force feedback). I loved text based games 20 years ago. I loved MUDs. These days, I just don't care for them anymore. I'd rather see what is happening in a game. I don't need great graphics to consider a game to be good, but I do want at least decent graphics (not CGA/EGA stuff for the most part, for example). I think many people are like that. That said, even a game with graphics can give you the ability to create your own story as well as help you along a bit. The Morrowind/Oblivion examples I gave before are great in that aspect. You can follow a set story line or you can create your own. I think games that give you the option are much nicer to play than games that do not.
Happy Rabbi Wrote:
Well this is going to seem silly, but here's one; with the first Wizardry, I imagined that my family found some kind of hole in the ground on our property, so we set off to explore wondering what we'd find. I named the characters in the game after family members (mom, dad, sister, uncle, etc) and sometimes they'd sit and watch me play and we'd talk about the game as if we were actually exploring the maze, and we'd discuss game decisions and make mutual agreements as to what we'd do.
Childish I know, but hey I was a little kid then heh.
I wasn't trying to talk down on you. I know nothing about you or your experiences. Just going by your words, it gave the impression that you've never heard of imagination driven gaming. I've also come to learn that there are quite a few moby gamers that are not from the US, some are from some really distant places so I try not to just assume that everyone is from the US or is familiar with US based games, gaming, or theory (which if you ask me, is a good thing).
D Michael Wrote:
Now that`s kinda cute actually. I still stick to my opinion that concentrating on gameplay alone is not enough, unique characters or ideas are a must (because there will no other Garret`s or Iolo`s but there will be more comfortable games), but that was a nice story... thanks for sharing.
Dungeons and Dragons. I consider myself really really fucking (scuse my french) lucky to be exposed to pen and pencil game. I don't know about kids today filled with all those 3D graphics and stuff, but during the day when entertainment was at a minimal, the childhood memory of imagination in my subjective opinion will always beat whatever GeForce throws at me.
Memories. Ah. That's probably why D Michael is valiantly protecting his beloved Wizardry, why I am valiantly protecting my Ultima 6-7 series, why Matt is valiantly protecting his beloved RE series.
Games can be good or bad depending on who's viewing it. Which is fine. But please, for the sake of compassion, don't step on my childhood memories...
Honestly, I could never understand why so many people are so passionate about their childhood games. "I played this game when I was still peeing in my pants, it was my very-very first turn-based strategy RPG or whatever, and therefore it is great" - I don't quite understand this kind of reasoning.
For the record, I wasn't talking about D Michael or you or Matt - in your reviews you always have objective reasoning.
You make a good point Oleg. Our first games do not by default equate to great games. For me, Wizardry was great for its time. It's difficult for anyone to really deny that. Being a best seller, a first, and featured in Omni magazine during a time when home video gaming outside of the 2600 was virtually unknown tells me that the game did something right. To be clear however, Wizardry was not my first game, just one of my favorites that turned me into a hardcore gamer.
And while it is my favorite series, I actually spend very little time playing Wizardry games. Lately I'm playing Company of Heroes and Galactic Civilizations II. AWESOME games man, and I have a lot of fun, but consider this; I had more fun playing Wizardry in its heyday than I do playing these modern, extremely awesome, more advanced games today.
More relevant to the topic however, is my assertion that Wizardry I (among other games) don't need a story. An elaborate story will not make Wizardry I any better. For those that dislike the game, most cite primitive graphics, mindless dungeon crawling/hack-slashing, and repetition as their reasons. While I disagree with these statements, the fact remains that a story would not make the game playable if you dislike the gameplay. Some games do not need a story, some stories do not help a game, yet other games absolutely require and elaborate story. Trying to apply a blanket policy of adding story to gameplay is a flawed concept.
If a gamer were to require intricate plots to be satisfied, then the answer is to play games that provide for this, not criticize games that don't have or need them. I'm not saying that you're doing that Oleg, just basically talking in general, not directing it to any particular person (other than my first paragraph)
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you here, but what the hell do you need a story for when you're just shooting aliens or putting together blocks of different shapes?
Игги Друге Wrote:
You talking to me? If your talking to me then you`re right... you have misunderstood me. I try to make it more blunt this time that why I think creative writing is so important in games. If I got to choose between two alien shooting games.... let`s say one is made in 1994 and the other in 2007. If they both were just oriented on gameplay and graphics then obviously the 2007 game would be better, because graphics and gameplay only last as long as when a next game comes that does it better. But what if the 1994 game as something to say about humanity`s role in existence (no matter how lame it turns out); what if it had characters who love, worry, cry, laugh; what if it had Mark Hamill as the lead character - basically if the 1994 alien shooting game has some elements in the writing department that are more unique than the 2007`s game where you just belong to a team of alien-killers (no plot, no characters) then I`ll be far more entertained by the 1994 one. And besides how long would a game like the 2007`s game in my example last? That`s why I think creative writing is important (even when it`s not artsy writing... artsy is just my preference) because graphics don`t last forever.
And that`s why I am more crueler to games like the Gold Box series than to Ultima series, because Ultima series manage to satisfy my modern sensibilities (if it`s not yet obvious then I`m a modern gamer who just happens to have played many of the major games from old times).
I agree with Wolf-man. A good story line is what keeps me going when I'm playing a game. It really makes one hell of a difference, even though the basic experience is still the same... It's like having sex with a girl you're in love with, as opposed to someone you don't really care for, you see? Sure, you could say being in love is just a bonus to the basic sensation, but there is also substantial difference! :)~
I suppose you don't ever play for points either?
Games with a story tend to be cold and dead once you've "read" it to the end. Games without a strong story can have you returning for the gameplay. In the end, we are talking about games, which are far from the most optimal vessels for stories. That's probably the biggest reason why I'm no big RPG fan – bad stories told in a bad fashion.
Sure, games are not optimal vessels for story, and they will never become, for the simple reason that game stories are always limited by the narrow view of the protagonist(s), and require too much "filler material" (the actual gameplay).
But... experiencing a story in a game is totally different than for example reading it in a book or watching it in a movie. Games allow you to actually participate in stories, interact with the world, which creates a much stronger emotional connection to it and its inhabitants.
As the Doctor says, the interactivity is not so interactive when you think about it. I played an RPG game recently, and enjoyed it much because it defied many of the usual RPG clichés, but when I think back, what I was doing was not to interact with the story. I was playing the game only to "turn pages" in the story. There was little I could do to change the outcome of the story, or the events that lead up to the outcome. All I did was to push the story forward by not dying. This goes for Final Fantasy too, or the Super Robot Taisen games. Even when the story branches, it usually branches back after a while, and there are very few branches to follow, considering the time you spend in story-driven games.
That said, I can appreciate the story even in a simple game, since it adds to the feeling of fulfillment when you see the simple end sequence, even when it is just a few stills or a few lines of text. But the storytelling is not much more advanced in your average RPG than it is in your average shmup.
Yes, most RPGs have totally linear stories, but even some Japanese ones (like Shin Megami Tensei) allow you to make choices that change the story line and even the gameplay (specific items can be equipped, specific monsters join the team or refuse, etc.). As for Western ones, the best of them do offer you mutitude of choices, almost allowing you to shape your own story, at least on small scale, like in Ultima, Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Kbights of the Old Republic games etc.
There are some good points on both sides and I think it will always depend on the game in question. As for linear stories, yes, those can become very annoying. On the otherhand, a totally open story can die of as quickly or more quickly just by not having anything to really make you want to keep playing (talking RPGs here). For example, Morrowind was a good game, but the story and quests tended to be so open that you really just ran around killing stuff without any sense of purpose. Oblivion, while still very open, did better by making quests and story elements more apparent and interesting so that you did have purpose without being linear in the slightest.
Btw, KOTOR wasn't really a good example, imo. Even if you played as a dark side character, you followed the exact same story with very little in the way of changes until near the very end of the game. Not that it was a bad game, but I'd have preferred to see real changes in the game based on your alignment.
I think that, in many games, even just a semblance to a story is helpful. WoW, for example has story elements thrown in throughout certain plot quests as well as being seen in various books that you can read and a few FMV sequences. Other than that, it has almost no real story other than what you make up in your head. Even so, that little bit that it gives you helps to form the world that you are playing in. Without it, you could be playing any of hundreds of low quality RPGs, where you just run around killing things. You still do that in WoW, but you seem to have more purpose just from the vague story that you see throughout the game.
(Edited by Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (588), Mar 04, 2007)Re: Who's story is it?
Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (588), Mar 04, 2007
Игги Друге Wrote:
Iggy is onto something here. Some years ago, Old Man Murray's Erik said: "Games are something else altogether. They require a new and as yet unformed way of creative thinking." He said that while bashing the idea that stories were needed at all in games, but I think it's still a valid reasoning for my point here: The way I see it, most game designers are missing the whole "interactivity" thing games have going on as something they could use as a storytelling tool. They just shoehorn the classic literary (or cinematographic) storytelling into a game and call it a day, but, as Iggy says, once you're done usually you have little to no reason to go through the entire thing a second time.
They sell it to you like you're Indiana Jones --but you're not; you just whip his enemies or point to him where the key is or whatever while you basically watch him do his thing through the story. It's like a movie in which you yell: "Watch out , behind you!", and he hears you, but that's just as much saying as you have. It's still his movie.
That is why I love The Suffering, and I keep mentioning it all the time. Aside from being a competent shooter and a very effective horror game -meaning it's worth to replay both because of its gameplay and its atmosphere-, it manages to give storytelling a clever twist, and it's not something that complicated to implement either: Your character can't remember what happened on a certain day that was key to his current situation. During the game you can be good, bad or neutral towards the people you run into. Depending on your behaviour, at the moment of the final revelation, the event that took place on that infamous day is revealed to be one of three different things, giving the story an entirely different meaning each time. Also, the dialogues in certain cutscenes during the game are changed to accommodate to the path you're taking. Add that to a few secret areas and alternate paths to navigate some levels, and you have a game that almost feels like playing three different games with three different stories.
Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze Wrote:
From your description Suffering still sounds like a game with a story. I never said that a story must be presented only through dialogues and cutscenes. I also appreciate when something more creative is done. Thief and System Shock are also very creative how they tell their stories and how they manage to combine gameplay with story. And I can think of other games too that do this in a creative way. In fact my ideal is a game which manages to use both gameplay and story to support and supplement each other and therefore create something that`s truly über. But when I got to choose between story and gameplay I`ll take story.
EDIT: Never mind. I misunderstood you. Sorry. But I`m too sleepy now to fix anything. I can`t even understand what I am saying.
YID YANG Has Left In Protest Wrote:
Well I don`t know, your average Name-Job-Bye conversations were rather long in Serpent Isle :-P.... do they loved to gossip and tell their lifestories to a random stranger.
Игги Друге Wrote:
I say that games with stories can also offer something new after each replay. I played Torment some 2 years ago, and I replayed it now. What I got from it now was completely different what I got from it when I previously played it. The story was the same, but I was different (and I probably made different choices also, which gave the story a different flavour). Good writing is timeless.
And (I´ll just let my egocentrism reign and assume that everyone is talking to me :-P) no, I don`t play for points. I get bored really quickly.
I only play for points in MobyGames. :)
Remember when MG didn't have any forums? Sure you still play the game, but you don't have much of a reason to check the game out every day. More story, more interaction but more important - more addiction, drive and passion to play it.
LOL Indra, I just loved this comparison :)
Игги Друге Wrote:
I'm very late to this thread, but I'll post anyway... even though there's been some excellent discussion here and you can probably find what I wrote in other posts. Sorry if this sounds like a crazy rant:
I agree entirely with Iggy's statement above. A linear non-changing storyline with be the same, or very nearly the same in some cases, no matter how many times you play it. This is good in the same way it's good to pick up and re-read a favorite book or movie from time to time... but it's a static experience and easy to grow bored with.
As someone who loves a lot of storyline in their games and specifically plays a lot of games just to "find out what happens" to interesting characters, world, events, etc... let me just say this: Gameplay is what matters. It's very close to me saying that it's the ONLY thing that matters, but it's certainly the majority in any case. Now there are different types of gameplay with different degrees of interactivity, and I could fill up several paragraphs just talking about that. But let me focus instead on saying that Gameplay *is* the game. The most important element of a game. The beginning and end of what makes something fun. Things like graphics, story, sound are all spices on the main course. And in some cases, players are craving for a certain spice, or have been without a certain spice for too long. Just as someone might be additcted to Buffalo Wings, it's possible to be addicted to final fantasys, or first person shooters, or strategy games.
I know I'm going a little heavy on the food analogies, but I'm trying to get my point across clearly: Someone might want a lemon cake or hate coconut cake or grow tired of a chocolate cake... but the main ingredient in all of these is cake. Eggs and Flour. This is your gameplay. Sure there is some variety... but this is what makes or breaks the product. And sure people will judge it by the different frostings and flavors... but you need to have a good base to make the cake on in the first place or you have nothing. And no amount of extra elements will save it.
That's the main point I want to make. Losing all the metaphors of the previous paragraph, I like story in my games. A well written pre-defined story is something that makes me light up. However I've also played and enjoyed games with little story at all, certainly something was lacking, but I made the necessary details in my imagination if needbe. Not everyone has this ability I understand, but like I've already said: It's the gameplay that makes me decided whether I'll bother with the product at all. There are tons of games in this database that I *tried* to love, and enjoyed reading and the atmosphere, but which failed utterly in the interface, flow or other elements of gameplay, that I just can't bring myself to touch them. Likewise there are games that are easy to get into, fun to control, a joy to play... but have no sense of story... or in some cases (Solar Jetman), provide a story that's so terrible and uninteresting that it actually takes me an effort to ignore it so I can go on with enjoying my game.
Stories, Graphics, Licensed Characters, Games about Monkeys, etc... might be the element(s) that suck someone in to the gameworld. But gameplay is what keeps the player there, or causes them to return the game back to the store in disgust.