Read this Slate article. In particular, the following struck me:
When he looks at video games from a critical distance, Bissell is concerned mainly with their lack of narrative meaning. Games ask us to save the princess, save the country, save the world, save ourselves—but no one plays games to achieve those ends. We play for the puzzle, for the physics, for the sense of being embedded in a fully realized world. Indeed, for me, the "story" usually seems like filler, even in games like Grand Theft Auto and RDR [Red Dead Redemption], whose stories are smarter than the rest of the video-game pack. RDR begins and ends every mission with cleverly scripted movielike "cut scenes" that provide some explanation for why your character is doing what he's doing—but the game also lets you skip the scenes, which I usually elect to do. Thus I can't really explain why my character is doing what he's doing. The real answer is he's doing it because I am making him do it, and I am making him do it only because I am having fun.
"This is one of the most suspect things about the game form," Bissell writes. "A game with an involving story and poor gameplay cannot be considered a successful game, whereas a game with superb gameplay and a laughable story can see its spine bend from the weight of many accolades—and those who praise the latter game will not be wrong." What's the solution to this quandary? Should games invest more in story, in an attempt to bring us narratives that are on the level of those of the other popular arts? Or should games abandon story—is the video game, as a form, simply incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative, and must game designers instead find other ways to invest their creations with lasting meaning?
As if Bissell's uncertainty is echoing throughout the game industry, there has arisen a tendency to make many big-budget blockbuster games heavily story-driven. Even Starcraft II has a fairly story-driven campaign.
Is a game without a high-quality narrative bereft of true value and meaning? Must games have any meaning at all in the literary sense in order to be considered worthwhile forms of entertainment? What about emergent narratives, where the player has a decisive role in determining the plot (ideally much more decisive than we've seen in any games so far released)? If games do not need a higher literary meaning, do they at least need to have some lasting emotional significance for the player?
Those are just some thoughts that the article raised. The real question can be summed up like this: what is the true value of a video game? Is a game to be valued on its dynamic interaction with the player, on its ability to present a narrative in a way other mediums cannot, or on its ability to provide simple pleasure?