The Importance of Story

Against my better judgement, I went to see "Batman vs. Superman" (BvS), the new comic book movie last night. Before seeing the movie, I read the reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website, where less than a third were positive, so I had prepared myself to be disappointed.

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to go see BvS. I've been a fan of comic book heroes since before adolescence (now nearly five decades ago), and so, seeing my boyhood idols emblazoned upon the big screen always brings back happy memories, even if the movie itself isn't that great.

Still, I was surprised at the uncanny depths of badness presented to me by BvS. The reasons for this utter failure go way beyond the petty DC-vs-Marvel arguments about what band of superheroes is more interesting than the other. (I confess that my personal preference is Marvel, but I digress.) BvS is simply a badly made movie. Despite its sporadic technical charms - and the movie certainly looks good in parts - BvS fails at a more fundamental level: it doesn't tell a story very well.

In fact, it's just a confused mess. The chaos of BvS starts with choppy editing, of which there is an abundance. The plot is nonsensical. The reasons why characters do and say things are muddled, at best. The movie awkwardly assumes that the audience knows DC comics and understands the backstories of every character, but then it conveniently forgets what those characters are all about. I am one of those people who avidly read the books, even at my now relatively mature age, and yet I found myself groaning and rolling my eyes over the decisions characters were making throughout the movie. I'm not sure who that guy on the screen with the big "S" on his chest was supposed to be, but he certainly didn't act like Superman - the same problem I had with him in Man of Steel, only even more so in BvS.

For someone who knows and enjoys both Superman and Batman, BvS is a painful experience to endure. It's more like watching a two-and-a-half hour teaser for the planned line-up of new DC-based comic book movies, rather than well-crafted storytelling.

The Value of Story

As I left the theater, I pondered why I was feeling so angry about BvS. My hope was that even if the movie felt overly bombastic and dark - a common malady of every DC comic book movie made after the first Superman series starring Christopher Reeve - it would at least tell an interesting story. BvS's inability to cogently tell a tale - with a distinct beginning, middle and end - is the film's most grievous fault. That fundamental failure is what made me feel so cheated.

Human beings love stories. It's why we read fiction, go see plays, and watch movies and television. There's something intrinsically compelling about witnessing how a character moves from one situation to the next, acting and reacting to events, to create their own history. There are lessons to be learned from every good story. A great story is one that makes us ask, "If I was in that situation, what would I do?"

The inherent value of story is one of the reasons why I love EVE Online. There's no better example of this than Andrew Groen's new book, "Empires of EVE - a History of the Great Wars". The book is a compelling read because you are drawn so deeply into the story of interesting characters playing off each other. Groen does an amazing job capturing the dynamics of the struggles of the first big wars in New Eden.

Beyond the actions of players in EVE Online, there is also the lore, which is constantly unfolding in the game. I like knowing that there are good reasons why certain factions occupy certain regions of space. NPC characters pursue their own agendas and strive to attain their own goals in New Eden - and their decisions and actions ultimately do shape the future in which players must operate.

Strangely, there are many players who turn up their nose and grimace whenever anyone reminds them that EVE Online includes an emerging story driven by fictional characters woven into the game. They myopically believe that the only story that matters is the one that is fashioned by the players alone - they think that the lore is just window-dressing.

Certainly, they can play the game that way, but they ignore the lore at their own peril. We are already starting to see evidence of the growing importance of NPC behavior in the game, with the introduction of the Drifters. I recently wrote an article for Crossing Zebras that explores the rise of NPC capability in EVE Online, and how it will exert more influence and impose limits on player decisions. As NPCs become more empowered in game mechanics, players will have to interact with them more, and they will thereby become more important to the ongoing story of EVE Online.

I want more NPC interaction from EVE Online, because it would draw me deeper into the story. I want the Gallente militia to send me an email asking me to join their cause, because they are losing territory and they need my capsuleer talents. I want that Federation Navy mission agent, with whom I have developed 10.0 standings, to drop me a friendly note: "Hey, Neville - How's my favorite pilot? Come see me, I could use your help", and then send me on a special mission reserved only for his most trusted capsuleers. I want more opportunities to discover the machinations of NPCs as they struggle to achieve their own ends. I've always thought that CCP Games could do so much more to draw players into the ongoing story of EVE Online. It would make New Eden feel so much more real.

The Story-Making Machine

To ignore the different aspects of story in EVE Online is like watching BvS only for its technical achievements. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of things that look good in that movie, but without a compelling story to propel the action, they are just pretty pictures on the screen.

Oddly, I hear a lot players ooh and aah at great length about superficial things in EVE Online, such as new ship skins or module effects. Certainly, these things add higher quality to playing the game, but if shiny visuals were all EVE Online was, then it would be a hollow experience, just like watching BvS.

To make playing EVE Online matter to players, the element of story is required - good game play puts players in situations that cause them to act and react, and thereby create their own histories. It does not really matter if those situations are created by other players or by NPC characters - as long as they help to fashion a compelling story for that player, they bring immense entertainment value.

While I certainly love making ISK, flying around in fleets, and experimenting with the complex mechanics of EVE Online, the game would be far less engaging without the opportunity to create my own story. In fact, whenever I've felt myself losing interest in EVE Online, I realize that it's because I haven't yet turned the page to my next chapter of exploits in New Eden. Then I try something new, and my engagement rekindles.

At its very core, EVE Online is a story-making machine. I hope CCP Games understands this essential element, and never forgets what it means - or else EVE will devolve into an unsatisfying experience like BvS.

Fly safe! o7