Play the Game, Skip the Story

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Deckard Cain: Come! Stay a while and--
Barbarian: It is time for shedding our enemies' blood, not idle talk.

Deckard Cain: No one ever listens!

Some games are sprawling epics centered about a cast of compelling characters and emotional twists and turns. Some paint pictures of entire new worlds with considerable background material and long and involved histories. The amount of detail that goes into some games' storylines can rival a big-budget movie or television series. Other games are made with no plot at all - the players just want to have fun. Others may have a bare minimum of one.

But then there's this trope: an especially unfortunate attempt where it is clear that the developers genuinely did expend a lot of time and effort on a game's plot... They clearly were trying for, if not greatness, at least competence. Unfortunately, nobody else cared. The story might be ham-handed and laughable, the cutscenes might be jerky and unconvincing. All too often, though, maybe the company's only "mistake" was developing the story of a game designed around or played primarily for multiplayer, competitive, or online play. Either way, the story goes unnoticed, since most of the player base finds it completely irrelevant to actually playing the game.

Sometimes, people might actually point out that something looks like an Ass Pull or Scotch Tape in the story, which doesn't make sense to them because it's either a) Elaborated in a pocketbook, comic, some other Canon material that they haven't read (Sometimes a larger case), b) explored upon in a previous game that is ignored by newcomers, c) Elaborated on in the manual or earlier in the game, and ignored by the player (Since most people don't actually read the manuals that much anymore; a lot of the stuff they tell you upon can be accessed in-game in case you lose the manual, which happened a lot in the earlier days... when most games didn't have tutorials.)

This often happens to games with Multiplayer or where the Metagame / Multiplayer is pretty much the main source of enjoyment for some people.

If the vast majority, or indeed, all of the story is contained within the manual, in "Feelies" or other supplemental material, then yeah, the company did pretty much waste its time writing it. Related to Just Here for Godzilla. Not to be confused with that other kind of waste-of-time story.

Of course, using non-skippable cut scenes is not a fan-approved way of making sure people pay attention: it will piss off people who want to get to the action, as well as people who've seen it before.

Examples of Play the Game, Skip the Story include:

Video game examples

Adventure Game

  • Ring: The Legend of the Nibelungen is basically Der Ring Des Nibelungen in space. Some reviews complained that the story was almost impossible to get, except maybe if you are both a gamer and a Wagner fan, but oddly for an Adventure game, it's not that hard to finish the game without getting it.

Fighting Game

  • Super Smash Bros.. Brawl. The overarching plot of The Subspace Emissary was mostly ignored by players. It doesn't help that a great deal of detail is left vague due to all of the characters being Heroic Mimes. One of the last updates at the official website clarifies these and also reveals that some exposition had to be cut out of the game entirely.
    • Pirated versions of this game usually cut out the Subspace Emissary cutscenes (among other things), so the game can fit on a single-layer disc. And since it's one of the most popular games for the most pirated seventh generation console...
  • Arguably, almost every single tournament Fighting Game in existence. There are detailed backstories, different endings per character, and even events in sequels that tie in to past story elements. But with the exception of some hardcore fans who care about such things and compile vast Universe Compendiums trying to figure out what's Canon, almost everyone just picks their character and joins the fight.
  • The ultimate example is Tekken.
    • By Tekken 6 there are more characters than Namco can fit into the main plot, so many of them have been reduced to having joke plots and endings or simply unrelated to the main story.
    • Yet Namco was probably aware of this trope happening, so they made Jin into an evil overlord in 6, turning heads in the process. It didn't help the Wild Mass Guessing that arcade versions of Tekken never ever featured any storyline or cutscenes whatsoever.
  • King of Fighters pretty much epitomizes this, with an incredibly byzantine storyline centered around the tournament that most players neither know nor care about, as long as they get to beat the crap out of people.
    • SNK (eventually?) managed to get people to care about the story, or at least get them to dislike Ash for taking Iori's fire.
    • People cared about the stories long before that since SNK constantly pulls out fan favorites for arbitrary reasons, like Joe in XI. It's the reason the Dream Match games, 98 and 2002, where the story is ignored in favor of who would make a fun fighter, are the most popular.
  • And Mortal Kombat, obviously. It has a convoluted and (probably deliberately) ludicrous backstory incorporating numerous gods, planar beings, rivaling clans of robot ninjas, etc. Most of the players probably don't realize which characters are the good guys, not least because many of them swap allegiances constantly.
    • The beat-'em-up Spin-Off Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks gets this reaction from the fanbase of Mortal Kombat anyway. The gameplay is solid, but the story is filled with continuity errors, characters getting killed off for no reason other than getting in the protagonists' way, and out of character moments. Kung Lao gets hit with this the hardest, as the game is basically one long Out-of-Character Moment for him.
    • ... until Mortal Kombat 9 turned things around with a long, detailed, and very popular story mode.
  • In Street Fighter all characters do have their motivations, but most of them are pretty simple. "This evil dude, Bison, killed your friend/father/classmate/whatever, and you want revenge".
    • But played straight in Street Fighter Alpha 3, which has the most complex story in the series... and still no one seems to care about it.
  • Soul Calibur (and its prequel Soul Edge/Blade) gets confusing, with the title weapons changing hands a few times; Soul Calibur changes hands once, while Soul Edge changes hands twice. And then a single character splits into two, which is utterly confusing unless you read the story. And all the non-canon endings in story mode don't help much.
    • It doesn't help that there are Canon Foreigner characters, such as Yoda, Darth Vader, and Galen Marek in IV.
    • When the story was being paid attention to, it was a good story... until Soul Calibur V, where there is a short 20 episode story mode (with less fights than chapters), and half the cast only appears briefly, or worse, not at all. It seems the devs just gave up and decided to enforce this trope.
  • Notably averted in Guilty Gear; despite being a competitive fighter, Guilty Gear's quirky characters, bizarre plot, and odd aesthetic have all served to endear it to fans.
  • The problem started when it became standard practice for one character's ending per game to be "Canon". That means that all but two or three characters' stories are completely irrelevant. It's tough to care about Julia Chang's environmental crusades or E.Honda's attempts to popularize sumo when there's zippo chance of seeing any resolution. The best way to make players care is to present each character's story as a part of the big picture, something BlazBlue has done (and Mortal Kombat, too, though not as successfully).
    • Guilty Gear solved the same problem by having several plotlines going at once. Everyone runs into everyone in the course of their storylines, but while some endings are canon and some aren't, there is no overriding "BIG CANON" ending, and typically elements from all endings are considered at least semi-canon.

First Person Shooter

  • Doom 3 has a story created by a novelist. Which may lead people to say, "It has a story?" The Big Bad was passed up for the title of Mad Scientist Who Makes A Deal with the Devil #69,105 for being too generic. A handful of cutscenes and numerous audio logs of people who complain about hearing "strange noises" create an atmosphere, but not necessarily a story. Besides, most players listen to audio logs just to get to the needed passcodes anyway, and those are usually near the end of the log.
  • In Halo, there's two groups of players: those who deeply care about the story, and the ones that are indifferent to it altogether. The former wants to shoot people and immerse themselves in the Backstory, the mythology, and characters and all. The latter see the former as dorks for being so enthralled in the story, while the former hold them in equal disdain as low-brow fools who spam Xbox Live. Thankfully for the former group, the Expanded Universe exists for them.
    • Its predecessor, Marathon, has a complex and highly-detailed Backstory that is still being investigated by fans to this day... almost none of which is essential to actually play the game, as it's contained mostly in incidental data screens in out-of-the-way locations.
  • Brothers in Arms is a good example of this trope, since while they obviously put effort into the cutscenes, there's a lot of Continuity Lock Out, iffy voiceacting, and difficulty in distinguishing between characters. The games are just too short to support a cast that big. The end result is confusion.
  • Modern Warfare: The storyline and political messages in the game are fairly interesting and make a pretty good plot; too bad most people jump straight to the multiplayer, or play the single-player with the mind set of "shoot whoever shoots back, pick up/bomb the objective, etc."
    • Singleplayer does make some efforts to make the storyline interesting. You have bouts of Controllable Helplessness where some major plotline event happens and you die. In the first game, it serves to cement your hate against Ultranationalists using nukes, and in the second, against the general who burns you alive.
  • Believe it or not, Team Fortress 2 DOES have a plot outside of 'Kill the guys on the other team'. Valve say that it's developed the most in-depth plot of any of their franchises, though it's told through supplemental materials such as comics on their website and has little impact on gameplay.
  • The first System Shock game had this as an option: if players wanted, they could turn off all plot elements, meaning that the original audio logs would still be there but stripped down to game-related info only.

Four X

  • Master of Orion III has a quite detailed backstory, including a bunch of stuff that's not been seen in either of its predecessors, but aside from the manual it doesn't matter, at all. The only references to it in the actual game is in occasional "color text" from the advisers, which has no bearing on how the game actually plays.
    • Of course, the only part that conceivably even could still matter is the empire the Antarans at the height of their power were afraid of, and even the remnant in the game will ruin your shit when they come out of their capital. If they showed up everyone on the map would be dead in a few turns.
  • Averted with Sword of the Stars, the richness of the lore for which seems to be one of the key reasons for fans' enjoyment of the game.
  • Galactic Civilizations: the backstory has a few minor impacts on the events in a game, but most of the time people and the AI just run on cold hard realpolitik. There's also a campaign mode, that most people just ignore in favour of Gigantic galaxies, no items, final destination.


  • Common in MMORPGs in general. In EverQuest and EverQuest 2 a lot of the players who enjoy the end game raiding aspect not only don't care about the story and "fluff", but even consider it an annoyance up with which they should not be forced to put.
  • Every MMORPG with a team mechanic falls prey to this. "Hey guys, wait up, I want to read the history of Doomy McEvilton and why he wants the MacGuffin of Glory to...ah nuts to this, where's my XP?"
    • Guild Wars also has this happen. Most people who engage in the PvP aspect of the game probably have never seen any of the cutscenes in the game. On the plus side, though, it's possible to play through the story campaign yourself, where you don't have a message saying 7/8 members of the group want to skip the scene and getting yelled at by everyone else for making them sit through it. (Often justified with runners, who've probably seen the cutscene over nine thousand times and don't wanna hear it again.)
    • The same thing can happen in The Lord of the Rings Online. Some group quests vital to the main storyline requires you to talk to NPCs to get the quest going, but the first one who gets there can activate the NPC without the rest of the group getting a chance to read whatever plot information that NPC were willing to share. One example is in Moria, where the players are heading into a dungeon to find a powerful axe, and ends up fighting the Watcher in the Water. If one person gets there before the rest and activates the Watcher, it's not impossible that players don't realize they just saved a NPC who was taken by the Watcher and presumed dead earlier in the storyline, until they actually talk to him again. Lately the game has been steering away from this, making most of the main storyline solo-playable so that people can enjoy the story in their own pace.
    • World of Warcraft. The quest writers intentionally try to keep the quest descriptions brief because people will just ignore them anyways. Even in Cataclysm, which made all the zones have their own unique story arcs, many of which even tie into later zones or even end-game content, a lot of quests are just ignored since people level up alts with heirlooms and barnstorm through the zones. Unless they're Thousand Needles, which people stopped and enjoyed their ride through.
  • RuneScape varies between this and Excuse Plot. This is a more subjective example; some of the quests are rather bland, especially the ones you get for free but some of the others in the members world really have a lot of detail in the history of Runescape. Lately, the older quests have been integrated more closely to the main storyline.
  • Maple Story has a story long and detailed enough for an Archive Panic. Problem? Almost all of the players who can actually do the quests to find out the storyline are a ton of Munchkins. The game's Backstory is so easily ignored that there are some players who don't even know it exists.
  • Ace Online has a relatively long and interesting plot spanning all 3 episodes, from the colonists starting Bygeniou City (BCU) in Episode One, to the machinations of the Shrines and Phillons and the defection of Arlington City (ANI) in Episode Two (which introduced the Nation Wars mechanic), to the new frontiers and the breaking of an uneasy truce between ANI and BCU in Episode Three. Most players just pick a nation with their friends and go warring/mobhunting, ignoring walls and walls of political cloak-and-dagger text in the mission briefings.
  • EVE Online has an incredibly detailed gameworld with four factions who each have their own unique history and the constant political squabbles between them. The website is regularly updated with short stories which further flesh out the game world. All this background detail has little to no impact on the actual game, and roleplayers are few and far between. For a long time there has been only one roleplayer faction holding any 0.0 space and that was due to a "gentlemen's agreement" amongst PvP-oriented factions that they be left alone. A change to game mechanics made them too inviting a target and this tacit understanding subsequently collapsed.
  • Bioware is doing their best to avert with with their upcoming Star Wars MMORPG The Old Republic. With a huge amount of story in place and nearly every line fully voiced, they want people to care about the story of the game. When in a party with other players, every player gets their chance to shine and direct the conversation.
  • Believe it or not, Ragnarok Online is actually more than killing (cute) monsters and loot drama. Granted, you need to connect the pieces to know that Rune-Midgard has a long, long history, and some parts of it are Nightmare Fuel hidden by the cute graphic (I'm looking at you, Light Halzen... or maybe I shouldn't have).
  • City of Heroes has, in its Mission Architect, absolutely brilliant stories written by players (many of which are dev-sponsored), with custom enemies, fairly unique plots, et cetera. Most players seem to just jump for the grindfests set up for the sake of easy leveling.
    • Enforced in the case of teams—the team leader is the only member of a team who ever got to see all the story content for the missions run by the team. In the later releases this was starting to be averted, with cut scenes and communications dialogue received by all members, but the only place non-leaders could see mission details and get some of the story was an obscure, unhinted icon in the compass window, and if the team didn't pause long enough to let people read the pop-up clicking this would display, a player could have no idea what was going on.

Platform Game

Real Time Strategy

  • Blizzard Entertainment. All their modern franchises (Diablo, StarCraft and Warcraft) do in fact have stories, and there are the hardcore "lore-fans" who spend time debating of them, but most players ignore them completely. All three franchises also have loads of supplemental materials. It doesn't help that the World of Warcraft plot is governed by the need to ultimately have almost every major character arbitrarily turn evil so the players can fight them. Of course, as a result, they became Genre Savvy enough to know they can get away with Cliché Storm plots (And trailers) and only a few tropers on this site will actually notice.
    • On Diablo II, multiplayer mode skips cutscenes, which doesn't help.
      • Only if you do not have them installed. You can skip them at will or watch.
    • Most people got Starcraft 2 and leapt right into Multiplayer.
  • League of Legends has a surprisingly deep and complicated story for the League, the various factions and many of the champions. You'd never know from playing the game, though, as most of the lore is on their website, and the story unfolds in the Journal of Justice newsletter.
  • Defense of the Ancients All Stars in fact has backstories, mostly elaborated on in DotA 2. The game's more known for the people it attracts.

Role Playing Game

  • The Elder Scrolls falls victim to this to a degree. Oblivion, for example, contains numerous books full of expository text which most players ignore, "reading" it only to see whether or not you get a skill point from it. The blandly written, woodenly voice-acted NPC dialogue also tends to make people skip through all the exposition until a quest flag is triggered.
    • It's not alone. Morrowind had no voice acting to speak of beyond simple greetings and taunts, yet something like six times the written text of Oblivion, in the form of both NPC dialogues and books. Some of it is actually kind of interesting and well written (containing a lot of subtle hints to your quest), but most is pretty much the quality of writing you would expect from a video game at that timeframe and consequently rather forgettable.
    • For that matter, Skyrim has a lot of different texts and loads of small story arcs that people pretty much ignore.
  • Too Human suffers from this trope when playing co-op, as it automatically skips every Cutscene.
  • Baldur's Gate II tends to fall under this trope with numerous cutscenes of either Irenicus' and Imoen's fate after being captured or dream sequences featuring both of them. While quite endearing the first time you play the game, every next time - necessary due to class and race oriented quests - it's just plain boring and irritating.
  • This was part of Hellgate:London. Although part of the unfortunate reasons the game died, the more unfortunate reason was that the company went bankrupt before most everyone got a chance to beat it.
  • This was predicted to happen with Dragon Quest IX, with the 30 hour or so story, before the game was released. And it did; people approach it like it's Monster Hunter or an MMO rather than a more robust Dragon Quest III.
  • Whenever Pokémon attempts a plot, it's pretty much treated as this, with only some fans even paying attention to things like Shadow Pokemon. They've been getting better though: after making story-heavy spinoff games, they tried their luck with Platinum and, to a lesser extent, HeartGold and SoulSilver. Also, Black and White, which have the most intricate plot in the series so far, have already been well-received (albeit not universally so, especially from the more multiplayer-oriented players).
  • Demon's Souls and Dark Souls both have a lot of lore with tragic history and tragic characters. A lot of people are simply content to just go demon and god killing given how unintrusive the story is in both games.

Shoot Em Up

Third Person Shooter

  • Dirge of Cerberus is filled with cutscenes, but being a Action Game, they only break down the flow. This becomes even worse later in the game as the cutscenes are even longer and filled with Deus Ex Machinas.
  • Surprisingly averted most of the time in the original Operation Flashpoint series, especially its expansion pack Resistance. Though the game would at first seem as a no-thrills no-nonsense military sim, the story and characters are compelling on their own and heavily intertwined with what's generally going on, which lends the whole affair a very personal and immersive feel about being a soldier, instead of "playing as a soldier who just shoots everything that remotely moves". Note that the main plot of Cold War Crisis is about the eruption of a short war between two small garrisons of NATO and Warsaw pact soldiers stationed in a Ruritania nobody cares about... which could get out of hand and lead to World War Three and The End of the World as We Know It if the player didn't work to stop it. The aforementioned Resistance expansion makes you really feel like the leader of a band of freedom fighters and makes no qualms about how under-equipped and vulnerable you are compared to the enemy. There's also a Sadistic Choice you have to go through in one of the first missions. Simply put, you can't escape the game's overarching story even if you go frag-hunting on an enemy patrol. The ARMA series, while not having such a thrilling background to the overall story, still maintains a similarly in-depth-personal-and-asskicking-at-the-same-time narrative structure.
  • Bullet Witch actually has quite a complex plot, regarding a guy who summoned the demons to bring back his dead daughter and how Alicia got her powers. Too bad the players only wanted to shoot stuff.

Non-video game examples


  • In a non-game context, many classic movies are treated this way by film historians and students. Nobody teaching Birth of a Nation in a film class wastes any breath on the plot; they just focus on the film's many stylistic tropes, and if they have time make mention of the historical context and heavily racist overtones. Similarly, Metropolis is watched today for its groundbreaking special effects, futuristic architecture, and kickass robot - not its romantic plot or political message (as the screenwriter intended).
  • Porn films - really, you're not watching those movies for anything but the porn.

Tabletop Games

  • This often happens with Tabletop games, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and even Magi Nation. Many players don't care about the material in the sourcebooks beyond feats and rules.
    • This can also extend to the actual game sessions of roleplaying games, much to the frustration of Game Masters with players who are only interested in hacking-and-slashing and not the Game Master's campaign storyline or even actual role-playing.