I’ll just come out and say it; cut-scenes are an antiquated and inefficient form of storytelling in videogames. It’s time to get rid of them, to utterly eradicate the concept in its entirety from face of the earth. For if we don’t, the industry could potentially morph into a stagnant swamp of ineptitude with all of the growth prospects of a basement-dwelling high-school dropout. It’s drastic, I know, but before you all raid your local garden centre for pitchforks and ravenous chainsaws please hear me out, for the very future of the industry is at stake.
Okay, maybe I’m being slightly over-dramatic, but it’s true that the cut-scene needs to be phased out as the principal form of narrative progression in games. The primary driving force behind such an argument comes from the fact that cut-scenes, as a narrative form, are inherently juxtaposed against the very essence of videogames. The latter is a bountiful cornucopia overflowing with the delicious and succulent fruit of interactivity. The art of playing a videogame is the art of interacting, of embodying a persona and exploring a whole new world of wondrous adventure and staggering beauty with our own two hands (or thumbs). It’s what makes videogames unique, what sets the medium apart from the likes of film and literature.
Cut-scenes, however, completely forgo this fundamental element. They are non-interactive – except in the fact that you can skip them – and are effectively a separate entity altogether to the gameplay. The two are diametrically opposed to one another, staring each other down with their fingers in their ears like two tantrummy toddlers, refusing to listen and cooperate with the other. Within your average game, upon completing a challenge, be it mowing down hordes of ravenous zombies or solving a particularly perplexing puzzle, you are rewarded for your success with a slice of narrative exposition which, more often than not, is relayed via the medium of the cut-scene. While it’s nice to kick back and relax for a few moments as the story unfolds before you, the break in gameplay caused by the appearance of the cut-scene utterly shatters the pacing and immersion factor. The high-octane action extravaganza suddenly slams head-first into the digital brick wall that separates the gameplay from the story, wrenching you directly out of one medium and propelling you full force into the front porch of another.
It is a clunky and invasive form of storytelling, and frankly we need to find a suitable replacement. Over the last couple of decades or so, we’ve become encased in a luxurious bubble of contentment in relation to the cut-scene, satisfied with such a method of videogame storytelling. And while the form certainly has its advantages – highly cinematic exposition that can, quite literally, penetrate the very essence of your soul – it goes against the fact that when we play games, we actually want to play them, story and all. With cut-scenes, however, you play the game then watch the story. The two are barely connected, and it results in stories that feel detached and disenfranchised from their respective games. Something needs to be done, something that connects the two together within a beautiful symbiotic partnership akin to Cletus Cassidy and Carnage – except without the murderous bloodshed, of course.
Thankfully, some developers are already experimenting with alternate ways of creating evocative and memorable stories, ones that are intrinsically intertwined with the gameplay rather than separate from it. Inside, by Playdead, is a brilliant example of such experimentation. This puzzle-platformer is without a doubt the greatest narrative-driven experience of 2016 (sorry Nathan Drake!), and it is all down to the fact that it utterly disregards cut-scenes altogether in favour of weaving the narrative into the very fabric of the game itself. The game doesn’t even have any spoken dialogue. All the narrative exposition is conveyed via both the action of the player, and those of the world around them. It’s a masterful work of gaming narrative, never pausing or interjecting, and it is all down to the fact that the story and the gameplay are one. It is marriage of holy matrimony, and it is just pure, unaltered joy to experience.
The innovation of Inside demonstrates how we have all been lulled into a false sense of security over the last couple of decades in regards to storytelling in games. Cut-scenes are familiar to us, and thus we have all been fooled into thinking that they are an adequate method of storytelling in videogames. Collectively, we do not want to seek out an alternative, yet deep within us all we all know that there is a far better alternative. The widespread critical acclaim of Inside is testament to that; we instinctively know and want something greater, more hands-on and dynamic. Yet no one is willing to voice the obvious, and it is a travesty. We, as gamers deserve better, but in order to get it we must wake up and demand it.