A canonical story is a story which follows on from established events and worlds in previous works. If a story does something which contradicts previous works held to be in the same universe then it is said to break with canon. Canon can be useful as it allows you to establish a story and explore it over many works, and it can be troubling in that it then restricts you as you have to make new characters, technology/magic and events work within the established logic lest you be accused of violating canon. In games you have the further problem that you are either prevented from doing multiple endings, having to establish a "canonical ending" in any sequel or find yourself having to do a lot of extra story writing and level design that may never get seen.
It is possible to retroactively make works non canon, in games one such thing being the Castlevania handheld games when later entries in the franchise hit.
Zelda Breath of the Wild has been seeing some discussions recently and some of the more interesting criticisms concerns "the timeline". Now it was the understanding of many that a few games might have had direct sequels, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask for instance, but for the most part it was a common theme that the developers could use to make a story. In films such a thing is seen in James Bond where a given James Bond might revisit locations and characters but as a whole it is treated more as a setup for a story, the setup however being one that everybody knows.
In more recent years though a "timeline" for Zelda was attempted to be constructed by fans, though as the series features time travel it was less of a time line and more of a time flow chart, and as the timeline creators seem to opt for the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics... for something less complex maybe look at street fighter sequels. Nintendo was seemingly hesitant to give the seal of approval for any such timeline, or provide their own, and thus we are back at it being a worldbuilding setup but not necessarily a story one. Breath of the Wild then being something of a rejection of the timeline idea in the eyes of some.
Other examples in games. The Dead Rising series saw a completely non canon/reimagining of the second game to instead star the seemingly beloved character from the first game in Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. Such alternate universes/what if scenarios can also play on some established lore but subvert it such that those playing with an understanding of previous works may get to experience something anew. In computer games the latter is less common but it is a long established practice within pen and paper role playing games that may be based on an established work.
Thus far we have not even brought up the ideas of alternate universes (immensely popular in comics), different vantage points/while this was happening (some of the Crysis sequels and spinoffs being this, Resident Evil also playing with this on several occasions, even within the same game), unreliable narrators, and fan works (sometimes referred to as fanon).
This is a new feature on GBAtemp where we discuss and explore concepts, mechanics and similar things found within games. We already have a very long list of things to cover but suggestions and guest spots are welcome.
To that end what are your feelings on canon within games? How important is it to you? Do you have a different interpretation of any of the points brought up? Do you have any favourite examples of use, abuse or misuse of canon within games? Any examples where you felt things trying to adhere to canon hobbled the resulting game?