Story canon, what does it mean to you?

Discussion in 'General Gaming Discussion' started by FAST6191, Jan 7, 2018.


    3,188

    69
    Front-page
    tempy_thinker.

    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?
     
    Discussion (69 replies)
  1. Reploid

    Reploid GBAtemp Maniac

    Member
    8
    Jan 20, 2010
    Serbia, Republic of
    Nothing really
     
    fedehda and Psionic Roshambo like this.
  2. AbyssalMonkey

    AbyssalMonkey GBAtemp Regular

    Member
    4
    Jun 5, 2013
    United States
    Prox
    If your game is trying to tell a story? It's pretty important. It's so fundamental to story telling that most people will immediately be able to instinctively notice you messed with it, even if they can't tell you why. Full stop. There is no argument. This applies to any media in a series where narrative consistency is important.

    For games like Zelda and Mario? Keep it consistent within the game. The chronology never mattered, and anyone who tries to say that it did from the outset is literally insane. So many different people have worked on the series, that it would have been impossible to keep it consistent. Not to mention, I highly doubt Nintendo was thinking of creating a multimedia franchise when they were making Mario, Zelda, Metroid. They made games and kept what stuck. There was probably no mention in board rooms or planning on how to create a story. Again, this is true in nearly any media series where singular episodes are the feature, not the overarching world.

    Trying to impose a timeline on their franchises was a stupid thing for Nintend'oh to do. There is a reason why it's so controversial: it makes literally no sense.
     
    Last edited by AbyssalMonkey, Jan 7, 2018
  3. hobbledehoy899

    hobbledehoy899 GBAtemp Addict

    Member
    9
    Nov 13, 2015
    Antarctica
    If you can piece together a series' story, even if the games aren't linear, I'd say that's good enough.
     
  4. FAST6191
    OP

    FAST6191 Techromancer

    pip Reporter
    21
    Nov 21, 2005
    United Kingdom
    I should also say canon within a work can play here. If a character has been established as one thing throughout the game and then does something very out of character it can annoy some.

    When films get dubbed in other regions it has been seen that some which come from the original regions expect either the original actor, or at least the same actor between films. The latter really bothering some people natives however seem to have less of a problem.
    Is this something like that? Or maybe "I don't play games for the story" and thus story conflicts don't bother people.

    Related to this is Sanderson's first law, and possible future entry (it narrowly avoided being mentioned in the opening post)
    If something gets handwaved by magic maguffin or I have no clue what is going on (an example I like is I saw the harry potter sequel/prequel thing and it was a fun light show but I had no idea which character was winning or in mortal peril at a given point in time). While canon is not essential I would say if you are going to use it then use it. When it is troubled then from what I can see in others it is similar to when the quoted thing above is troubled for me.
     
  5. Meteor7

    Meteor7 Guess where this thumb goes.

    pip Contributor
    9
    Jun 9, 2014
    United States
    New Jersey
    Consistency in video game narratives, either across multiple games in a franchise or within just a single telling of a game's story, can definitely tickle my fancy when done right. That being said, I think that the manner in which games develop canon which I enjoy the most is when future games don't just springboard off of the story and setting of a previous game with direct callbacks to events that the player has already seen, but when future games start introducing lore that begins to redefine and re-contextualize canon. It always gives me the biggest sense of wonder and incites the most amount of eager questioning when a narrative introduces lore or information pertaining to what happened/was established in previous games which paints those events in brand new lights. I can even enjoy when future games end up retconning past events, so long as those retcons are believable withing the physics of the world and don't directly contradict past events. Off of the top of my head, a game franchise which I find does both of these well is (perhaps controversially) Kingdom Hearts.

    While establishing, maintaining, and flexing canon in a game can definitely prick the imagination, I'd certainly put it behind gameplay in terms of importance. It may seem like an odd thing to mention by way of comparison, but I've often found little micro-incidences where the choice needs to be made between providing a convenient gameplay mechanic to the player and strictly adhering to maintaining the canon of the world in which they live. As a fabricated example, imagine a game taking place in a medieval setting where no form of magic or other "ex-machina" exists, wherein the gameplay loop involves wandering around a world map of some kind and entering areas which function as pseudo-dungeons in which the player presses further into enemy territory to face a boss character at the end. Now, once the boss has been beaten, there's nothing left to do in the "dungeon", so what options do you now have for the player? You wouldn't want to make them trek all the way back through an empty dungeon just so that they can reset the gameplay loop and continue the game.

    Maybe you could design the dungeon to reveal new areas of itself once the boss has been defeated, giving players an inherent reason to want to re-traverse the dungeon? That solution might end up making players weary and worn out being made to go through each dungeon twice to recover all items, but it would also be a little difficult to justify in-canon why the player somehow couldn't find these areas the first time through. With a cave system, a cave-in could be an easy excuse to rearrange the dungeon, but even that seems contrived from a writing perspective. Straight teleportation from the boss room to the entrance would break the "no magic" canon as well, and having a horse-drawn carriage appear to ferry you back to the entrance would not only feel contrived as well, but break believably. How did they get here? Why would they dive so far into a dangerous area? How did they know I would be here? These questions could have time devoted to them to explain them away, but now you're sacrificing players' time and the pacing of the game to explain a mechanic you want them to make use of.

    It's in these instances that I very strongly believe that it serves the overall gaming experience to forego strictly maintaining a canon of the game, suspend belief, and just allow the player to utilize these mechanics without making a point of explaining every one of them in-universe. If you can justify a mechanic while preserving game pacing and making it interesting for the player, then so much the better, but I think the inclusion of a mechanic in a game should supersede its justifiably in almost every instance. That's why I'd say that, while a fluent and coherent canon in video game narratives can be titillating, it should never be held so high as to obstruct gameplay mechanics, or at least that's how I see things.
     
    SuzieJoeBob and B_E_P_I_S_M_A_N like this.
  6. WhiteMaze

    WhiteMaze GBAtemp Advanced Fan

    Member
    8
    GBAtemp Patron
    WhiteMaze is a Patron of GBAtemp and is helping us stay independent!

    Our Patreon
    Jun 16, 2013
    Portugal
    It all depends on what you're doing and what you're building.

    Imagine if Shenmue 2 had nothing to do with the Shenmue 1? Would it still have made the series as popular? Breaking the story like that?

    I doubt it.

    On the other hand, if you're not necessarily focusing on narrative and story, especially if you've already completed it , then I don't see a problem.

    The fans complain when they are waiting for a closure. A sequel. A continuation of what you promised to continue with the games. And when you don't give them that and give them an "Alternate Universe" or "Non Canon" crap, they get angry. Of course they do.

    That's not why they joined the boat in the first place.
     
  7. AbyssalMonkey

    AbyssalMonkey GBAtemp Regular

    Member
    4
    Jun 5, 2013
    United States
    Prox
    I would say that both of these points are understood instinctively by most people. The first one is tied to motivations; every well written character has a line of thinking that they employ, even if it isn't known to either the reader or actors. The second is with canon, or the foundations of world building in a consistent fashion. Most often these induce the most classic of ironies: dramatic irony. Where the disparity between information can cause the actor or player to appreciate the complexities of situations from a different angle. When the media fails to eventually portray these properly, the audience will feel justifiably cheated out of their experience of an understandable result, for culturally we understand the world to be rational, whatever that may be for that culture.
     
  8. TotalInsanity4

    TotalInsanity4 GBAtemp Supreme Overlord

    Member
    19
    Dec 1, 2014
    United States
    Under a rock
    I'm a huge fan of the Zelda canon because it spawns a lot of awesome fan fiction to join it all together
     
  9. Taleweaver

    Taleweaver Storywriter

    Member
    12
    Dec 23, 2009
    Belgium
    Belgium
    Okay... Where's that controversial opinion thread? I feel like I'm going to make some enemies here...

    The problem with successful authors is that both they and their audience wants to keep the story going, despite the fact that the scope of the story is almost by definition limited. Some scores are larger than others*, but at one point authors should give things a rest.

    This whole canon thing is one of those problems. Nintendo just wants to keep similar elements in zelda to keep things recognizable to their audience, but they are not related. This whole attempting of fitting zelda games on a timeline is, frankly said, busywork for Fanboys. They expect that every next iteration nearly did in the universe without them realising they put ever more restrictions on the developers to just create the best sorry within the game.

    Final fantasy at least puts each game in their own universe, this ensuring that their creative team at least doesn't have that stuff going for them.


    *Series like song of fire and ice (aka: game of thrones) are exceptional in that they do enough foreshadowing and predictions to make sure that the story itself is incredibly long, rather than a bunch of extra added new stories or tacked on season (s)
     
    B_E_P_I_S_M_A_N likes this.
  10. AbyssalMonkey

    AbyssalMonkey GBAtemp Regular

    Member
    4
    Jun 5, 2013
    United States
    Prox
    While I can agree with the overall statement of the post, where if needed, canon can break for gameplay enjoyment, I feel like your example is particularly lacking. A simple trick that has probably been used since the first oral epic was told is the time skip. An easy example for a dungeon in a game, for where the player needs to exit is to fade the screen to black, and then fade in with them exiting the entrance of said dungeon from where they entered. This and other quick travel explanations are simple and easy implementations when thought of from a game design perspective.
     
    B_E_P_I_S_M_A_N likes this.
  11. TotalInsanity4

    TotalInsanity4 GBAtemp Supreme Overlord

    Member
    19
    Dec 1, 2014
    United States
    Under a rock
    I disagree, everything up until the Wind Waker was clearly written with a single storyline in mind, and it's entirely possible that Nintendo was writing with a split timeline in mind with Twilight Princess

    That said, I do appreciate that Aonuma told the dev team for BotW to ignore the timeline, that way the fans can, as you said, so the busywork
     
  12. DrGreed

    DrGreed Luigi from Luigi's Mansion

    Member
    5
    Sep 14, 2016
    United States
    It bothered me when they changed Poseidon's design in God of War 2 from old man looking to middle age. But that's only a small issue since I liked the new design more than the original.
     
  13. Meteor7

    Meteor7 Guess where this thumb goes.

    pip Contributor
    9
    Jun 9, 2014
    United States
    New Jersey
    That reminds me a bit of how I felt about Frank West's personality and VA being changed for DR4. I'd have been alright with it, had they not made him look and sound like a snark-spewing, memeing, whiny knock-off of every other grizzled male protagonist in western gaming. It's a fine line you walk changing or retconning something from a franchise; the backlash can be amplified if the new is found to be of lesser quality than the old, just by way of how there used to be something good there that they foolishly threw away. You can get a harsher reaction than if the bad was there from the beginning.
     
  14. orcid

    orcid GBAtemp Fan

    Member
    4
    Sep 14, 2009
    Austria
    For me the Zelda games are independent. In every game there is a normal young boy and at the end of game he is a hero. Obviously the Link of the one game is not identical with the link of another game. So writing a timeline or a canon doesn't make sense at all.
    In other games the canon is important. Examples are movie-like games like Uncharted.
     
  15. anhminh

    anhminh Pirate since 2010

    Member
    7
    Sep 30, 2010
    Vietnam
    Well, it hard to ignore that sometime cameo just happen and it just so out of place people have to come up with something to justify their appearance. It true that it could just there for no reason but it kinda kill the immensive so fan have to make up timeline to fit it in.

    Like let take Pokemon on 3DS for exam. People had been going around connecting XY, ORAS and Sun/Moon together and to older game because Looker is in those game.
     
  16. dogmarch

    dogmarch Potato Warrior - Anti Zombie

    Member
    3
    Jun 9, 2010
    Kingdom Hearts. I think the story writers have a hard time trying to come up a cohesive story due to the multiple worlds Sora visits. being canon or not as long as it feels like the story is moving, it's fine by me.
     
  17. wormdood

    wormdood pirate booty inspector

    Member
    10
    Jan 3, 2014
    United States
    behind a parental advisory sticker
    but . . . The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening . . . tell me that fits in . . . its just silly to look for connections when zelda games are concerned
     
  18. TotalInsanity4

    TotalInsanity4 GBAtemp Supreme Overlord

    Member
    19
    Dec 1, 2014
    United States
    Under a rock
    It's a sequel to Link's Awakening. It's the same Link
     
  19. wormdood

    wormdood pirate booty inspector

    Member
    10
    Jan 3, 2014
    United States
    behind a parental advisory sticker
    what is a squeal to links awakening. . .?
     
Loading...