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Overwatch: What It Means To Tell A Story Without a Narrative

The byline says Tom, but in fact this is the second post by Special Guest Jess, who you might have heard on the recent Overwatch episode of the podcast! Read her previous guest blog, on Gone Home, over here. It’s real good, and so is this.

Storytelling is not something you usually think is high on the priority list with first-person shooter games without a single-player campaign or concrete plotline, but Blizzard’s 2016 title Overwatch is a lesson in showing, not telling. The game’s primary modes do not move along a plot, nor do they reveal the story through unlocked cutscenes. Nearly all the storytelling elements are littered throughout as rewards for levelling up: unlocked items, maps, visuals and voice lines of the characters, as well as a whole stack of tangential media including comics and animated shorts. The type of gameplay does not lend itself to storytelling, nor do games of this genre usually tell stories (without a single player campaign) to the extent that Overwatch does. You get the feeling that it comes with a backpack full of lore, a sense of history and time, without ever progressing time or narrative with your player actions.

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