Gotham Knights has a “we” problem.
The latest film from WB Games Montreal follows four of Batman’s former sidekicks as they defend Gotham City and attempt to solve a case the caped crusader was never able to solve after Batman’s death. It’s a bold narrative hook, and by far the best part of this new superhero game. Unfortunately, Gotham KnightsThe writing has a flaw that has become more prevalent in games lately. Some game scripts, especially in multiplayer games or titles with more than one playable character, can feel impersonal, even clinical, as they cannot assign any action to a single character.
Gotham Knights is simply the last game to encounter this problem. What should be a personal story about four heroes becoming themselves sometimes feels like following a conglomerate destined to replace Batman. The scenarios of Legion of Watch Dogs and multiplayer games like Destiny 2 and Marvel’s Avengers also suffer from this problem, as they require story moments to be as general and broadly applicable to all players as possible. This approach has created a challenge for modern video games, which struggle to balance mass experience with narrative ambition.
There is no I in the team
“There’s no me on the team” is an old cliché, but it’s something the gaming industry might want to think about. With an increased focus on multiplayer and In the storytelling industry, more and more video game scripts need to account for multiple players doing the same things as different characters. Gotham Knights is a particularly clear example. Players can tackle her missions as Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, or Robin – four entirely different characters with distinct personalities. As a result, the script must find a way to bridge these differences and treat every experience equally across all story events.
Gotham Knights try to take this into account, as cutscenes and dialogue in cutscenes change depending on which hero you are playing. But that only works at some point; on a larger scale, everything happens to everyone. When a hero on patrol calls the others after a mission, they usually speak as a collective group of individuals rather than a single character. And when referring to past events, heroes will use pronouns like “us” or “we” rather than naming the specific character who thwarted a supervillain’s plan or solved a crime.
This problem occurred to me at some point Gotham Knights when a character is kidnapped by the Court of Owls. In my case, it happened to Robin, and the next segment in the Court of Owls maze was one of the most emotional levels in the game. That’s why I was deeply disappointed when the Bat family spoke as if everyone had been kidnapped in all subsequent conversations that brought up the event, using pronouns like “we” or “we”. It made for a clinical personal moment as that looser dialogue laid out how the game solved for any possible experience, single or multiplayer, in a machine-like way rather than a satisfying narrative one. I started to feel like it didn’t matter what happened to specific characters, because it would have happened to any character I chose, it didn’t matter.
This choice solves one problem but creates another by making certain Gotham Knights‘ The more intimate moments feel decidedly less personal – and that’s not a problem unique to the Bat Family. Legion of Watch Dogs allows players to recruit and control any old street character and turn them into a member of the DeadSec hacking collective. Due to this gameplay hook, the party itself was treated as the main character in itself, as the game references the actions of the party rather than those of individual characters. This setup will also be familiar to players of live service games with ongoing narratives like Destiny 2 and marvel avengers, as the writing treats each individual character as part of a larger idea in service of a shared narrative. It feels like the plot is just happening to the player, not actively influencing and affecting them.
We the players
Writing games this way is the clearest way to ensure that all players get the same experience, but greater customization can go a long way. I am fan of Gotham Knights‘ story, but I would have liked to be able to see stronger character arcs from chapter to chapter, as opposed to a few lines of special dialogue in specific scenes. Watch Dogs Legion gameplay innovations would have been even more impressive if the game script had been built on these foundations. Destiny 2 the lore would be even better if more players left a lasting impact on it.
As more and more games move away from telling stories with a singular hero, the challenge is to keep these engaging narratives on a player-to-player level. A few moments in Gotham Knights and Legion of Watch Dogs I would have felt more suited to my experience if the dialogue referenced the actual character I had controlled in a given mission, making me feel like I was actually watching someone develop rather than an interchangeable protagonist.
Of course, it’s easier on paper than in practice. it would require more variations of dialogue and tracking each player’s actions, which is likely more complicated creatively and technically. Still, if we’re going to have more interactive stories that leave the door open for multiple experiences and heroes, it’s going to take a bit of creativity to keep the narratives personal – lest all players be lumped into one ‘we’. royal.