Storytelling Devices: Audio Recordings

We all love video games, I know I do, but there are times when the story telling is just bad. I am going to go over a storytelling mechanic that is overused and that’s audio logs.

Many a gamer will point toward the original Bioshock as being the game that really made this mechanic as popular as it is today and they would be right in thinking that, as it is true. That isn’t to say that it is the first game to use this device, but it was the game that really made this storytelling tool as popular as it is today.

I would argue that while the audio logs in Bioshock did a great job of making the world feel more alive, it also made the world feel unbelievable; which is the problem that faces audio logs today.

Audio logs are used today as a stop gap in order to help the story make sense or to make the world feel more ‘alive’. Problem is that it usually fails on both fronts since these devices can usually be skipped and when they are found randomly in the wild, they usually contain some random Joe spewing on and on about something that is no where near interesting or funny.

It really sins both ways.

Case in point, I am playing through Alien: Isolation on my Twitch account (Monday’s @730PST) and that game has a bunch of audio logs and almost all of them are terrible. They contain messages from people you never meet and they bitch and moan about something happening on the station or about its sale or their overdue lunch break or the fact their life sucks; you get the picture. The amount of audio logs in the game suggests that these were used in order to build the world up, but really, they don’t give anything to plot or the atmosphere (both of which are really important in a horror game).

I have since stopped listening to them, when I can avoid it.

AI tries so hard to make you care about the world you are in with these logs, but they just come off as unbelievable. Why? Because who in their right mind sits there and records their horror or their frustration with a fellow employee? Horror games are a type of game that allows reading to occur because it is all about atmosphere, hearing a human voice makes the world feel, usually, not as scary as it could have been.

To keep this brief, use audio logs when they make sense and not because it’s the easiest way to shoehorn in a story. They are made to supplement a story, not be the main pillar of it.