In the early days of games, when there were technological limits on what a game could be, gaming experiences focussed solely on what is called The Mechanics – that is, what the player does in the game, and whether it is fun. An example of a purely mechanical game would be Pong, or Chess, or Noughts & Crosses. It’s all about the actions.
But why not add a bit of spice to the mix? A purely mechanical game can have a new breath of life breathed into it just by being given a context. Monopoly is actually a really badly designed game, but that little bit of context – You Are A Property Developer Buying Up All Habitable Ground In Central London (less fantasy, more reality these days) – gives the game a context and an intellectual intrigue above simply putting stacks of coloured dots onto coloured squares. Over time, this context evolved into many games having their own Stories.
Some games give the player a linear story to follow. Others encourage the player to create their own story from a group of scenarios. Others still get the player to add their own imagination into the mix to make sense of clues and hints. All are valid, and all just as valid as a game with no story at all. It’s all just different ways of getting the player interested and getting them to have fun.