It's probably not a huge risk to say that better technology begat more expansive storytelling in video games. I've probably written before that I both like stories in games, and find them distracting to what games do well. Long running series often show this transition really well, with early games being almost arcade games, and eventually, detailed 3d graphics almost begged the designers to write stories with character development and twisting narratives.
A weird thought though, is that sometimes, what games does do really well, can be distracting to what games do really well.
The instant gratification that older games (and some still today) give, is because they let us go from beginning to action almost from the get-go. Look at Command & Conquer. It's a real-time strategy game, but so many of the complex systems and details present in todays RTS games just don't exist yet. On the other hand, it's definitely a huge step up from the completely unaccesible Dune 2 before it.
I want to strive towards a middle ground from all of these (Who the fuck wouldn't? Saying you're trying to stay balanced is a huge fucking cop-out): The first Command & Conquer is such a fun experience to just enter and play. Yet role-playing games like Final Fantasy defintely don't really get fun until FFV where a system with some depth enters the mix, and allowed me to become engrossed in the mechanics of the game. Story is hard to pinpoint. I've often read the argument that some games don't need stories, like puzzle games, but Clash of Heroes for the Nintendo DS really showed how even that type of game can even more of a thrill to play, if you care about the situation.
Thinking about my own game, I've been trying to give the player a reason to become invested and some degree of story just seems like the correct way to go about. It's an abstract kind of world, but it's not a totally abstract game (like Tetris), so this idea of going back in game history and seeing when games slowly transitioned from light exposition to gradually more complex dramas, helps me understand how much is needed to tell a story in an abstract world.
The games from the NES, SNES and GameBoy definitely have a lot to offer in that department, but I hope to more, even in newer generations as play more games.
Give us complex systems to play with and master, helped by computers to be easy to interact with. ↩