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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

More thoughts about gameplay and story structure

It seems to me that the discussion of storytelling and games is hampered by the basic fact that a lot of games don't really need or want to tell stories.  Think of Tetris, or chess, or gin rummy -- games that are intrinsically story-less.  One could say that there is even a bit of story in Monopoly; the kind of story where you regale listeners with who landed on what and who had to mortgage his hotels to pay for it.  That's not writer-directed story, but it's certainly a series of events and obstacles with protagonists and antagonists leading to a climax.  By most literary definitions, that is the backbone of story.

But I think that this definition of "story" is misleading, because unlike in Monopoly, story has a purpose in most video games.  In a huge, open RPG game the story guides the player and tells him where to go next -- or, in a more dramatic way, tells him where his unique services / skills are needed next to forestall the collapse of civilization as we know it.  The story is not merely dramatic, it is practical.  It serves both a narrative purpose, and a pragmatic one.

So it seems to me that, depending upon the type of game, what we call story has widely different functions.  I am batting around a list of these ideas, trying to see what may and may not make sense.

1. For anything in the FPS-Survival horror-Action-Suspense genre, the story really drives the gameplay.  The player has a total immersion in the game world; even the tips and hints are often given in the guise of NPC's or in-game documents, furthering the sense of immersion in the immediate environment. 
The point of view (cinematically speaking, not literarily speaking) is first person or tight third person.  The game advances in a series of quick, action-filled, life-or-death moments where the player must constantly move and take decisions.
In the literary world, this is classic hard-boiled private eye stuff.  Tight first person, action and violence, life-or-death stakes.
The purpose of the story is to drive the gameplay, to lead the player almost by the nose into (and perhaps even through) the next series of obstacles and challenges.  The gameplay is largely linear, though it may pretend not to be with a series of linear-but-parallel sub-quests available.

Okay.  Now I have to go off and think about other literary and ludological genres, and how they compare.


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Bar-sur-Loup Provence France

December 2011

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