Nowadays, fresh IPs for not just games but also movies and series are pretty much expected to take place in story worlds, showing multiple narratives from diverse characters – often morally grey and complex – to yield more entertainment and effect from the investment in developing that IP. I would argue that since the early 2000’s, but especially in the past decade during which games like Dungeons and Dragons have become more popular than ever, worldbuilding has become a serious pastime of professionals and amateurs alike. Worlds that belong to the Assassin’s Creed series and Warcraft continuously expand, so that players can consume them endlessly.
This is the first article of a four-part series that shows how networks and sociology (and more specifically, theories on the sociology of art) can be applied as a worldbuilding method that yields meaningful and dynamic worlds. These articles support my GDC2021 talk ‘Connected Worlds: Building Dynamic Storyworlds Using Network Theory‘ by offering more details, substantiation and calculations behind the mechanisms.
Myths and legends of old are stories that were created at some point in time, whether they contain a kernel of truth or not. They are usually intended to convey some moral or life lesson to the audience. Be loyal to your king. Respect nature. Don’t cry wolf. Stuff like that.
They originate in times of oral traditions, meaning that the stories were passed down diachronically (from generation to generation) or synchronically (from storyteller to storyteller).
This is an abstract of the talk I did at the Indie Gameleon festival on September 15, 2015; supplemented by material from a lecture I give to students.
When you’re building your game, of course you’re going to want to have a story included, right? You know how much people love game stories – not to mention all the memorable stories you personally enjoyed in your favourite game. So let’s add some story to your game!
Actually, let’s not.
Plants vs. Zombies has a story, but does anyone care?
You might not expect to hear this coming from a guy who writes stories for games, but I don’t want developers to blindly implement stories in their games. What I desire, is that we produce smarter stories, not more.
I sometimes get the feeling that we are on the verge of breaking into new kinds of narrative structures, specifically created for games. For a long time, we’ve borrowed literary, theatrical or cinematic structures, copying their story experiences and ways of progression. It’s not uncommon to find a game story script that looks exactly like a movie script. But more and more games seem to pursue narrative structures that create innovative story experiences that work best in games. As you can read elsewhere on my website, I’m a proponent of innovation in story creation, which is why I want to shed my views on this phenomenon.
Games have imitated traditional media in many ways. Some genres borrow the visuals and directing qualities from movies, others use story structures and character development from literature, and some others apply art styles from all kinds of historical art movements.
Up to extremely historical (image from Alientrap’s Apotheon)
On the other hand, games distance themselves from traditional media. An example is player agency, or how you can influence the flow or outcome of a narration. But there is one narrative form that games excel at: the emergent narrative.
In an emergent narrative, the story is not designed by developers. It is constructed by the player, through his (inter)actions and explorations, while often influenced by any number of (game-specific) random factors that each game features. As the name suggests, the narrative will emerge as the player continues to play. Sounds abstract, doesn’t it? Yet, I’m almost certain that most of you have benefited from this form of storytelling.
**SPOILERS!** This article is a discussion of plot elements in games, meaning that it contains many minor**SPOILERS!**
The title of this article is a question, with good reason. It may be a question some of you ask when confronted with someone who claims to know what a game is really about. Or maybe you ask the question when discussing what the value is of adding meaning to a game, or interpreting it. In any case, the word ‘game’ can easily be replaced by ‘film’, ‘book’ or ‘painting’. Why is adding meaning to a work of art needed? Can’t we all just keep our own interpretations to ourselves?