Functions of Game Stories

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-versus-zombies

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.

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Game-specific Story Structures

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.

order 1866

Is The Order 1866 really a game or a movie in disguise? Continue reading

Emergent narratives in games

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.

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Why should we interpret a game?

**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?

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