Thursday, July 16, 2009


This is the dumbest suggestion I've read in a while.

Yes, games that emphasize traditional storytelling at the expense of actual gameplay (interaction) have often sold well. I liken such games to "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. They're a respectable mixing of mediums. But they certainly don't epitomize the heart of either medium.

As I've said many times before, games are fundamentally about interactivity... with objects, with other players, with rules and setting, etc. Play is fundamentally defined by player input. Games have defined rules and goals. Play can occur in games but also in sandbox-style experiences in which the player is free to create, change, or even ignore rules and goals. I make this distinction to point out that games and play aren't exactly the same, though they are certainly related. Gameplay is play within the confines of a game.

Film-like storytelling certainly has a place in games, but it does not represent the heart of gaming because it is more dictation than interaction. When the player is merely receiving and not interacting, he or she is not actually "playing" anything... except perhaps in that story might be considered "rules" when they guide the player's choices and actions, in which case the player is only learning the rules (ancillary to core gameplay).

The ideal of story in games is for the player to become co-author. The player should not be just choosing between actions and conversations authored by developers. That's a weak form of interaction. Nor should the burden of authorship be placed fully on the player's shoulders. The ideal game story is one in which developers provide the setting, ingredients, rules, and basic goals; and player interacts with that gameworld to produce and discover events which reflect that player's personal and creative influences.

In other words, emergent gameplay better represents story within gameplay than scripted events. The latter is a combination -- the two elements remain distinct even when placed together. The former is a blend -- the two things become one. The challenge is to offer the player both deliberate and accidental control of story events.

I have no problem with games which combine gameplay and film-like storytelling. But I believe the blending of play and story is the ideal. Developers are mimicking Hollywood too closely. We need to stop talking about storytelling and start talking about storyfinding or storymaking.


  1. I definitely don't agree with Dyack. Perhaps this explains quite a bit of why Too Human wasn't really what it could have been.

    On the other hand, I think there is definitely a place for storytelling in games. Co-authoring sounds nice, but at the end of the day, the core experience is still entirely controlled by the designer. Just through the mechanics rather than scripting.

    I'd say it's less about the end user being a co-auther, so much as it's about establishing a dialogue. We are still the author, with the authorial voice in everything, but we can still listen. Still hear what our end user has to say.

  2. That's a great model, one of dialog.

    I just don't think the plot and conclusion of a game story must be defined by developers. Themes, on the other hand, are based in setting and therefore more developer-oriented. I've described before ("Story, Again" post, I think) that I think the developer's main role is to define the setting within which the player interacts.


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