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How to Break Immersion, Or The Opening of Beyond: Two Souls
by Adrian Chmielarz on 10/14/13 02:05:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Do you know how people who want to harshly criticize something usually begin with a few words that are supposed to soften the blow? Yeah, I’m going to do the same thing here.

Fahrenheit – aka Indigo Prophecy – was a revolutionary game. I don’t use the word “revolutionary” lightly. Yes, Fahrenheit suffered in the last third, mainly because of the publisher’s ultimatum to deliver the game “right here, right now”, but still, the opening sequence shall forever be known as one of the best and most influential first hours in the history of gaming.

Breaking Immersion - Fahrenheit

Also, Heavy Rain was good. The “Press X to Jason” fragment annoyed me, but I enjoyed everything else, even the unfair twist. I’m happy that the game ultimately sold quite well, and I’m happy that a lot of people agreed that interactive dramas are a valid proposal.

But – and now it’s time for the blow – Beyond: Two Souls is a step in the wrong direction. It’s a phenomenal game for any designer studying the art of narrative in games, but it’s a bad game otherwise. Although, as it is not a consistently bad game, “it’s a mess” would probably be a better description.

To be perfectly honest, there are people out there – including one of the co-owners of The Astronauts - who genuinely liked the whole thing. I’m not quite sure how that’s possible, but they did. Good for them! But for me, it’s a nearly perfect example of how not to make an interactive drama. The only things stopping it from being “perfect” are terrific action sequences, some production values and the fact that despite the creator’s best efforts, I still managed to enjoy and be thoroughly impressed with a couple of chapters, especially those in the second half of the game. Heck, I even almost shed a tear.

But why exactly am I calling the game “a mess”? In the spirit of a few earlier installments of this unofficial series of blog posts, I want to focus on the opening five minutes only – but it should be enough to show where the core problem resides.

Well, okay, if I focused on just these five minutes, it’d be a mighty short blog post, as the game opens up with a very, very long cinematic. So let’s pretend that did not happen and assume the game begins with a playable flashback sequence in which our heroine, Jodie, is eight years old, lives in a military complex, and some people run experiments on her.

I will be describing that sequence in fair detail, but I don’t consider it a spoiler. There are no real twists in that sequence, and there are no revelations or surprises unless you have no idea what Beyond is about.

So let’s talk about the major sin of the opening – and, actually, most of the game – which is…

No, it’s not the fact that the game is an interactive drama with a minimal amount of “true” gameplay. We cannot have that conversation after the greatness that was The Walking Dead, which is 95% cut-scenes.

No, it’s not the linearity of it all. We cannot have that conversation after the greatness that was To the Moon, one of the most linear story-telling games in history.

The real culprit is, then: the lack of Player-Protagonist Sync.

Yeah, it’s a term as graceful as “Ludonarrative Dissonance”, but bear with me for a second here. Also, please remember that everything I write in my blog posts is merely my opinion and my point of view. I don't claim to be 100% right. These blog posts are meant to inspire further discussion and research, not to "inform". Anyway, moving on...

The surprising thing is that, on the surface, the opening minutes are perfect. Here is what happens. You are a little girl with supernatural powers, and you live – but what a sad life that is - in a room somewhere in a military complex. A man comes in and says it’s time for yet another experiment. He goes back to the door and waits for you there.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

You can listen to the man and just go, or you can pick up a toy and play with it, you can watch a cartoon on TV, you can lay on the bed. When you do that, when you try to delay the inevitable, the man by the door reminds you that “it’s time” and “we need to go”.

Now, this is the opening of a video game, the time when the players love to poke things, check out the controls, admire the environment, and generally mess around. So, because the players are like children when they start a game, and the players are also literally a little girl in a room full of toys and things to do, this “messing around” is nicely written into the narrative.

Also, you are about to be a subject of an experiment, and this does not sound pleasant. So everything you do is in the room delays that unpleasantness. Which is exactly what Jodie, our scared little eight years old heroine, would do.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

So, a perfect sync between the heroine and the player?

No.

Story-telling games have a story to tell. That means the story exists even before you launch the game. Even if the story has multiple paths to choose from, it is already written and implemented before you even press Start. The designers know darned well how it all ends, they know all of your options, the pre-rendered ending cinematics are waiting in the game’s folder on your hard drive.

The art, the magic trick of the design of story-telling games is in making you believe it’s “all you”.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

One of the ways to achieve that is Player-Protagonist Sync. It comes into existence when the players are able to project their personality onto the hero or heroine of a game.

There are four basic rules to make this happen, and Beyond breaks all four.

Side note: not necessarily all four rules are broken for all players, e.g. some players might enjoy being evil, and in such case there will be a proper sync between the authoritarian narrative ("be evil") and the player's mind ("I want to be evil"). But in that case other rules get broken anyway, as the game actually does not want the player to enjoy being evil. Yeah, it's a mess.

First, at the starting point the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be - consciously or subconsciously - in a holodeck fantasy life: a daring archeologist, a private detective, a heroic soldier, a gangster with a gun. It’s not limited to “cool characters”, however. You may want to be a simple man fighting for love or a hard working single parent. But the character needs to be someone we can quickly connect with.

How does Beyond break this rule? The opening cut-scene shows that the adult Jodie’s life is shit and full of suffering, and then the opening gameplay shows that the young Jodie’s life is shit and full of suffering. We know, then, that recreating Jodie’s life until that opening cut-scene is going to be nothing but pain and misery. Not exactly something we can easily and quickly slip into, as much as we try to convince ourselves that we’re open to “serious, deep themes and experiences”.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

The game would immensely benefit from removing the “adult Jodie’s a wreck” intro cut-scene, or if the playable “scientists experiment on young Jodie” flashback was put later in the game, after the opening cut-scene was followed by a few a bit more “pleasant” segments. In other words, show me how I am doomed in the future, but follow that with something nice, or start with something nice and then take me to hell. But don’t offer me a few hours of an agonizing journey from bad to worse. Combined, both sequences – the opening cut-scene and the opening playable flashback – make it devilishly hard for the player to invest mentally in the protagonist. Instead of wanting to be Jodie, we distance ourselves from her, and this obviously does not work in the experience’s favor.

Second, to avoid losing immersion, the game cannot force the player to execute (in gameplay) or observe (in cut-scenes) actions that are against reason or player’s moral system. This is why it is so annoying in Max Payne 3 when this alleged professional enters a house and gets knocked down from behind like an amateur, and this is one of the reasons why we cringe when we are forced to torture a guy in Grand Theft Auto V.

How does Beyond break this rule? I will describe it in detail a bit later, but in short, the game expects the player to screw around and give the medium – a lady who is a part of the experiment – a heart attack. We cannot refuse to do it, even though we fully understand how our actions negatively affect her. All we can do in the game is to keep hurting her.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

Third, the game cannot put the players into situations that loudly remind them of the game’s limits. This is yet another reason why the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V sucks: we desperately want to have a say in the matter, “in real life” we would like to consider other options. But we cannot do that, the game has a certain story to tell. It’s not a problem in itself, but when such fragment of the story is in direct conflict with the player’s moral system, the immersion gets broken.

Note that this has nothing to do with the fact we are playing as a flesh and blood, established character who “would behave this way”. Hint? Note the “we are playing” part. When we role play someone in a video game that has a specific story to tell, we can only stay immersed in the narrative if the protagonist’s actions are not in deep de-sync with the player’s own mental processes.

How does Beyond break this rule? It’s not even about corridors we can walk into only to be automatically turned around halfway through. It’s about putting a little girl into an unpleasant situation, one that we cannot fight it in any way. Our only option is to go along with the narrative. If the player’s actions were neutral or good, this could work, but by forcing the players to act in the way they clearly do not want to, the game reminds us we are merely actors reading out loud the script that’s already been written. We always are, but game design is like magic tricks: it is about hiding the truth, not about exposing it.

Things are even worse than you think, actually. Let me use another example from the opening.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

The way the experiment works is that two charming scientists ask Jodie to interact with the medium who is in another room. We do it by switching from Jodie to an entity called Aiden, a “ghost” that’s attached to her. The ghost can, for example, go through walls, and push objects around.

The scientists ask us to move an item in the room where the medium is. We do that, and it scares the medium a little. “One more” – says one of the scientists. We have no option but to go along with the request, so we move another item. The medium is clearly scared.

I want to role-play a nice entity, so this is where I stop. I am not asked to move any more items around, and since I want to avoid scaring the medium to death, I switch back to Jodie. However, nothing happens when I do that. The medium is silent, the scientists are silent, Jodie is silent. The game clearly wants me to do something, and it is not hard to figure out it is to keep terrorizing the medium. But I keep on doing nothing. After thirty seconds, Jodie says: “Come on, Aiden, help me out here…” – even though the scientists stopped asking me to push any more objects around – and I know the story will not move on until I switch back to the ghost.

I do just that, and I attack just one more item. As expected, the medium gets even more scared. “I’ve had enough” – says the medium and goes for the door. I am not a monster, so I stop again and switch back to Jodie. She’s just sitting there, looking a little bored. This lasts for ten, fifteen seconds, and then a cut-scene kicks in. In that cut-scene, both scientists storm into the room, panicking, screaming. Jodie is shell-shocked, tears flowing down her cheeks, blood coming out of her nose.

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls

Wait, what? How did it go from “bored Jodie and scientists” to “end of the world”?

Well, again, it does not take a genius to realize that I “misbehaved”. Apparently, I was expected to keep messing around as the ghost, break all items in the room, terrorize the medium, and possibly even take control over one of the scientists. This was supposed to sell me Aiden as an uncontrollable, possibly malevolent entity, and show me what Jodie has to live with all her life.

But it was me controlling Aiden, and I am not a psycho. Not only I had no desire to scare people to death, the game actually kind of allowed me to do that. Only to then show me a cut-scene that not only rendered all of my role-playing useless, but one that also exposed the fact I am merely the designer’s errand boy, and not someone shaping his own fate in a virtual world – even if in most games that shaping is nothing but an illusion.

Fourth, player actions need to have interesting outcomes. We love the choices in The Walking Dead because they always lead to emotional change.

How does Beyond break this rule? A few good times we know quite well what’s going to happen before it happens. Stan Lee once said that surprises are the key to proper narrative: if the reader knows what’s going to happen, and five minutes later it happens, then this is when we lose the reader.

When we begin Beyond, we have a pretty strong suspicion of what’s going to happen: the girl will have to go with the man, then they will get to some kind of lab, then there will be some kind of experiment, then something will surely go wrong, etc. And exactly these things happen. Compare the opening of Beyond to the opening of The Wolf Among Us – another interactive drama released around the same time – and you will see the clear difference, and the nuclear superiority of the Talltale’s game in that department.

The Wolf Among Us

To sum it up, Beyond does not handle Player-Protagonist Sync very well, at least not in the beginning. We play as someone we subconsciously do not want to play as, the narrative forces us to do things we do not want to do, we are consciously recreating the script instead of getting lost in it and experiencing it as our own, and it’s all quite bland and predictable.

Later – much, much later in the game – when Beyond manages to achieve the sync for a little while, the game shines and even takes your breath away for a few good minutes, but then it’s too little, too late.

Of course, Beyond is not the only game suffering from this problem. Spec Ops: The Line, in which the designers awkwardly strong arm the player into being a mass murderer is another clear example – but there are many, many more.

Contrary to what some people say, there is nothing wrong with a game designer wanting to tell a specific story through a video game, nothing wrong with wanting to take the player on a specific journey. Just like there’s nothing wrong with pen and paper RPGs and game masters taking the party through a specific adventure that they prepared for them. It’s already been proven that if done right, if the Player-Protagonist Sync is achieved, story-focused video games can offer experiences that other medium cannot match.

Without the proper Player-Protagonist Sync, however, game designers are like a magician with cards falling out of his sleeves and rabbits jumping out of the cabinet below the hat.

But… Games that put the story-experiencing first are fairly new, and it’s not that surprising that some of them fail at achieving immersion – we’re all still learning how to properly merge story and gameplay into one cohesive narrative experience. So while Beyond is a disappointment to me (YMMV), I have no doubt that I’ll be the first in line for whatever next is coming up from Quantic Dream. Here’s hoping!

Breaking Immersion - Beyond Two Souls


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Comments


Brent Sodman
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I agree with you in many places, but find myself disagreeing with you on a few key points.

First of all, there is an existing term for the somewhat awkward term "Player-Protagonist Sync"--it's "identification", and has been discussed in psychology and media for a while. I completely agree with you that Beyond: Two Souls does a poor job encouraging the player to identify with Jodie.

That said, I'm uncertain if this lack of identification is what causes B:TS to slip as strongly as it does. It certainly contributes, but I have a feeling that B:TS's core weakness is something much more straightforward, and far-better researched, than game narrative identification: a poor story.

Beyond tries very hard to have its cake and eat it too. In many of the scenes, you play Jodie as a terrified and emotional child, torn from everything she knows; in others, Jodie is an incredibly proficient killer sent on CIA black-ops missions. Then she's a savior to a group of homeless people with hearts of gold. Then, in a textbook case of the 'white savior', she teaches American Indians how to deal with the spiritual problems their ancestors brought upon themselves. In essence, B:TS wants Jodie to be all things to all people, and in the end, she becomes none of these things.

Other than the poor development of its protagonist, the other characters in B:TS are somewhat two-dimensional and serve only to progress the plot toward its inevitable "Madman tries to destroy the world" conclusion, which I was desperately hoping it would avoid.

In short, I think that B:TS is a poor example to analyze the nuances of game narratives regarding player identification because its other problems skew that analysis.

Adrian Chmielarz
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It's simple. BTS tells a weak story, not sure it's something even SyFy would buy. But the blog post is not about all of BTS's problems, it's just about the problems that manifest themselves in the first five minutes of the game. But even then I do mention that what happens in the story is bland and predictable.

As for "identification", I did not use the term because I think it's a different beast compared to the books and movies (e.g. there are more forces at play, ones that are unique to interactivity), so I wanted to separate one from another. Agreed that "Player-Protagonist Sync" is awkward, though:)

Brian Wolf
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I think it is closer to identification, though. While an audience may be easily attracted to power fantasy characters, they're not the only option. What they want, more broadly speaking, is a relatable character. The introduction of the story's protagonist needs to present them in a way that gains our sympathy from the get-go and allows us to inhabit them. Indigo Prophecy's opening is so effective because it does just that. The main character reacts the way we would in the same situation, and with the benefit of interactivity that's enough to endear us to them. The audience is given sufficient motivation to clean up the bathroom (they didn't choose to murder the man, neither did the character) and the means to do so. Beyond fails because Aiden's designated personality, and it doesn't align with player's desires (such as yours). If they'd done more to either acknowledge the player's interpretation of Aiden or coerced them into properly role-playing it, the issue could have been avoided. Still... I applaud David Cage for pushing graphics fidelity and interactive stories, but his actual stories are just plain awful, and I say this as a fan of Indigo Prophecy.

Adrian Chmielarz
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We both agree here, that's why I wrote: "It’s not limited to 'cool characters', however. You may want to be a simple man fighting for love or a hard working single parent. But the character needs to be someone we can quickly connect with." :)

Ian Richard
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I actually agree with you completely about the torture sequences. I understand that the writers want to tell a brilliant story... but I'm not a toy they can play with. I get extremely uncomfortable when they make me do something that I find wrong.

I can be a psychopath in a game... ask fable 2. But it needs to be my option and not the game won't proceed until you do this awful thing. I quit the original god of war when they expected me to burn a human sacrifice and almost quit Far Cry 3.

I think this is what ruined this modern age of of "Narrative Gaming" for me. I have a hard time with writers telling me who I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to believe. I'm not part of the script.

James Yee
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Heck even in Modern Warfare with the airport scene if you played you could always "Shoot to miss" (as I did) In fact it was kind of fun to be like, "oh darn I missed that one" all the while going "RUN YOU FOOLS" with my eyes.

Removing Player Agency is bad.

William Johnson
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I was thinking about picking this game up specifically due to the pedigree of QD. I've heard good things about Beyond: Two Souls and then I've heard what you've just posted about as well. I think what would've been a better way of doing the scene you spoke of was at a certain point having you lose control of Aiden. You do the initial moving of objects only to have him move on and reek havoc regardless of what you did. This would do two things: 1. Set a tone with the player in regards to the nature of Aiden and how little control the little girl(or you by proxy) initially have over this entity. 2. It wouldn't dash immersion to pieces like what you described you were able to do would. But hey, as you said, this is a new direction for games. I'll probably still pick it up for research anyway. Still excited to see what developers do with this line of thought. I think it really has potential.

James Margaris
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"First, at the starting point the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be in a holodeck fantasy life..."

Why? This isn't the kind of thing you can just flatly state. This is true for who? All players? Most players? Some players? A single player named Adrian? It's certainly not true for me. "Agonizing journey from bad to worse" seems like a pretty good description of Silent Hill 2 and 3. At no point did I want to be James Sunderland, yet I enjoyed the game immensely and I'm hardly alone.

Every one of these Chmielarz posts suffers from the same problem: they are ostensibly about players but actually just about the author - who is not a good representative of players as a whole.

There was one about the typical play patterns of players at the start of a game (the one about Metro) that seemed to simultaneously acknowledge that most players don't play the way he does while also arguing that flaws uncovered by his particular play style (with a keen eye cast towards construction) were flaws in the eyes of players at large.

I would argue that only the third of these four rules relates to immersion, and even that is debatable. (And also that "immersion" as a concept in games has become a meaningless catch-all. I found W101 immersive even when it was intentionally breaking the 4th wall)

More generally I dislike the style of game design analysis that prescribes a single correct way to do something based on the author's individual proclivities. I find this is very frequent these days - the author writes something that should be "here is why this didn't work for me" but dresses it up as an authoritative "here are the game design rules this game didn't appropriately follow." Maybe I should propose my own rule regarding video game writing - stop establishing rules!

I don't get the pervasive need to establish rules - maybe it's because the video game industry employs a lot of technical people that are used to having things formalized and codified? When it comes to film hard and fast rules regarding content apply mostly to Heroes Journey / Save the Cat formula schlock. Directors and writers certainly have things that work for them and guidelines they try to adhere to but very few of them advance one-size-fits-all "here's how to make a good movie" precepts. I think because most of them realize that while something may be working for them someone else may do something very different that works just as well.

Adrian Chmielarz
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First, you have not deciphered Silent Hill 2 correctly. Unlike Beyond, this game does not begin with a character who is clearly tormented (James is, but we only learn that much later) and without a goal (James has a clear goal we can easily empathize with). On the contrary, James is on a mission full of mystery, and this is one of the most effective ways to quickly establish the link between the player and the protagonist. As I wrote it in the post, "start with something nice and then take me to hell" -- which is exactly what Silent Hill 2 does.

BTW, it should be obvious, but I'll say it just in case: "nice" does not mean "flowers and butterflies", and in the case of Silent Hill 2 the "nice" part is the establishing sequence that offers the player to role-play a man trying to solve a thrilling, romantic mystery (again, what happens later when the truth is revealed is a different story).

Second, the way I write is the result of my belief that it should be obvious to everyone reading my posts that what I present is my point of view, and that "it goes without saying" that it's all merely one man's opinion. When I read writing essays from Chuck Palahniuk -- like this one: http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/nuts-and-bolts-%25E2
%2580%259Cthought%25E2%2580%259D-verbs -- I don't see "in my opinion" or "I suggest that". No, all I see is "do this" and "do that" and "here's how things work". I am not comparing myself to Palahniuk, mind, I am merely saying that he must be aware that his method is not the "one-size-fits-all" way, and yet he is not wasting any time opening every paragraph with "It is my belief that".

However, as your comment proves, apparently I was wrong, and the above is not something that's obvious to every reader. So in the future I'll put more emphasis on the fact that what I talk about is nothing but "my way". Actually, I'll slightly edit the version on our own blog right now, and if possible, I'll update the Gamasutra version as well.

James Margaris
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Silent Hill 2 starts in a bathroom full of blood. (Minus the opening cutscene, which to me reads as purposefully unsettling and creepy - it begins with someone in what appears to be a bare jail cell / hospital room hybrid separated by bars from the main character, implying separation etc) I certainly wouldn't call it a romantic or thrilling mystery, or say that it starts with something nice. YMMV.

I don't think I deciphered it incorrectly, but even if I did that's not relevant as my personal view is what is important here. To me SH2 does not start nice, James Sunderland is not someone I want to holodeck play as, yet the game works for me.

One of the issues with your first point is that it is actually two different points - that you should want to be (or be like) that character, and that you should be able to connect to that character.

Who the player wants to be and who they can connect with largely depends on the player, and I'm not sure these two are all that related. A lot of your first point seems rooted in that you don't connect with characters who go from bad to worse, but I don't see that as at all universal.
---

On the subject of including disclaimers regarding opinion, I agree in general that such disclaimers are not needed. But when you're advancing rules I think it's important to establish them as rules rooted in something other than subjective preference or to term them something more appropriate.

I don't have any objection to statements like "the game is a mess" - that is clearly your opinion and there is no need to label it as such. But if you are attempting to formalize rules the implication is that you believe they are not simply an expression of preference, and that people should follow them for reasons beyond appealing to you personally.

The issue I have is not that you didn't include enough "in my opinion" disclaimers, it's that there's no need to position these as rules. And as I said, I find this is something that happens a lot in game writing, and my reaction to your piece is the summation of frustration with that.

A guy who loves story in games says "all games need a great story", some other guy says "a game needs compelling mechanics and games are bad at telling stories", some other guy says "games need interesting decisions" and some other guy loves Dance Central...I personally find it strange to read an unending litany of rules that appear to be rules only because that sounds more authoritative.

When I googled film-making rules the first thing I found was this:

http://www.moviemaker.com/articles-directing/danny-boyle-15-golde
n-rules-filmmaking/

What's interesting is that almost none of this applies to the content. It's not "always include explosions" or "witty banter is a must." It's hard to find film-making rules that aren't tongue-in-cheek or related to craft basics like the 180-rule. (Which has been purposefully broken for effect many times)

(Here is another similar one: http://www.vulture.com/2013/06/zack-snyders-rules-of-filmmaking.h
tml)

Screenwriting rules beyond things like screenplay formatting are often viewed with derision. In film I sense a general dislike for rules that govern specific creative aspects.

I think video games cover a much broader range than films, so I don't get why people seem so invested in coming up with rules to govern creative choices.

Adrian Chmielarz
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What "creative choices"? That if the goal is immersion, then the game shall not loudly remind the player of its limits? Or the one when predictability kills engagement?

You have a weird resistance to rules as if you were forced at gunpoint to follow any of them. Like it or not, even the greatest of creations were constructed according to rules, Shakespeare's five act structure being a prime example. And I just gave you an example of how Chuck Palahniuk writes according to very specific rules, and how he believes this is the "right way" -- but you choose to ignore it and find links that support your position (and quite weakly at that, if you wanted to show me that in film there is "a general dislike for rules that govern specific creative aspects" you should have found links connected to script writing, not about moving that script to the actual film). What exactly is the point?

There is something here that ticks you off, it happens -- but none of your arguments hold any water. "James Sunderland is not someone I want to holodeck play as". Really? Then what the heck are you doing playing a video game with James as the protagonist? A letter from a dead wife is not a "thrilling mystery"? Since when? And what is it, then? A slapstick comedy? Etc. etc.

"I don't get why people seem so invested in coming up with rules to govern creative choices." -- what is the alternative, then? Writers not caring about character's motivations because that would be listening to a rule? Concept artists not caring about the clarity of their work because that would be giving in to a rule? Game designers not caring about avoiding immersion breakers because that would be being governed by a rule?

Let's burn all the rule books - from Stephen King's "On Writing" to William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" -- because they are all poison, apparently. Nothing to learn, nothing to be inspired by, just people trying to put oppressive rules-governed structure onto the elusive creating process.

I mean... Come on.

Nick Harris
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http://litreactor.com/essays/36-writing-essays-by-chuck-palahniuk

and then clicking on the 6th essay worked better for me - I think it is some problem with percent encoded Unicode not being standard on Safari.

James Margaris
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Shakespeare may have followed a five act structure but the five act structure is hardly a "rule", it's just a form. The last play I saw was "Last of the Red Hot Lovers." It has three acts. Would anyone claim it's a bad play because it doesn't follow Shakespeare's "rules"?

The Palahniuk piece is not a good comparison to yours because frankly his rule (which is actually presented as a writing exercise and not as a criticism of any particular work) is argued much more effectively. The problem with your rules is that there's not much evidence they make sense or argument on their behalf - you simply assert them to be true, and expect everyone else to feel likewise.

----
"James Sunderland is not someone I want to holodeck play as". Really? Then what the heck are you doing playing a video game with James as the protagonist?
----

The fact that you can ask this question is baffling to me. What in the world does holodeck playing as someone have anything to do with why I would play a game?

You appear to be asking "why do people play video games?" or "what, some people play video games for reasons different from my own?"

I don't want to be Mario in a holodeck fantasy life, or James Sunderland, or the kid from Ico, or the main character of any of a dozen Infocom games. (I would pay large amounts of money to avoid being put in a holodeck sim of Silent Hill.) But this calculus is completely irrelevant to me - it has absolutely no bearing on which games I enjoy.

"Adventures in the Screen Trade" is not a rule book - the fact that you would describe it as such is equally baffling. The most famous phrase in the book is ""Nobody Knows Anything." From what I understand of "On Writing" the latter half is about the basics of craft like adverb usage, not rules on content like that the main character should be someone you want to be in fantasy life. Stephen King books often feature mentally retarded characters, Misery is about a shlock novelist - who fantasizes about being these people?

It's also worth pointing out that the authors of these books are Stephen King and William Goldman, which lends a certain weight to whatever rules they advance.

Looking at that Neogaf thread, I would say the majority of people disagree with one or more of your rules, especially the first. How is it a good rule to avoid what you consider an immersion breaker when other people find that those things don't break immersion or even add to the experience?

"the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be in a holodeck fantasy life:"

1. What evidence is there that this is true, other than that it's true for you? (And despite that many people stated that it isn't true for them)

2. If it is true, doesn't it depend on the individual's personal tastes? I have zero interest in being a heroic soldier.

3. Doesn't this rule out (for a large portion of the audience at least) Gone Home and Walking Dead, as just two examples? Or any game with a lead character that is challenging or foreign in some way? A dark comedy with an unlikable lead? I would argue that Gone Home is interesting in large part because the main character is not an archetypal adventurer of fantasies or someone many players would even consider inhabiting without prompting.

Adrian Chmielarz
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"How is it a good rule to avoid what you consider an immersion breaker when other people find that those things don't break immersion or even add to the experience?" -- As we all know, all the best game are designed by the players who know exactly what does and does not break immersion, just like movie goers know better how to achieve immersion in a film... Also, if you read the NeoGAF thread carefully, you would see that people misinterpret the rule. Having said all that, there's indeed more to research there, and it'll probably be the focus of my next blog post.

BTW, I have edited the post to emphasize that the "would like to be in a holodeck fantasy life" does not have to be conscious. Just like the symbolism in movies, things work whether we are aware of them or not.

"If it is true, doesn't it depend on the individual's personal tastes?". Of course it does. That is why no piece of art -- be it a painting or a movie -- that everybody likes exists.

"I would argue that Gone Home is interesting in large part because the main character is not an archetypal adventurer of fantasies" -- just like NeoGAFfers, you are cherry picking my words, and ignoring ones that do not support your pov. Quote: "It’s not limited to “cool characters”, however. You may want to be a simple man fighting for love or a hard working single parent. But the character needs to be someone we can quickly connect with."

"Shakespeare may have followed a five act structure but the five act structure is hardly a "rule", it's just a form. The last play I saw was "Last of the Red Hot Lovers." It has three acts. Would anyone claim it's a bad play because it doesn't follow Shakespeare's "rules"?" -- You are confusing solutions and implementations with top level rules. Both follow rules, in this case: "divide a play into acts". In my proposal of the rules, I do not offer solutions (other than examples), but a framework, a filter.

"The Palahniuk piece is not a good comparison to yours because frankly his rule (which is actually presented as a writing exercise and not as a criticism of any particular work) is argued much more effectively." -- Palahniuk uses tons of anti-examples, he's just not naming the authors. Hardly a difference.

""Adventures in the Screen Trade" is not a rule book - the fact that you would describe it as such is equally baffling." -- it is obvious you have not read the book, then.

"From what I understand of "On Writing" the latter half is about the basics of craft like adverb usage, not rules on content like that the main character should be someone you want to be in fantasy life." -- ...or this one, for that matter.

James Margaris
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"BTW, I have edited the post to emphasize that the "would like to be in a holodeck fantasy life" does not have to be conscious. Just like the symbolism in movies, things work whether we are aware of them or not."

I said I didn't want to Holodeck play as James Sunderland, which is clear evidence that your rule is flawed. So rather than accept that your rule doesn't work you've resorted to claiming that you know what I really want better than myself. Anyone who says they don't want to play on the Holodeck is just lying or confused - how convenient.

I don't understand how you can be so willing to rip into various games yet so unwilling to accept criticism yourself.

This seems like a pointless exercise - you've proposed some arbitrary rules, you've done nothing to defend them other than claim that verbatim quotes are unfair and name drop well-respected authors, and when you encounter push-back on them from a variety of sources you just truck right ahead paying no heed.

"it is obvious you have not read the book, then."

I have read the book. This is not an effective or becoming defense of your writing.

Adrian Chmielarz
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"I said I didn't want to Holodeck play as James Sunderland, which is clear evidence that your rule is flawed." -- how can I treat this seriously? You have played the game in which you controlled James Sunderland, you role-played James Sunderland, you were James Sunderland -- and you greatly enjoyed that game and were deeply immersed in it. But you would never ever want to Holodeck play James Sunderland. Gotcha.

"I have read the book. This is not an effective or becoming defense of your writing. " -- Well, this is worse then, because if you have not read it, then at least I'd understand why you could say, based on a quick Google search, that the book "is not a rule book" about a book that is full of rules of script writing. Like, for example, these ten commandments: http://members.iinet.net.au/~murrayoliver/info1/courses/televisio
n/ten commandments.pdf

James Margaris
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"You have played the game in which you controlled James Sunderland, you role-played James Sunderland, you were James Sunderland -- and you greatly enjoyed that game and were deeply immersed in it. But you would never ever want to Holodeck play James Sunderland. Gotcha."

Are you being purposely obtuse?

I don't want to Holodeck play as James Sunderland. This is a simple fact, and no amount of feigned disbelief on your part will change that.

"You don't like hot dogs? Impossible!!! Hot dogs are yummy! I LOVE HOT DOGS. I refuse to believe you don't like hot dogs!!!"

Not everyone is you. The fact that you love hot dogs is not relevant to me. The fact that you fantasize about the holodeck is equally irrelevant.

I don't want to holodeck play as James Sunderland. Not consciously, not subconsciously. If you refuse to believe this because it makes your arbitrary rule look silly that's your choice I suppose.

Maybe everyone secretly loves hot dogs as well. Believe what you want.

Brandon Van Every
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I too asked "why" about the holodeck imperative. Reminds me of the scene in LotR where Gandalf says a Palantir is a dangerous tool, Saruman. Saruman says, "Why? Why should we fear to use it?" Well, yeah, LotR gives some decent reasons why :-) but I appreciate Saruman's questioning of assumptions.

Why *can't* I be a train wreck of a little girl? Why can't I be a little girl? I get along with children really well in real life, I think because my creative brain works at their level fairly readily. Maybe I wouldn't want to be a teenage girl, that sounds like a real "character stretch" for me personally. But hey, why not explore The Other?

Brandon Van Every
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"I don't want to be Mario in a holodeck fantasy life, or James Sunderland, or the kid from Ico, or the main character of any of a dozen Infocom games." It does invoke a dilemma: holodeck Purgatory! You are stuck inside a limited being you find repulsive. "Hi, I'm Mario, an a**hole plumber. Now I'm gonna jump some barrels. Watch this. And this. And that." How fast can you escape this bad dream sequence?

I don't want to be stuck inside a holodeck Madonna. I really have no idea if being inside a holodeck Lady Gaga would be better or worse.

James Margaris
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I would also say that Adrian should take a look at the Neogaf thread on this:

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=697204

(Not sure how Gama feels about linking Gaf threads, I feel it is relevant here as Gaf users are players that the rules should apply to)

For rules these seem awfully contentious in the way valuable widely-applicable rules should not be.

Adrian Chmielarz
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Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Despite NeoGAF being NeoGAF in that thread, there are still quite interesting comments there. Oddly enough, I had a very similar discussion with a few of my dev friends lately. Basically, I am starting to realize there are two types of players: 1) one looking to identify with a character, 2) one looking to take care of a character.

I think I now know what is my next blog post about... But first need to investigate this further.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Simon Brislin
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I guess I must be option 3.

Adrian Chmielarz
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@Bill: no, but thank you for the info, I'll jump on it right away! EDIT: Yes, god stuff. For example when the author talks about Frogger:

"Of course, Experience varies from player to player, so some players may see things a bit differently. For example, rather than taking the role of the frog, players might think their role is to “help” the unlucky frog to safely reach the pond. In this case, “Identification”, “Fear” and “Survival” wouldn’t play any role in their emotional experience; theses would be substituted with “Protection” instead. Here the frog is not an avatar, but it simply acts as a character the player has to save/rescue."

@Simon: actually, I just had a great discussion about empathy and immersion with a psychologist-designer, and it's not even about the types (there are indeed at least three), and more about two knobs (two types of empathy) you can twist and turn to get a "type". Again, this will be the focus of my next blog post.

Simon Brislin
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Look forward to it.

Brandon Van Every
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Neogaf? Thought I was about to learn of a new venue... until they said they don't allow GMail addresses. Which has been my real, consistent identity for almost a decade? Sure, I may dump it to avoid NSA spooks someday, but not because some forum doesn't think it's a suitable way for people to communicate online.

Yama Habib
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This article bases its premise on the preconceived notion that one plays as Jodie in Beyond: Two Souls. This is (at least 50%) false. Jodie is *a* protagonist, but she is not *the* protagonist whose actions and behaviors are controlled by the player.

"the game expects the player to screw around and give the medium – a lady who is a part of the experiment – a heart attack. We cannot refuse to do it, even though we fully understand how our actions negatively affect her. All we can do in the game is to keep hurting her."

This is misleading. There is a very obvious second option in this sequence, and it ties into who the player is really controlling throughout the game. The player can return to Jodie and hit "X" to "stop" at any time as demonstrated in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSLEUUI6pZA#t=15m
The sequence is not supposed to "sell" the player on the fact that Aiden is uncontrollable. On the contrary, it's one of the many sequences in the game that serve to drive home the idea that Aiden is an avatar for the player, and takes orders from none other than the person behind the controller.

Narratively speaking, the player controls Aiden, not Jodie. Although Jodie cries and screams during the tantrum during the initial sequence, she does not control whether Aiden stops throwing his tantrum. Aiden (the player) does. As a matter of fact, this is a growing theme throughout the entirety of the game.

Adrian Chmielarz
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This is simply not true. Throughout the game, the player controls both, and from the design and choices/consequences point of view there are way more meaningful interactions on Jodie's side. I am not sure if Gamasutra supports a spoiler tag, so just in case I won't be giving out specific examples -- but, say, note your options at the end of the party chapter. Also, in some highly critical moments -- ones that the ending depends on -- the game keeps auto-switching between Jodie and Aiden so often that they both become one blurry character.

Nick Harris
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I think it would have worked better if you had only been Aiden, but your telekinetic power was proportional to Jodie's anger. In a sense the whole game would have become an escort mission, protecting a suicidal girl from herself, amplifying the impacts she makes in combat, etc.

You would have to drop all the press (X) to whatever choices for Jodie's storyline, but I find this mechanism breaks immersion anyway. I never find it all that clear what the consequences will be of N dialogue options in a conversation tree, or selecting the next narrative skein out of a set of branching paths which just makes me feel that I have missed out on 75% of the content I payed for with no real desire for a second, or third playthrough to pick up on what I could have done differently.

Also, Jodie has the turning circle of a bus when under the control of the player, so it is far better to have her be autonomous - not an inflexible mocap'd performance, but a collection of mocaps that can react to events in the world triggered by Aiden (i.e. there are a choice of things he can blow up and push and Jodie would be partly governed by an AI to react appropriately to all of these non-linear scripted events).

So, ultimately my problem with Beyond: Two Souls is that you can control two souls.

Thiago Conceicao
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Have you ever read a book in your entire life? I ask because your "ideas" about identification are indicative of someone with little knowledge outside of your everyday life.

With stories, either in book, movie or game form, the human mind can travel through time and space. Each work is like a time machine where you can learn more. And sometimes stories show things that cannot be, or never were. So is the power of the human imagination.

Your poorly defined rules are nothing more than a cookbook for "Sitcom-like" entertainment, with "relatable" characters, i.e., average. Why settle for so little?

Explain to me how can people read the Iliad and enjoy it? According to you such thing is impossible, because it is a story from ancient time that no modern man could ever relate to. There's no wisecracking protagonist, no damsel in distress, no mustachioed villain, etc.

So this whole blog post is just for saying "I don't want to think!". The torture scene in GTA V was exactly to make people think about the things governments do, especially the US government.

Hollywood destroys minds and here is the proof. A life of being fed garbage leads to this.

Daniel Backteman
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I like your counter-point, Thiago. But in defense of Adrian I'm going to go out on a limb and argue that there's a difference between your point and his.

Following these rules makes a game easier to digest, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Creating a cognitive dissonance for the player might intellectually stimulate them and stand to make a point, and that isn't necessarily a good thing.

I think that I understand your ideal, but, y'know, it's a business.

Simon Brislin
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This is not how it's presented. If it had been presented as "games are easier to digest" if they star heroic characters then I think I would have far less problem with the article.

From the article:

"The art, the magic trick of the design of story-telling games is in making you believe it’s “all you”."

Dane MacMahon
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I don't think his article translates as well to movies and novels, but for games it is spot-on. I am an active agent in the story, and thus the rules are different.

Luis Guimaraes
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Yes, we're talking about games here.

Daniel Backteman
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@Dane

No love for the games where you're taking the backseat in the protagonist's mind and join the journey?

The other format I like in games is to be in the front, watching what choices and actions these specific people make, and how they react.

I don't want to be in charge all the time, and honestly I don't think games are as interesting when you're given X bland conversation choices with no difference to give the illusion of agency. Even where the choices do have an impact, I just as much enjoy spectating these interesting people and understanding them, my own ideals be damned.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Daniel

Like I say below, I think background and gaming history has a lot to do with it. I mostly play Western RPGs and PC classics that have a lot of player agency, like Deus Ex or Thief. So I'm used to having more control over the story and how my character acts.

Daniel Backteman
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@Dane

Indeed, my background is founded more on the JRPGs of early PSX and SNES, so it does sound like a logical extension from that.

Katy Smith
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I read this article before playing the game last night (which I am about half-way through now), and I have to say, I disagree with the article, although I do agree that there is some immersion breaking issues in the game for me.

When it comes to torturing the psychic, that scene played out differently for me. I flipped over some cards, pushed a few things on the desk, and then she ran to the door. Once she ran to the door, I popped back to Jodie and there was a big "X to stop" button, So I pushed X. Jodie was crying, but she didn't have a bloody nose, and the psychic was upset, but not harmed.

1: the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be in a holodeck fantasy life - I disagree with this idea. There are a lot of video game players I don't want to play if there were a holodeck. Some people have already mentioned James Sunderland, but I think the main character in "Shadow of the Colossus" is a better example. There was not a moment in that game where I felt like the protagonist was making the right choice, or a choice I would make, yet that game was extremely compelling. He was miserable from the first scene, all the way through to the end, and yet the game was extremely compelling.

2: the game cannot force the player to execute (in gameplay) or observe (in cut-scenes) actions that are against reason or player’s moral system. - This article follows this up with the example of giving the psychic a heart attack, but that's not required to finish the scene. You can exit at any time, (probably after she gets up from the chair, but I'm not 100% sure of when that trigger happens)

3. The game cannot put the players into situations that loudly remind them of the game’s limits. - This I agree with. I call it the "Green Lantern Effect". When you have ultimate power to create / do anything you want, why is the Green Lantern always making giant fists to punch people with?

SLIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW
(editors: feel free to delete if this is against posting rules). At the Birthday Party scene, I wanted to turn off the radio, change the TV channel, and open the blinds before doing anything else to the teenagers. The game would only let me blow up the cake. This was something I thought would be possible because in the scene previous, I was able to push buttons and switches. Not allowing me (who is apparently way more into psychological torture of teenagers than the developers;)) to do that broke the immersion for me. Also, when Jodie is trapped in the city, I wanted to bring the helicopter down first, but I couldn't do that. I had to flip cars. It wasn't until the game wanted me to bring down the helicopter that I could do what I wanted to do in the first place.

END MINOR SPOILERS

There is a disconnect in the game between what you can do and what you are allowed to do at any time. That is more of an immersion breaker for me than most everything else in the game.

4: player actions need to have interesting outcomes. - I don't know how relevant this is. one of my favorite decisions in any recent game is if you give a high-five to Ellie or not in The Last of Us. It had no impact on the story of the game, but it meant something to me as the player. The article also talks about The Walking Dead game from Telltale (which I loved), but I don't know how many of your decisions actually meant anything in that game, either. Other than a handful of decisions, the game turns out pretty much the same for each person. However, they are very clever in making you *think* that your decisions mean more than they do. Maybe point four should actually say "Player actions should have an impact on the player".

In addition to the "green lantern effect", the biggest sin the opening scene in the game makes for me is the weird game controls. Does an X in a circle mean press it? press it a lot? Press and hold? Press and hold and then press another button? When can you actually do something? Is it okay to return to Jodie now, or do I have to do something else first? I think if more time was spent making the controls clearer, the opening scene would have felt a little more like there is choice involved.

Adrian Chmielarz
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"I popped back to Jodie and there was a big "X to stop" button, So I pushed X. Jodie was crying, but she didn't have a bloody nose, and the psychic was upset, but not harmed." -- there's just this weird moment between the "attacks" (namely, right after the one after the scientists say "One more"). If I pushed one more item, I'd probably end up in the situation you have just described.

"There are a lot of video game players I don't want to play if there were a holodeck." -- I have added "consciously or subcosciously", and I do think that you would not be playing SotC if it was not a bit compelling. However, there is something to what you say indeed, and I am talking a few fellow designers about this, preparing for the next blog post (about players achieving immersion in different ways).

"This article follows this up with the example of giving the psychic a heart attack, but that's not required to finish the scene." -- that was a metaphor, you never literally give her a heart attack (although you may try to choke her to death). Still, even in the lightest version you are scaring her up to the panic attack moment (struggle with the door).

"When you have ultimate power to create / do anything you want, why is the Green Lantern always making giant fists to punch people with? " -- Heh. Good one! :)

"It wasn't until the game wanted me to [do X first] that I could do what I wanted to do in the first place." -- yeah, the game is filled with such inconsistencies. For example, why can I attack some guards, but not the others? Etc. etc.

"It had no impact on the story of the game, but it meant something to me as the player." -- to me that's just one face of the "interesting". There is not objective way of saying something is "interesting", as our mileage vary. We can still try, though -- some movies work better than others, right? So yeah, the high five in TLoU was a simple gesture, but highly emotional thanks to the context (of their, literal and metaphorical, journey together), so it was "interesting".

"Maybe point four should actually say "Player actions should have an impact on the player". -- to me that's the same thing ("interesting" to me can be "with emotional impact" or "awaking curiosity", but I understand where you're coming from.

Dane MacMahon
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I think a lot of gamers, like myself, come from a place where we expect agency over the experience and story. Maybe it's because I play Western RPGs 95% of the time but I'm used to strong narrative games offering me control and agency over that narrative to at least some degree. When a game does not I get irritated.

Seth S Scott
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"the game expects the player to screw around and give the medium – a lady who is a part of the experiment – a heart attack. We cannot refuse to do it,"

I definitely did not give that lady a heart attack. I did not even know you could. I honestly left Aiden and went right back to Jodie after moving the blocks and the purse. I just watched my GF play through that scene last night and saw her take over the body of one of the scientists that I didnt even attempt myself, but neither of us gave that lady a heart attack.

Adrian Chmielarz
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As I explained it in another comment, we're not talking about a literal heart attack. You can actually do various things to the lady, and all of them are sadistic. The only thing you cannot do is not to torment her. At best you can stop scaring her after she gets the panic attack.

Dane MacMahon
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I think any game with more than 10% cutscenes is trying too hard to be a movie and this game is insanely not my thing, but I wanted to say this article really shines. It's a great deconstruction of where strong gaming narratives go wrong for all genres and all cutscene percentages and I really enjoyed reading it. I hope developers take it to heart.

Simon Brislin
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I think the reason you are getting some negative responses to this article is that instead of presenting hypotheses and arguing why they are the case you are instead presenting assertions and saying where a specific game breaks them.

Your argument that it is just your opinion is fine but (and I take it as such) but you have completely failed to present anything to begin to persuade me that your opinion is correct. And that is a shame.

"the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be - consciously or subconsciously - in a holodeck fantasy life". This contradicts many great gaming experiences I have had: Heavy Rain for example. More recently GTA V.

"the game cannot force the player to execute (in gameplay) or observe (in cut-scenes) actions that are against reason or player’s moral system." I have shot thousands of people in virtual worlds. This is against my RL morals.

"the game cannot put the players into situations that loudly remind them of the game’s limits". I feel there is an argument here but it is not presented.

"player actions need to have interesting outcomes". I don't know. Maybe.

Adrian Chmielarz
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"you have completely failed to present anything to begin to persuade me that your opinion is correct" -- You state the above, and then you end up your comment with "I don't know". Does not compute.

But let's take a look at what you do believe you know:

"This contradicts many great gaming experiences I have had: Heavy Rain for example. More recently GTA V." -- Are you saying not only you enjoy playing games with protagonists who bore you or ones you despise, but you also get deeply immersed in those games? Or maybe, just maybe, when you think about it, you will realize you actually found these characters compelling?

I am seeing a lot of confusion -- and I must admit I should have phrased this better, yes -- about what "holodeck fantasy life" means. It's not a replacement for your life. It's not Matrix. It's just a much, much better version of a video game, an alternate reality service that's been prepared for you. I do believe that if it were 2050, and you could holodeck role-play a father looking for his son and fighting a serial killer, or a gangster living outside of society rules, you would go for it just fine.

"I have shot thousands of people in virtual worlds. This is against my RL morals. " -- no, it's not. It's not even about the fact that in 99.99% of games, you actually fight bad guys, and the killing is somewhat justified. It's about the harsh truth that if it was REALLY against your morals, you would not play these games, plain and simple. Don't believe me? Disagree? Then imagine a game in which you rape animals. I certainly hope and I am actually pretty sure you would not like to play it. And yet somehow you have no problem killing virtual beings. So, no, it's not against your morals.

"I feel there is an argument here but it is not presented." -- Honestly, I don't quite know how to react to that. Not trying to be snarky, I simply re-read that fragment, and it seems quite clear to me -- and I have no idea how I am not presenting an argument.

Brandon Van Every
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It might not be against my morals to rape sheep. Out in a lonely pasture for years, who knows? But it can definitely not be within my field of interest for selecting a game. "Gosh, I've always wondered what it would be like to rape a *lot* of sheep, and finally, this clever developer has given me the opportunity!" Pass.

Morals about things we do in RL, and about *playing games* about such things, are different.

"The game cannot put the players into situations that loudly remind them of the game’s limits." Games *always do* this, so I don't see how the statement is defensible. Perhaps we need a stronger theory of "willing suspension of disbelief" here. Note the "willing" part. Respondents to this thread have a lot of variance in what they are and aren't willing to do.

Simon Brislin
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You seem to know far more about what I like than I do ;)

But to address your points:

Your first paragraph: you seem confused that I don't have a complete opinion on all your points. I simply don't have to. I didn't write the article. Some of them I disagree with, some may be right but the discussion is not sufficient for me to assess. That's why for your final point I said "maybe I don't know". I want more.

Secondly compelling" character is VERY different to "someone they would like to be". I think Trevor in GTA V is a compelling character. Would I like to be him? Not in any way. I can think of characters that I'd like to be on a holodeck and they match game characters but then the argument is tautological. Characters in games should be characters you want to play.

Equally with morals. Do you think any part of my morality was on show in GTA V or Spec Ops or Tomb Raider or Call of Duty or Need for Speed? Not a bit of it. But I love those games.

As for your overall argument. What I am asking is for you to explain to me what leads you to believe any of your assertions. That is what is missing. What has brought you to these conclusions. Beyond: Two Souls violates them but why should I give them any weight in the first place.

Why must a protagonist be someone I would want to be. It's easy for me because I can just refute it with an example. It's your post, your argument and so the onus is on you to present something that I find more difficult to refute.

I don't write this to be a dick. I just want you to elucidate your argument because game narrative is something I care deeply about and I want to get to the bottom of what you're saying.

Adrian Chmielarz
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Sure, no problem.

"Do you think any part of my morality was on show in GTA V or Spec Ops or Tomb Raider or Call of Duty or Need for Speed? Not a bit of it." -- but of course it was. Your RL morality is that you allow "guilty pleasure" to exist. Yes, you would (probably) never kill a mean in real life, and you would (probably) never trash a cop car, but the virtual worlds offer the catharsis we all need every now and then. So you're killing and trashing. You know it's kind of wrong, and you know you like it. Hence the "guilty pleasure", which is a part of the morality system.

"What I am asking is for you to explain to me what leads you to believe any of your assertions. That is what is missing. What has brought you to these conclusions." -- my own experiences, professional reviews, "professional" reviews, gamer reviews, discussions on various boards, talking to other designers, talking to friends, talking to gamers.

Note that we all will never ever be in 100% consensus. I can talk to a billion people and have them report that Justin Bieber sucks, but it does not mean we will have any trouble finding someone who thinks otherwise. So nearly everyone I talk to can report that the immersion was broken for them at this and that point of Beyond: Two Souls, but there will always be "that guy" who enjoyed the game immensely and it is "the best thing ever created".

At such point, we only have two options. Either live with the fact that no rules can service everybody, but it's worth trying to have them anyway because they may work for majority of people or the group you are interested in catering to, or we can say no rules can service everybody, so let's just stop analyzing video games, stop with the structure, stop with the rules, and just do whatever -- because "nobody knows anything" anyway.

I vote for option number one.

James Margaris
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The problem is you aren't analyzing as much as just stating your opinion without any compelling argument.

Anyone can make rules. If we have to just accept your rules, even though you can't articulate why they make sense, can't anyone else just make up their own rules?

"The main character should always be a down-on-his luck private eye with no money to his name and nothing to lose."

There. That's a rule.

"Whatever Adrian Chmielarz says do the opposite."

Bam. Another rule.

"Always include a ghost."

Hey, it worked for Luigi's Mansion and Pacman!

If it's worth trying to establish rules then really try. Simply asserting is not much of an effort.

Justify why you think these rules are sound, and be prepared to intelligently fend off counter-examples without relying on the magical ability to know what people subconsciously believe.

The problem is not the concept of rules (or at least useful guidelines), the problem is that there's little reason to put stock in your particular rules.

"First, at the starting point the protagonist in the game needs to be someone whom the players would like to be - consciously or subconsciously - in a holodeck fantasy life"

The obvious immediate response is "why is this the case?" - which you don't seem to have an answer for!

Adrian Chmielarz
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Yes, I do. However, in this particular case, not when the rule is presented, but when I explain why breaking this rule breaks immersion in Beyond. I clearly say there what are the reasons for at least some of the players for distancing themselves from the protagonist, and how that is connected to the rule.

There is not a single rules that is not supported by an explanation, be it directly under the rule or when I talk about Beyond.

However, I can agree that the structure could be better, for example: 1) Rule, 2) Why does it exist 3) How does Beyond break this rule. The post is very close to the structure, but it's clear to me that it would benefit from less colorful language, a bit more discipline (not promising either, I see value in the posts being a bit "light" too), and -- as discussed here -- extended explanation.

Simon Brislin
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I think that would be a much better structure and it wouldn't take much. You've comprehensively covered 1 and 3 all that's remaining is why the rule exists. Possibly why it's one of the rules you've chosen above the other potential rules.

Brandon Van Every
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I accept the statement that smashing things up is *pleasurable*, but not that people feel guilty or attach moral weight to certain kinds of smashing. I like to smash things up in real life! It's good exercise, it gets the aggressions out. What's that helpless cardboard box going to do against my foot? What's that termite infested tree going to do against my 1 foot Gurkha knife? In my youth when I was really really angry about something, I'd go smash up a forest with a 10 foot iron pole. Until I finally banged something hard enough, and got enough of a reverb, to cause me to stop.

My moral code in RL is not to attack people, animals, or things of great value that can't be easily replaced. I've wanted to literally destroy my computer about a dozen times in my life, the site of deep issues of frustration of how things were going. But I didn't do it, because I'd probably need that computer a week later and wouldn't want to shell out $1k for another one. If I ever become too wealthy, I might become a rock star of computer smashing. I have smashed *most* CDs and DVDs of games I have played, to stop them from sucking and ruining my life anymore. I have a problem with open source and pirated games, in that I cannot actually smash them, they will always be available again if I start downloading....

Agree about motives of pleasure and catharsis. Don't agree with bringing "guilt" into it. Perhaps if you talked about consequences rather than guilt. In a game, there are generally no consequences, so behavior changes.

Simon Brislin
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I'm afraid no part of 'my own experiences, professional reviews, "professional" reviews, gamer reviews, discussions on various boards, talking to other designers, talking to friends, talking to gamers' is a reason why.

It's basically saying I have had a lot of worthwhile thought and discussion about this stuff but I'm not going to tell you about it.

I don't agree with your moral argument as it currently presented. But that is our right - to differ. As far as I can see you are claiming it is true and when I tell you the games I play do not represent my morals you tell me they do. This is not a productive line of discussion.

I accept that we don't have to agree and that there is value in forms but as James said why should I lend weight to yours?

Simon Brislin
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Also reading some of your first responses to other people some if your points seem to be drifting to the self evident.

You basically are saying that you need to want to play someone on a holo deck in order to want to play them in a game. What is a holo deck other than a game? So yeah if your argument has become this then yeah.

Also your moral argument has basically become some part of me wants to shoot people in a virtual world not in real life. So yeah.

Finally you have a very self-referential line if arguing. What I mean by this is that you refer back to the unequivocal truth of your argument as support for your argument. X = 4 is supported by the fact that I just wrote x = 4. That doesn't however convince anyone that x=4

Anyway it sounds like you just wanted to get your opinions out there and spark discussion. You've certainly done that :)

Gil Salvado
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This has been a great read not just for strongly narrative focused games, but character-centric games in generally. And so very well written. Thank you very much Adrian.


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