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Story Design pt.1
by Richard Terrell on 08/22/11 01:24:00 am   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.

 

There's something I highly respect and value that I need to make clear up front. It's your opinion, your feelings, and your personal story. Seems like a strange way to open an article about the craft of stories in video games and other media. But, believe me, stories are perhaps the most important tool we have for understanding the world and each other. 

I have a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. So, story design is my area of study. Over the years I've found that many talk as if they understand what a story is and how its parts work, yet their statements are far from anything substantive. Before one can talk about what a story is, it helps to be clear about the parts of a story.

I started the Critical-Gaming blog by creating a bridge between the theories of literary critique and game design. I figured that starting with something familiar (stories) we could understand game design more easily. From there I created and defined many terms and explained why descriptors like "good" are utterly imprecise and unhelpful. The idea is by breaking down every facet of game design, we can be more clear about what's happening design wise, which would in turn shed light on why we like or dislike a particular aspect of a game. I think this is a solid approach. So it's time to do it again with stories. 

The following is a universal system to break down and compare all types of stories. While I've come up with some revolutionary and radical game design theories in the past, I believe tackling story design will be much simpler. Our intuitions about the craft of storytelling should go a long way here. So, be patient if it all seems somewhat obvious. 

To best understand stories, we must understand three main categories: contentexecution, and discourse

 

see full image here

CONTENT

A story is nothing more than a series of events. Before we worry about deeper meaning or execution, we must focus on the fundamental details or the content.

  • Setting. The place where the story is set. Everything from the universe, world, country, town, and time period make up the setting. 
  • Characters. "The representation of a person in a narrative or dramatic work of art" wiki. Flat, round, foil, realistic, absurd, lead, support, human, animal, ethereal; Characters come in all varieties. Realism is not best type of character. Rather, being relatable or functional to the story are qualities that can be just as, or more, important. 
  • Plot. "A literary term for which the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence" wiki. Action and conflict are two categories that can fit inside plot. 
  • Complexity/Simplicity. Details create complex stories. Some tales are rich with many characters, locations, and back stories about everything. Other stories do very well with very few of these elements. 
  • Theme. General or abstract ideas, messages, or morals. Motifs (reoccuring symbolic elements) can develop the theme.  

 


EXECUTION

Stories are more than a collection of details or a list of qualities. Whether linear or non-linear, how the events are presented is storytelling or execution. If the execution is too slow, too obvious, too jumbled, or too fast even the best story content can fail. 

  • Efficiency. It's all about doing more with less. Conveying more story content with fewer scenes, lines of dialog, loctions, actions, events, and fewer repeated scenarios is efficient storytelling. 
  • Coherence. It's possible to take a completely simple and straight forward story, cut it up, and rearrange it so that it's incredibly difficult to understand. Since storytelling is the process of presenting narrative events, the order order and the delivery shapes how coherent the work is. 
  • Pacing. Small poems can be like emotionally charged snapshots. Short stories tend to feature a small wave of exposition, action, climax, and resolution. Long running series, novels, and others large stories generally contain multiple "waves." How quickly these waves come and go and how steep they are is a simple way to think of pacing. 
  • Style/Language. On first thought, the obvious idea here is verbal languages like English or Japanese. But there are also colloquial terms, lexicon, body language, cultural symbols, inside jokes, and other examples that qualify. Style is very broad category. Any way you of conveying information that you can think of can contribute to the style of storytelling.
  • Medium. Every medium has pros and cons. As a result, every medium has developed particular methods of storytelling based on their strengths. While these methods work great for each medium, they tend not to work so well in others. 
    • Poetry excels in concentrated text where every punctuation, letter, and formatting decision matters. Rhythm and form help to create layered contrast and juxtaposition.
    • Short stories do well presenting snapshots and slices of narrative. By selecting a few key moments, rich story waves can be conveyed in a relatively compact space. 
    • Novels are large works filled with many details. With so much text, writing to the fine degree that poems and some shorts stories feature isn't practical. The delivery in novels tends to be more direct. (In general, written language excels at introspection because reading text mimics inner thought).  
    • Graphic Novels/Manga/Comics use a combination of images to convey information and blocks of text to where the images fall short. There's always a balance between whether information will be shown or told. 
    • Plays/Musicals use lots of dialog and staging (positioning). Expressive, visual storytelling is important. Also, explanatory or expository text is sparingly used. 
    • Films/Movies are similar to plays in that they focus on visuals and dialog. Films have a lot more flexibility when it comes to visual presentation. Multiple cameras, special effects, and editing give films the edge. 
    • Video games often borrow technqiues from other mediums. Some offer poetry (Braid), short stories (Lost Odyssey), novels (Wow? Halo? Mass Effect, Ni No Kuni), graphic novel like presentation (XIII, Metal Gear Acid, inFAMOUS), play like performances (Facade, FF6), and movie like scenes (Heavenly Sword, GTA4, Metal Gear Solid 4). Some pull it off better than others. But ultimately, the strength of the medium comes from interactivity.
  • Dynamic. Video games aren't the only source for dynamic storytelling. From choose your own adventure books to plays that work off the audience, dynamics refers to how the variable/interactive elements of a story.

 


DISCOURSE
 

Though we may not do it consciously, we're always evaluating the quality of a story based on how it compares to everything else we've experienced (especially other stories). In other words, we're constantly looking for originality. On the one hand we're drawn toward the familiar. Yet, on the other we crave the new. It's a tricky line that most of us don't realize we walk. 

  • Creativity. Many people are turned off by copycats. It seems that the higher we value creativitiy, the more we devalue replicas. All art can be thought of as the reflection, repacking, and repurposing of life (which includes art). It can be hard appreciating a story for its 10% creativity when you've seen the other 90% before in another work. The better we understand the design of stories, the better we can determine how unique one work is to another.  
  • Series. Many series are a collection of smaller complete stories (within the same medium). Naturally, we evaluate the quality of later entries by how they keep in line with the series. However, it's important to consider the merits of a story as an individual entry. 
  • Transmedia. Danielprimed puts it best: "Trans-media storytelling is a concept first put forward by academic Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide to define storytelling told over multiple forms of media. The crux of the idea is that each form of media supports the others and provides the reader with different, medium-specific viewpoints in which to interpret the text as a whole. Naturally, these types of texts are rich in content and artistic styles, commanding a dedicated user base who are required to spend more money to invest in the entire narrative web. In this regard, building a trans-media franchise is like building a universe."

 

 

Resonance (Harmony)   

  • Resonance/Harmony. This is a measure of how well different facets of a story (listed above) enhance each other. For example, if there's a story called Cycles and the theme is cycles there could be harmony in the following ways: The conceit is of a futuristic world that slowly phases through time cycling back to previous years. The setting is a giant space station ring that spins in place. The characters are criminals afraid of relapsing back into the life they run away from. The characters battle with boomerangs like weapons. The pacing and scene progression runs on a cyclical day/night cycle. All of these elements would resonate or harmoize nicely with the theme.

 

If a story has one of these elements great. If it doesn't, it's no big deal. One habit that we must move away from is looking for the details that make a "bad story." Like with game design, the real impact of a story emerges from all of the smaller pieces. Because this process is so complicated, it not very helpful or accurate to look at an individual detail, or lack of a detail, then judge the whole. A better way to discuss "bad" stories is to explain how various facets actually undermine or deconstruct its better qualities. More on this later. 

 

In part 2, I give examples, lots and lots of examples because that's the best way to grasp these concepts. 


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Comments


Mattie Brice
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It could definitely be a taste thing, but I find that narratives that focus on the Resonance/Harmony section you describe are the most successful with their stories when game design is taken into account. I find a lot of games like to have neat little narrative tricks, but not have the rest of the game converse with the story. For example, it was a good design tactic to have the stage be created just before you in Bastion as it reflected the extemporaneous storytelling of the narrator, and you get a complicated, possibly dissonant feeling when you're given a choice that impacts the narrative and the narration stops.

Richard Terrell
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That is an interesting point about Bastion. I haven't played it myself but I know what you're saying.



You're right about the importance of designing/writing stories while seriously considering gameplay. I get to this topic later in the article series. Stay tuned.

Mattie Brice
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It's definitely a good game (that isn't RPG long or expensive) to play even just for research purposes, as the narration is probably the strongest part of that game, and creates a whole bunch of questions about storytelling in games. I don't think it's the perfect game, but it at least opens up a good discussion about how narrative and gameplay interact.

Matthew Hadick
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Not entirely sure if this idea has much credence, but playing through Ocarina of Time 3DS and Chrono Trigger after reading a couple Hemingway novels has made me question the relevance of hemingway's iceberg theory in video games--whether or not it can, or should, be applied to videogame stories. The gist of the theory is that "the meaning of a piece is not immediately evident, because the crux of the story lies below the surface, just as most of the mass of a real iceberg similarly lies beneath the surface" (wiki.) The culmination of imagery, symbolism, art, plotting, setting, etc. in video games almost certainly lends itself to this approach.



Ocarina of Time, for example, makes no effort to preach to the viewer (outside of maybe a few post-dungeon speeches from Sheik) about the passage of time or the simplicity of youth or the balance of power--but these elements are implied throughout, reflected most poignantly via the gameplay itself.



It seems as though the most effective videgame stories tend to skirt traditional storytelling mechanisms and instead use the exclusive advantages of the dynamic medium to their advantage. While I think the overview you've presented above is certainly complete--there is no denying the power of a game that is both aware of and balances the various storytelling building blocks--in my humble opinion, the best videogames let their narratives loom heavy below the surface, with (if you'll entertain a silly analogy) gameplay serving as a metaphorical flash light.

Richard Terrell
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Great ideas. I've also noticed a lot of the same trends and limitations as you have. I think you would be interested in this essay I wrote about Zelda Phantom Hourglass I wrote a few years ago. http://critical-gaming.squarespace.com/blog/2008/4/2/link-he-spea
ks-like-no-child.html



Do you have any examples of great video game stories/storytelling? I assume you put OOT 3D and Chrono Trigger on your list as well.



Do you find it strange/intriguing that both of these games are Japanese? Maybe the iceberg theory applies well to more contemporary eastern stories?



BTW I love silly analogies and other puns.



There's lots to think about.

E Zachary Knight
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As a game designer and amateur writer, I agree completely with what you have written. I would probably emphasize more heavily on the world building aspect of the video game writer over their narrative duties though. World building is one of the things that have made games like Bioshock, Ico, Metroid and Shadow of the Colossus the revered works they are today. The narrative structure of those games takes second fiddle to the world itself but not to any detriment to either aspect.



One of my favorite reference books on this subject is Swords & Circuitry: A Designer's Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games. This books primary focus is on world building and its importance in the over all narrative structure of the game.

Richard Terrell
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I haven't heard of that book. I will keep that in mind.



You're right. World building, visual storytelling, and a sense if place are all key components of many great video games. Those games you listed show that the emphasis of the components can be greatly altered in proportion while still creating a quality final product.

William Volk
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The Arc of The Story ... the hero's journey ... particularly in Adventure Gaming ... matters a great deal. I expect that will be in part II.

Keith Burgun
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Games aren't supposed to have a "story". Sure, you can squish "gameplay" and "story" together, just as you could squish "football" and "woodworking" together if you were so inclined, but both require either an ignorance about the activities you're squishing or a very good sense of humor.



This falls on deaf ears every time I say it. But in time everyone will learn that it is true. Gameplay is inherently non-linear. Inherently. Story is inherently linear. Therefore, when you try to squish them together, both suffer. Every time.



My favorite video game story is Planescape: Torment. But would it have made a better book? Absolutely. And if the game had just been a game not driven by story it would have had better gameplay as well.

E Zachary Knight
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Ok....

Richard Terrell
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It's not that we don't hear what you're saying. It's just that we know you're wrong so there's not much else to say.

Keith Burgun
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Ok, walk me through it. Is narrative, the art of story telling, is that a temporal, narrative art or isn't it?



Now, is gameplay a linear string of predetermined events, or a web of possibilities?



What am I wrong on, specifically?

Richard Terrell
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I hope that when you say story that you're not defaulting to books. Stories were around before books, and they're certainly more flexible than the limitations of printed pages.



A story is a series or a collection of events. Now, when we say story we generally assume these events will be related and coherent. As long as a work fulfills this, you have a story. I get into the flexibility of stories later in this article series but I'll say this as well...



Stories are free to be told out of chronological order. From here we piece everything together. Even though we only absorb books linearly, it's this way with everything we perceive. The bottom line is, as long as you understand what the events are/what's going on you have a story and you have story telling.



So there are choose your own adventure books/stories with user choice and the exploration of possibilities. And there's traditional books with no choice yet an exploration of concepts. There's stories on TV that you can vote or influence in other ways, and then there are pre-recorded programs. There are games that are completely linear strings of predetermined events. And then there are games that allow the player to explore different possibilities. Just because you can explore in this way doesn't mean the story telling potential or quality drops. Just like choose your own adventure books, you take the details and piece together the coherent ideas.



When you say games aren't "supposed" have have stories, you're wrong. On a basic level, games when played are a series of events/stories. If you've ever listened to a gamer tell you how they won/lost a game, that's a story. Furthermore, if the developers design a game to have a story, then it's supposed to have a story. There's no way to get around the simplicity and ubiquity of stories.

Keith Burgun
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I would temper your definition of story as an ORDERED collection of events. A list of events. If I give you a box full of 15 scraps of paper, each with an "event" printed on it, no one would call what I gave you a story.



"Stories are free to be told out of chronological order."



There are really two time-lines that we're talking about here. Yes, you can tell the story events out of order, with regards to the actual time inside of the story, of course. But, you cannot tell a story in just any old order. Stories are machines that are built carefully by an author. If you just "switch up" the order of the events in The Empire Strikes Back, the machine no longer works.



In short, there's no hard rules to what order a story's information can be told in. As a craft, story-telling is, as you said, flexible. However, stories are machines and they cannot just be willy-nilly re-ordered on the fly and still work. Even the most "out-of-chronological-order" story must be VERY CAREFULLY put together for it to even have a chance to be good. Allowing people to VOTE ON what should happen in the story is a horrible idea because most story-telling is a craft that must be honed and most people don't know how to make a good story.



On the other hand, gameplay works exactly the opposite way. Gameplay *must* be emergent for it to be interesting, whereas stories must be carefully pre-meditated to be interesting.



Did you just cite "choose your own adventure" books as an example of how this merging works? I would cite that as an example of exactly the opposite; it's a genre that, like the modern "story-bound"



Another example on the other side is when you try to apply pre-written narrative to a game. Let's take PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING. This is a sport (game) which is pre-written to go along with a pre-written narrative. And so, only 10 year olds and hicks actually enjoy it.



"If you've ever listened to a gamer tell you how they won/lost a game, that's a story."



Yes, that's true. From a game, can emerge an interesting story sometimes (often times, not). But that isn't the same as building a game which is best suited to be emergent and non-linear around a pre-written narrative story, at all.

Wesley Paugh
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Again, Keith, you are discounting man-centuries of research in your ongoing effort to get people to focus on the rules associated with play, instead of the story that IS associated with all play.



You do not study these things. You do not care to. You just get on here and toss around judgments like 'Games aren't supposed to have a "story"'. To people that do study and care, you have just said 'you're wasting your time, give up now.'



Another quote: 'Even the most "out-of-chronological-order" story must be VERY CAREFULLY put together for it to even have a chance to be good'. That is 100% true. But! You have just admitted that out-of-order storytelling is possible, albeit easily screwed up. If something can be done, though, it can be done better. Who are you to say what the limits on game storytelling are, or whether they should be sought?



Why are you so interested in stopping people that study things that don't interest you by making asinine, unqualified assertions like 'Story is inherently linear'?



There will be a story about my walk to work today. It will probably be boring, but it might be a good one. It hasn't been told yet. In one sense, it's entirely non-linear. Stories are in everything. Except you say they're not in games, so no one should bother trying to improve them.



From all the time I've spent talking with you, I know when you argue that telling good stories in games is impossible without trouncing the game part, you do not mean these things. Really what you mean to say is, 'it's harder than we're currently capable of'. You should really get the two straight.

Altug Isigan
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@Keith



Stories are not inherently linear. You are mistaking a certain convention in storytelling for "story" itself. You are also mistaking a certain type of using a medium for the only possible way of using that medium. Please go check examples of experimental literature, for example the Oulipo movement.



Games "with stories" fail only if the game designer has a "squishing" type of design attitude. In good games you don't even notice the story you've been put through because the designer does his job well.

Keith Burgun
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I mean what I say - when you combine stories and games, one or both (so far, 100% of the time, it has been both) will suffer.



I do study these things, I don't know why you are implying that I don't. I study game design very intensely, and as a craft I think I take it more seriously than anyone I've ever met. I also have enough of a layman's interest in storytelling to understand how it fundamentally works. If you have some books or resources something which will show me how wrong I am about story then please pass them along, I'd be happy to read them.



The big problem that I have is that almost everyone is working under the assumption that games and story are a match made in heaven, when in fact they are not. It is as though I was working in the sports world and everyone thought that professional wrestling was what all sports should be like.



The fact that through PLAYING a game, you end up with something that's like a story (although most often it will not be a good story, even if you had fun playing it), is not to say that story and game have the kind of relationship you and many others are claiming. I already went into detail on this topic in a previous comment. Yes, you can have emergent storytelling, but it will never ever be even close to as good as carefully authored storytelling. Yes, you can have gameplay that is tied to a pre-written story, but it will never be as good as gameplay that isn't limited in that way.



And finally, I'm not saying that the combination of story + games can't end up being something good. I am just saying that it will end up being something worse than if you did not try to combine them.

Wesley Paugh
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Actually Prove that 'emergent storytelling... will never ever be even close to as good as carefully authored storytelling', and prove that it isn't worth having emergent stories because there are better, carefully-authored stories, and I will happily drop the issue forever.



That you make this claim without actually having proved it is part of the reason that I make claims like 'you do not study [storytelling in games]'.

Altug Isigan
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@Keith



The problem is with the rather narrow and "loaded" (ludology-inspired) conception of "story" that you build-up on.



The "stories are linear, but games are non-linear" argument never comes alone. Hence, to you story probably means the following:

1-a recount of things past (versus the real-time and "direct" experience of play)

2-for passive readers (versus the active player in games)

3-inherent linearity (versus the non-linearity of games)

4-non-interactive traditional media (versus the interactivity in games)



For the first point: stories can be told as if things are happening in real time and without any verbal or textual elements at all. Video games are full with examples of such storytelling. Also do not mistake non-interactivity for story. If you consider only cutscenes as story, but not the parts in which the player performs meaningful actions based on a fictional role, then you have an incomplete picture of what story is and in how a great variety it can be delivered. You also should not ignore the fact that your actions as a player are part of the telling. If your actions aren't narrated back to you, how would you be able to know who you perform as and what you exactly do in the fictional universe of the game? Without narration the video game experience can't even start.



Second point: "Readers" are not passive, even in the case of non-interactive media. Reading/watching is a dynamic mental process. Besides there are a lot of novels that ask you to carry out physical actions in order to make the story come to life. In other words, not only are you mentally active, but also phyisically. You decide about how the story will proceed. So, nothing here which hasn't been known before the "open worlds" of video games and the "free" player.



Which brings us to the third point: There are a lot of non-linear stories presented in novel format. We infer from this that you can't call stories "inherently" linear, for they are not "inherently" linear. Sticking with linear ways of story organizing is at best a convention. It's not the "nature" of stories, it's related to culture that surrounds the majority of authors and narrative designers.



Last point: The assumption that traditional media are non-interactive is wrong, too. Again check out experimental literature and you will be surprised to see how the "linear, non-interactive, passive" traditional media have been used in exactly the opposite way, in the creation of amazing non-linear, interactive and dynamic stories.



I never implied that you haven't studied these things, btw. I do not doubt your interest and effort into understanding games. I do apologize if I gave the impression that I was attacking you. I just really have a problem with statements that go the "stories are linear" path. It's based on wrong assumptions and misleading. Nothing personal here.

Blake Reynolds
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Why aren't there people attempting to apply an opera to a football game? Why don't we see a football game in which, before every down, the quarterback has a soliloquy about how the other quarterback killed his father, and now he has to score touchdowns to avenge his name? The story would have to constantly work around a game that had to be played, and the game would constantly have to work around a story it had to follow. Think this is silly? You should...but it's EXACTLY HAPPENING IN VIDEO GAMES.



Why, if this football opera was hypothetically employed, and certainly fails, would there not be articles explaining how Story and Football have not been integrated "correctly?" I think I know why...because that is ABSURD, yet VIDEO games get a free pass from this obvious lapse in logic. will somebody please explain why that is?



As Keith said, because we follow a sequence of decisions we make in a game system, then log those decisions as "story events" doesn't mean the INCEPTION and DESIGN of games should be married with the INCEPTION and DESIGN of stories. Does tetris "need" a story? Would it have been enhanced with cutscenes, dialogue and cinematics? That's like saying because we told a story about how we built an ikea bunk bed, that in the instruction manual for every piece of furniture should stop between instructions to introduce characters and plot arcs. Do you see the logically inconsistent nature of your argument now?

Malcolm Miskel
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Children often make games out of things that have actually happened. You've never seen a kid "re-enact" a famous confrontation or battle? "This time I get to be the Indian chief and YOU'RE the cowboy!"??



They're playing, but there is still a story involved. The specifics of such confrontations aren't important. You can battle a random amount of monsters or the kid can shoot thirty Indians, but it's still the same story as long as you fight that Indian chief/boss fight.



As a child, I often found such games far more entertaining.

Altug Isigan
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Tetris doesn't need cutscenes and dialogue, because what is there in terms of story, is sufficient :)

Blake Reynolds
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those aren't games. Those are "scenes," "Improvised acting," "play acting," "activity," but not "game." A game is a system in which an agent acquires and improves a set of skills to overcome an opponent agent, be it human or built into the system. Games involve making meaningful decisions, have clear win/loss conditions, and operate under a set of rules.



I'm not knocking the fun factor of playing cowboys and indians or re-inacting a scene from Star Wars, but just because that is "play" doesn't make it a game. Are legos a game or a toy? Is a jigsaw puzzle a game, a toy, or a puzzle? Is PORTAL a game or is it really just a puzzle? All these things can be fun, but what we're arguing here is that STORY and GAMES are not inherently, necessarily linked in the way gamers insist they are.



We need to get over the fact that, at a certain point, technology allowed for a certain amount of spectacle in a video game. We all experienced that spectacle as kids, be it Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time, or any Jrpg really, and now carry this burden and expectation into our adulthood. These stories dazzled us, felt new and exciting. But Does the story of Ocarina of time ENHANCE THE GAMEPLAY? Does the gameplay ENHANCE the story? I say no way. But that's ok, they shouldn't be trying. Just because technology allows for the "can" doesn't mean we have to insist it a "should."



Look back now, though, honestly as adults and ask "if Ocarina or Metal Gear Solid's stories were novels, would they be even passable as interesting, stand alone stories?" And if Ocarina was JUST gameplay, would it be captivating for as many hours? If your answers, like mine, are no to both, it's not because they "enhance each other," It's because 2 shallow, unremarkable things juxtaposed into an unprecedented technological spectacle are intoxicating enough for us to have formed sentimental attachment. It stupifies game designers into thinking ALL games HAVE to have story and that one separate medium enhances the other. We feel this way because we have lost our objectivity. We don't stop to ask ourselves the important questions. "what is a game?" "Do I like games, or do I like other forms of interactive entertainment like puzzles, interactive fiction or toys?"



This distinctions on our terminology will help move games out of their adolescence. Right now, games are in a massive teenaged overcompensation phase. "what is your game?" "well there are 200 swords, 4 hours of cutscenes and a level cap of 9000000!"



if any of you see those as legitimate answers to the question, we're in big trouble.

Wesley Paugh
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"A game is a system in which an agent acquires and improves a set of skills to overcome an opponent agent, be it human or built into the system. Games involve making meaningful decisions, have clear win/loss conditions, and operate under a set of rules"



I think 'tag' is the perfect example of why this is a useless definition. It is a game, but it has no loss condition, only a 'losing' state. It better exemplifies why people play games. not so that there is a clear, definite instance with a an incontrovertible outcome. People play games so they can play. That's why 'play' is the action verb associated with them. Otherwise people would say they used to compete in hide and seek when they were kids. You could say that, but you'd be missing the point.

Keith Burgun
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Blake, you nailed it exactly with:



"Look back now, though, honestly as adults and ask "if Ocarina or Metal Gear Solid's stories were novels, would they be even passable as interesting, stand alone stories?" And if Ocarina was JUST gameplay, would it be captivating for as many hours?"



Not only would OOT's gameplay NOT be "captivating for many hours" without the spectacle of "cinematicness", I think it would be boring as shit within 5 minutes. Ocarina of Time is a case in point. It's really the model that all modern games are built upon (it is the "BEST GAME OF ALL TIME" after all!), yet its story and gameplay are medicore at best. So that's what I'm trying to point out, here: we're striving for the mediocre by attempting to combine these two mediums

Wesley Paugh
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*by trying to combine these two mediums, rather than accepting that they're inherently paired

Simon T
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Compelling games with stories already exist. It's generally a bad idea to argue points that have already been disproved.

Keith Burgun
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The argument is not "compelling games with stories do not exist". It is, "even the most compelling game with a story would have had better gameplay and a better story if the two had been separated because of the inherent, fundamental problems that exist between the two".

Blake Reynolds
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uh... there is absolUTELY a loss condition in "tag." it's when "you're it." Then a NEW game of tag starts. Just because a round of tag is short doesn't mean there isn't a complete game. Tag absolutely fits that description. The primary verb and skill in use in tag is evasion. the better you are at evading, the longer you can last without being "it." It's like competing for high score in gradius. The longer you last at tag, the higher the score you get. When you catch someone and say "tag, you're it." You've won that round of tag.

Wesley Paugh
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I've never played a game of tag that was over as soon as someone else was 'It', the point of the game was to keep making someone else 'It'. 'It' would be playing properly if he made someone else 'It', but he wouldn't have won, nor would the new 'It' have immediately lost. It's a game with no finite end.



I said there was a 'losing' state. A state is not necessarily an end-state. It's a thing a system sits in while waiting to go to a new state. And that's all that the Game of tag has, different states that players can be in.



You could go even further and look at a game of 'chase'. PLAY is important to games, not winning or losing. Possible words you're thinking of: 'sport', 'contest', 'competition'.



And by 'action verb' I meant you 'play' tag. Play is the operative word. You don't 'evade' a game of tag. You couldn't compete in a game of tag, because there's no way to tell when you've definitively won or lost.



EDIT: I understand now that you meant multiple exchanges of 'It' denote multiple games of Tag. Still, that makes Tag a game that can never be lost for 'It', only won. This goes against your win/loss requirement (and, conversely, anyone that isn't 'It' can only lose a game of tag').

Keith Burgun
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Keep in mind, adults do not play Tag because it is a half-baked game. If someone were to sit down and formally design Tag, they would certainly give it an end point (perhaps a time-based thing), because that's what a good game needs.



Either way, the point is simply that tag IS a game, but just an incomplete one which is why only children will play it.

Blake Reynolds
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I just explained the loss condition of tag, which is, when you're "it," you lose that game. The longer you stay "not it" the better your "score." The sign of a good tag player is how long they can remain "not it," how good they are at evading, the primary verb used in the game.



and if that loss condition is not used by many small children in the playing, I would argue their games would be made immensely better if they did keep score by duration of "not being it." It would make the game 1000x better.



If "play" is the only word required for a game, does that make a puzzle a game? Does it make a toy a game? Would sitting down pantomiming with a tickle-me-elmo all willy-nilly be a game? Or is that just playing with a toy.



You know, I just wish people would argue honestly here. I've heard strawman after strawman in defense of the fact that games and story SHOULD be combined, but what's really going on is, most people just aren't THAT into games, and they WANT their cutscenes and cinnematics and razzle dazzle, regardless of what it means for games. Interactive fiction entertains a lot of people more than games do. There's no shame in that, I just wish people would call it like it is.

Wesley Paugh
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Who, anywhere in this article, said the word 'cutscene'? You, three times. Also, read my Edit. I got what you meant. We are arguing honestly. This is NOT a discussion about improving storytelling through cutscenes. This is a discussion about improving storytelling in games.



Tag is a game. And yes, puzzles are games. Toys are objects, but most, if not all, means of interacting with them are games. Not games that I'm interested in implementing with software, but I do consider them games.



Score does not exist in every game of tag. Every game of tag is a game. An assessment of the quality of tag as a game is not an assessment of its nature as a game. So, saying that score makes a game of tag 'better' doesn't mean that game needs score to be a game, at all. It also doesn't explain how certain players in a Game of tag can only ever lose, while another player can only ever win, and still fit your definition.



EDIT: bitter and overly-sensitive comment about arguments in this thread removed.



Also, there is a 'Reply' button directly under each post. Please use that, so that we can keep the train of though in one place.

Keith Burgun
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I think this super loose definition of "game" is at fault for a lot of our disagreements, here. Playing with a toy is a game? Seriously? It's one thing to say that puzzles are games (I personally find it pretty easy to pick out which are which, read my latest blog post: http://expensiveplanetarium.blogspot.com/2011/08/is-it-puzzle-or-
game.html ), but to say that toys are games... you may as well say that a shoe is a game. The word has lost all usefulness.



Again you're stuck on Tag. The fact is, Tag is just an under-developed, kind of crappy game that is sort of missing a way to lose when you're It (I suppose it's, if you give up and run out of energy before you can catch the other guy?)



"saying that score makes a game of tag 'better' doesn't mean that game needs score to be a game, at all."



Talk about straw-men! Who ever said that? He just said that it would make the game better. When you better-embrace what's actually good about something on a fundamental level, you make your game better. ***This is the cornerstone of my original argument!*** I want people to do exactly that - look at "what is a game, fundamentally?" Then, hone in on those fundamental elements that make games interesting while stripping away those that do not. Story is NOT something fundamental about games and therefore adding it does not make things better, it makes them worse. This is what I'm trying to argue.

Richard Terrell
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Let's not get carried away here. Certainly there can be multiple versions of tag with strict or relaxed rules. Rules and play are important to gaming but are both big topics that are beside the core issues here.



The argument is that gameplay and stories are inseparable. It's not about should or shouldn't.



When you say people aren't that into games you're actually getting close to a critical issue concerning stories as fundamental tools in our understanding. More on this in the parts to come.



For now I suggest holding on.

Keith Burgun
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"The argument is that gameplay and stories are inseparable."



Again, you're purposely confusing the issue for your own cause here. There are two HUGE differences between these two things:



1 - A game being designed around a written narrative. This is what most modern games do and this is what I'm bitching about.



2 - A game naturally and unavoidably providing for the players (but not written by the developers), a list of events that may or may not resemble a story.



Can you see the great difference here? I am arguing about point 1. For you to then sweep in and say "But point 2!" is little more than a dishonest strawman which hides behind the loose usage of the word "story".

Wesley Paugh
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We've been talking about 2. All along. The author even says 'But ultimately, the strength of the medium comes from interactivity'. You and Blake are the ones that take 'everyone' here to be talking about 1.

Wesley Paugh
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EDIT: how did this get down here?

Wesley Paugh
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Blake said that 'play activities' and 'acting' aren't games and gave a definition of games that I disagreed with. I gave an example of why. I inferred from that example what I believe play really means. In response to that example, Blake said that it wasn't a good game because it didn't have a rule about 'highest score wins', as what I can only assume to be an attempt to invalidate my argument that things that don't fit his definition can still be games. How can I not take that to mean he thinks a game needs to be a good game to be a game at all?



Edit: To clarify, the alternative to NOT taking him to mean 'only quality games are games' is assuming that he thinks tag without clear win/loss conditions is still a game (which he DID say, on second reading). That being the case, the door's wide open to start looking at other acts of play that don't have win/lose conditions. Like 'play activities' / acting. If I'm 'hung up' on tag, it's because it's an interesting edge case, which is a GOOD thing.



Story IS something fundamental. You say it's not. If there's no further debate to be had, then, well, I suppose all we can say is that there's no further debate.



EDIT: OK, I definitely hit a 'reply' button about halfway up the page that time. This was in response to 'I think this super loose definition of "game" is at fault...'

Keith Burgun
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The problem with the whole tag argument is, a bad thing can actually no longer really even resemble the thing that it's supposed to be. A really bad film that has no plot for instance, you might want to argue that it's not even a film. I think it's a grey area. Either way, the question here isn't about tag, the question is: what is fundamental to games?



If you're saying "story" as in "2", which fits games like Chess, Tetris and other completely abstract games, then I am sorry but that quite reminds me of Deepak Chopra when he says that he "believes in God" in the sense of an acronym he made up (“Generation, Organization, and Delivery", he says).



When you say "story in games", NOBODY will think that you mean #2 and EVERYBODY will think you mean #1. Look around at modern video games. 99.999% of them have a #1 type of story. I think you'll agree that it's extremely important that we're clear with our language, but this whole argument came about because I am saying #1 (the one that everyone is using in their games) is not a fundamental part of games, while you seem to be coming in and saying "#2 IS TOO a fundamental part of games". I can't help but feel that your doing that is a bit dishonest given the overall style of modern video games.

Wesley Paugh
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"grey area" is the point of studying anything. You're saying we shouldn't study tag as a game because it's only kind of a game, but it isn't really clear to what extent. That's exactly why I think we need to look at Tag. What is says about how play relates to games is directly relevant to storytelling in games , because of the grey area it toes.



As for most games being made, I don't apply any judgments to the quality or type of storytelling they employ because of the restrictions of the development process. Publishers, schedules, all that stand between what a game developer might believe and the games he makes.



However, since this is a website about game development, I assume the people writing here are at least open to new ideas. So, if they don't already ascribe to #2, they are much better served by being educated rather than critiqued. Maybe that's naive of me, but it's hardly dishonest.

Richard Terrell
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Well, this comment thread kind of exploded. I want to respond to several posts, but I'm already a bit overwhelmed at the many directions this multi-threaded topic is moving.



Everyone here needs to slow down a bit. We're all making arguments, but we are not all on the same page. We need to reset this conversation. Decided for yourself if you want to reset.



@ Keith Burgan

I respect the angle you're arguing from. I can tell you're arguing for something true and interesting about games and stories, but it's a complex stance that will take more work to build up to than you've given so far (considering how quickly things got tangled).



@Wesley

Thanks for keeping up with your replys. Though I agree with most of what you're saying, it would be best if we reset and rephrased a few things.



Let me know what you and anyone else still interested in this topic/conversation/debate thinks.

Keith Burgun
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To be really concise, the type of "story" Wes is saying he's advocating for games - ones in which, after playing the game you can recount the events and it resembles a story - is going to be in games of any kind, no matter what, and so obviously it's not what I'm arguing against.



I'm saying that tying gameplay (inherently nonlinear) to a pre-written narrative (linear) is a bad idea.

Richard Terrell
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I'm reading your blog, but I won't have time to respond properly until tomorrow.



You still didn't respond to my direct request. I know what you're saying and what you have been saying. If you want to sort things out (at least with me) then we have to reset our conversation. If you're satisfied with continuing on with this car wreck of a conversation, then just let me know.

Wesley Paugh
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I would love to continue / reset! But I'm not sure how to contact you.

Richard Terrell
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http://critical-gaming.squarespace.com/about-me/



I'm not on Skype much. I use the other 3 all day.


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