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The Edge of Story
by Tynan Sylvester on 04/30/12 04:49:00 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.

 

Crossposted from my website: http://tynansylvester.com/2012/04/the-edge-of-story/

Imagine a game of Left 4 Dead in which a player sacrifices his life so his friend may survive a zombie attack. How do we classify this moment?  Is it a story, a piece of mechanics-driven gameplay, or something authored into the game?

We can make cases for any of them. It’s a story because it can be recounted like a story. It’s a game mechanical interaction because it wasn’t authored into the game exactly as it occurred.

Yet, it was authored into the possibility space of the game mechanics, which were specifically designed to generate dramatic moments like this on a regular basis. It is both a story and not. Depending on how you look at it, it has no author, one author (the designer), or many authors (the designer, players, and the game systems).

We’ve broken our classification system because we’re using it outside its domain. Terms likestory and author were created to work in the context of traditional, fixed, recounted stories. There’s no reason to assume they work in games. And, in their unmodified, original forms, they don’t.

The concept of narrative is not absolute. It is merely a label for a cluster of emotional triggers which games happen to share with certain traditional media.

Character development, recounted or related sequences of events, and pre-defined events are examples of design elements which fall under the umbrella of narrative.

But this umbrella is not defined by any well-thought-out logical distinction. It is an evolved cultural convention – nothing more. There is no sharp line between fiction, story, narrative, and mechanics, and the emotional mechanisms games use to affect players often don’t fall cleanly into these categories.


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Comments


Rich Boss
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To answer your question, it must be categorized as all four. There is actually one answer missing which can't accurately be described using our limited language. The best I can do is 'an experience felt by all parties including the machine'. I will be the first to admit that is a really weird thought, especially my use of the word felt. My point is since video games are truly an interactive experience and their argument style functions similarly to dialectic, all perspectives are valid. Of course, this just supports your point that narrative is not absolute.

On the topic of things that have no absolute, f*ck nihilism.

Tynan Sylvester
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Interesting. I'm basically with you; it's about mental framing.

I am a little confused about the "felt by the machine" part.

Rich Boss
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I am also confused about that part. It is undeniable that the machine or program has an active role, just like the player, in the experience. How would the experience of the program or machine be conveyed using existing vocabulary?

Travis Stewart
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I don't think it is even about mental framing. The narrative aspect of the sacrifice does not cease to exist because all the people considering it are talking about it as a piece of mechanics-driven gameplay. The duck doesn't stop being a duck because it is only being treated as a bird. In fact, it is absolutely still a duck in that time.

Rich Boss
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Travis, you are correct that the narrative aspect of the sacrifice does not cease to exist. My question to you is what brought cessation into the conversation?

Travis Stewart
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Cessation comes into play when discussing the idea of the sacrifice scenario as "both a story and not". The author elaborates clarifies this by comparing the situation to the question of authorship: It has no author, one author, or many authors. The answer to the question depends "on how you look at it". If that position is accurate, then it should be possible to truthfully say that the sacrifice scenario has no narrative element (provided that you accept narrative as an allowable synonym for "story"), since my perspective can maintain the absence of a thing ("it has no author"). Yet because the narrative aspect never ceases to exist, then the scenario can never not be a story. We can ignore its role in the greater narrative, but, since a duck remains a duck even when we treat it as a bird, it continues to have that role.

This issue shows up again in the final line of the article, that "there is no sharp line between fiction, story, narrative, and mechanics". It seems to treat them as though these elements are supposed to be mutually exclusive, when they aren't. That "the emotional mechanisms games use" (which is a bit of an oversimplification, since emotionally valueless elements are part of something's story content) are not necessarily easily sortable is perfectly acceptable, as there is no difficulty involved in something being fiction and mechanic, or story and narrative, at the same time.

Also, to answer your question about how to describe the role of the program in the gameplay experience in existing terminology, I'd suggest it fills the role of the "text". The program is both the document itself and that document's literal contents, which is very similar to a typical text.

As to the role of the machine, I would suggest "storyteller" or "speaker". The machine itself does not create the core text, as my copy of "Sins of a Solar Empire" exists separately from my computer, but it is integral to creating a version of the text: The one I experience when I play the game. Yet its role is not to experience the narrative for itself, but to transmit it.

Rich Boss
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Travis you have a very good point, given that story is an acceptable synonym for narrative. Both story and narrative must both cease since there can be no story without an author. However, since "the narrative aspect never ceases to exist" there seems to be a paradox here. The easiest solution I can find to rectify this is to stop equating story and narrative. The must be a difference, however slight, between these two concepts otherwise there would be no need for different vocabulary. What is the difference between the two?

Just to be clear, is the duck/bird metaphor referencing the relationship between narrative and story, or have I completely misunderstood?

I will admit that "text" is the closest word that we can use in reference to the role the program fills, but since "text" inherently references rhetoric and video games are clearly a dialectic that description falls woefully short of describing the actual function of the program, which is capable of reacting to the player input unlike any actual text. Which is why I suppose you used quotes around it.

I have the same issue with "storyteller" that I do with "text", but "speaker" hold some promise for me. A speaker is not limited to a rhetoric like a storyteller is. I agree with you that the machine does not create the "text". However in order to transmit "text" does it not need to "experience" it. Does it not need to modify its state in order to transmit the data? Does it not change ones and zeros? I am not trying to suggest that the machine has any context to understand those changes or has any will to modify its circumstances. The word experience is defiantly inadequate to convey the concepts I am thinking about, but it is the best that English has to offer me. If you have a better one, please let me know.

As a last note, this is a seriously entertaining line of conversation to me; I am not trying to offend. I love a good mental exercise, and I hope we can continue and look forward to any response.

Travis Stewart
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There is a difference between narrative and story in formal literary study (which is why I qualified my use of narrative as a synonym for story), and while it isn't entirely clear (narrative in particular is a bit inconstant), it seems that "story" is a sum of the events (the story of "Manos: The Hands of Fate" consists of everything which happens in the film), narrative is the actual chain of events.To give an example, the story of Baldur's Gate 2 might start out with *spoilers* the circumstances of Jon Irenicus' exile from Suldanessellar. That said, the narrative of Baldur's Gate 2 begins with the protagonist in Irenicus' dungeon, not knowing any of this. The story and narrative overlap from here on, but they are not identical. This is because the narrative, as the chain of events, includes the calculations which determine how combat progresses, while the story does not necessarily care. Likewise, I'm not sure if certain cut-scenes where we check in on Irenicus, being, as they are, totally detached from the protagonist's actions, are part of the same narrative or not, even though they are part of the same story.In regards to the idea of "text", I'd suggest that you are thinking of it too narrowly. "Texts" which have been studied include not only film and literature, but baseball and striptease, both which do respond to "player input". The most well-known example of this is Roland Barthes' "Mythologies", in which he applies concepts of structuralist literary criticism and semiology to things which do not fall into the category of literature.That said, I'll try to do some research and see if I can come up with some more stronger definitions. If so, I'll source them.I would likewise disagree about whether a storyteller does not respond to the audience. The ability of the teller to modify the performance/story based on the audience is one thing held up as a distinguishing characteristic of oral storytelling. Some have even suggested that works like The Odyssey and The Iliad might have been designed so storytellers could draw out certain sequences based on the interests of the audience.I agree with you that the machine does experience the text, which is why I specified that it does not do so "for itself". The machine experiences the program as it processes it, but not for the purpose of "reading" the text for itself. Instead, it does so in order to create the story for the player/audience. This isn't a fully satisfying reason, since a student reading a book for his class is not reading the text for himself either, but it's the closest I can get to explaining the distinction I was trying to make.

Edit: I forgot to mention a couple things. First, yes, the bird and duck metaphor is, in that context, referencing the relationship between narrative and story. Second, I would like to question the degree to which a video game responds to player input. These "responses" are not new additions to the text, having been programmed to begin with. How is this different than in a "choose your own adventure" novel, which presents the reader with a choice of actions, each of which creates? (And, on a more pointlessly pretentious level, how is it different from the act of turning the page in a novel?)

Rich Boss
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Travis, I think I see what you mean by text now. A rhetoric like film and literature only has two texts: one for the media and one for the audience interpretation. A debate like baseball and striptease has three texts: one for each side of the argument and one for the moderator. A dialectic like video games has four texts: one for the designers, one for the program, one for the machine ,and one for the player.

Also, I see what you mean about the storyteller, but the storyteller is far more limited in the variety of responses than a speaker. They still have to stay within the limits of believability set by the story being told. A speaker could completely alter the trajectory of the interaction. Essentially, to me a speaker has more freedom of choice.

I am a little confused why it matters that the machine does not experience the text "for itself". Are you implying that the machine is not selfish and therefore not alive? I will agree to that, but also say humans are someday going to have to deal with that issue. Can you imagine one day people will have to argue with machines to get them to run a program, since the effect of a program on a von neumann machine can never be known until it is run. Kinda like arguing with children to get them to take medicine. That might actually make a pretty good sci-fi story.

The student reading a book for class and not himself is an interesting analogy. Its as if students have been pared down into information processors, but that may be a side effect of the industrialized nature of the current education system. If the students were allowed to study what they found interesting within a non industrialized schooling system that effect might disappear.

Since you are questioning the degree to which a video game responds to player input, I would like to question the degree to which humans respond to "player" input. In a live human dialectic both parties are both players and moderators. Each person can bring up new information and call foul on the other party. However there is a limit to the moves that can be made given all included information and that there are no fouls in play. If fouls have been committed and not resolved cognitive dissonance occurs, which is bad since cognitive dissonance breaks all the rules and makes shortcut assumptions.

In reference to the choose your own adventure novel, it is not that different just astoundingly less complex. All of the elements are there and they are understandable to most people. More complex form of argument have many more possibilities, more than a single human mind can process. Just because we can't see the limits of the system does not mean there are none.

Travis Stewart
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I was really hoping you wouldn't bring up audience interpretation, though you are probably right to do so. At the risk of offending any New Critics reading this, once you include audience interpretation you technically have as many texts as you have readers. Everyone brings their own contexts through which you interprete the document. Some readers may even have more than one, if they can read through multiple contexts (as many, if not most, can). This can be true for your "media" text as well, largely when you consider questions of translation, edition, and error. You also forget the author(s), who has/have a very distinct context through which to examine both the document itself and the content of that document. I would, however, agree that there are probably more potential texts generated by a video game, if only because every developer has an author-text of their own.

We could probably go back and forth on storyteller vs. speaker for some time, especially once we get into stories within stories and questions of whether we included bad storytellers as storytellers. While I disagree with your conclusion here, this is probably the least important part of the conversation right now.

The idea of "experiencing the text for one's self" is basically my attempt to distinguish between merely reading (which the computer does, albeit in a different way than a player) and reading+. Saying things like "reader and speaker" or "reader and storyteller" can sometimes be unnecessarily complex, though they are probably pretty accurate descriptors. There's probably a well-established way to say what I mean, but I don't know what it is.

There's also an element of intent to the concept: If the computer were to read a text without coersion and without creating a product outside of having read the text (in other words, without creating a product beyond some kind of "mental" achievement or save file), then I cannot think of a way to plausibly suggest that it has read the text for any reason beyond personal interest. Were it forced by a user to read a text, or in order to provide something for the user, then it is reading the text for another person (in the same manner that a person watching a television show for a friend would be said to have watched that show for a friend).

That said, the term is clearly insufficiently clear. I apologize for the poor formulation there, and probably everywhere else.

I have to say, I don't entirely understand your "players and moderators" example, particularly as to what a foul entails and why post-cognitive-dissonance actions seem to be "off limits", so I'll just try to answer the basic question you pose. I would say that humans respond to player input to a greater degree than a video game does, because there is far less of a "script" (a defined understanding of how events proceed) on which to operate.

In a video game, the script aspires to constrain all interaction. I cannot take an option not on the dialogue tree, I cannot move outside the boundaries of the game world, and I cannot truly take any action which is not programmed into the game. If any of these things occur, either nothing happens (I try to kill an "immortal" character), the game crashes, or the action succeeds and the game tries to follow the script as if the glitch hadn't occured (often disasterously). The game cannot modify the script, because it cannot "see" what has happened. If it could, it would already be part of the script (I hope this does not just seem circularly).

In contrast, human interaction has the possibility of either modifying the script, clarifying the script, or simply ignoring the script. Modification involves taking the new information ("John can't stand for very long today") and forming a new rule out of it ("Don't ask John to do something which involves a lot of standing"). Clarifying the script involves trying to acquire new information and applying that knowledge to fit seemingly abberant behavior into the pre-existing script. This could just be a subset of modification, but it's useful enough to list separately. Finally, ignoring the script (probably the least common) involves taking existing information and, finding that it does not fit within the script, taking an action which actually violates the script. I would imagine this would be labelled "impulsive behavior", but it occurs.

I don't know what to make of your last comment. I'm not trying to say that anything a video game can do, so can a book, which I'm worried might what you believe my intent to be. To be honest, my motive is pretty much to show that existing frameworks from other mediums can be sensibly applied to the modern video game. There's a bit of tendency to treat something new as a drastic departure from it kin, and which operates on such different rules that there is no point in trying to apply existing theories. Given that I entered my chosen field precisely because I saw a way it could be applied to the comparatively new medium of video games, I'm a bit sensitive about that.

That said, I'm not sure how much more complex current games are from a story/plot perspective. While there is increased variability in the action (in a FPS, I can choose who I shoot, when I shoot, and where I shoot), this does not actually increase the complexity of the story, as the vast majority of those actions don't matter in the grand scheme of the game. These choices, while existing, only change the plot to the degree they satisfy a series of conditions (roughly analogous to whether I turn to page 64 or 92 in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book).

I really hope this changes, but I'm a bit nervous considering how the medium so quickly swings between focusing largely on story development and tossing story out the window to focus on the gameplay. It feels like a lot of time is lost re-discovering "old" storytelling technologies, and just when we start to see some real innovation, everyone decides that stories are preventing people from having fun.

God, this is a long post. Probably utterly incoherent.

Rich Boss
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Travis, I actually found this to be your most coherent post yet. I would have responded sooner but there was some major water damage to my apartment and one of the dogs decided to pee all over my girlfriend while she was asleep last night. I had to deal with those things first.

I had to bring up audience interpretation; to ignore it would be negligent. You are correct about there being just as many texts as there are readers. I think that is the major challenge in front of game designers as far as narrative games go. I actually was thinking that the author could be included in the media as far as rhetoric is concerned, and author was included in the designers as far as dialectic is concerned. I'm not really concerned with who authored any of these arguments, authorship is how we attribute credit. That has no function in a game system, credit is unimportant. How it works is more important than who wrote it.

I am willing to set aside the storyteller vs. speaker argument. You're right this is the least important part of the conversation, and we seem to understand each other about this concept.

Your argument about reading vs. reading+ is insufficiently clear. I don't consider this to be your failure though, just a failure of language and our society's ability to address these concepts. This shows me that there is still room for all of us to grow in this area. I am also willing to set this aside seeing as how it seems we have exhausted all our potential for communication here.

In response to your concerns about players and moderators: player functions which work within the rule structure, moderators ensure that the rules are followed much like an umpire in baseball or a bouncer in a strip club. Fouls indicate the rules have been broken by one of the players. In a dialectic people assume both roles; they work within the rules (player) and make sure that the other party is not breaking any rules (moderator). Cognitive dissonance allows any player within dialectic to skip over and ignore established rule structures much like a hacker stops arguing with the designer of the game and starts arguing with the program of the game. Hacking is generally regarded as cheating in any game. Allowing cognitive dissonance is essentially allowing hacking.

Concerning my last comment, I was actually trying to convey that video games can do anything a book can do but a book can't necessarily do anything a video game can. You are right, existing frameworks can be used in modern video games but they will be insufficient. Video games are a drastic departure from previous media but they are built on the same frameworks just with more complexity and therefore much more complex rule systems. Most modern video game narratives utilize the 'choose-your-own-adventure' model. I find this to be severely lacking. Surely there is a better way.

I honestly see the potential for video game narrative to evolve into a new game mechanic. There just seems to be so little understanding about the rules of narrative and the potential hasn't been realized by most people yet.

Travis Stewart
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I'm sorry to hear about the water damage and dog urination. I hope everything worked out in the end.

The reason the author's text should be considered separately from the media text is that the author's interpretation is informed by the process of creating the work, not merely the work itself.

My failure to clarify reading vs. reading+ is definitely my fault. I doubt it's that difficult to explain how someone reading a book to himself serves a different function than someone reading a book to someone else.

Thank you for explaining your "players and moderators" example, though I'm not sure how well it applies to video games. I would think that either the computer and the player do not necessarily follow the same rule set, or there are startlingly few games which lack cognitive dissonance (Homeworld, Dragon Age, Pokemon, and Civilization have all included dissonance). Now, while one could claim that these are all bad examples of games dialectics, that seems a little extreme.

While I agree that video games a drastically different medium than any single other, I'm not so sure how different they from the collective. While I agree that literature studies may not be much use in discussing non-narrative elements of video games, there's still a lot of stuff that falls within its domain. There are also other fields of study, with their own domains, which can explain other elements. I'm also not sure how useful the "complexity" argument is, either, since surely the purpose of continued academic study is to address more and more complicated things. It occurs to me that I have been using words vaguely, as one might read "existing frameworks" as "what we already know" rather than "fields of study which already exist".

As to whether we will ever see video games move beyond the "choose-your-own-adventure" model... I'm not sure. It's really just a branching plot, and I don't know if there's another category of plot type with more freedom than a branching plot. We might find out eventually, but considering that video game narratives have really just refined elements which existed by the end of the late '90s/early 00's CRPG golden age, I'm not holding my breath.

JB Vorderkunz
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Maybe i'm being oversensitive as I come from a narrative-heavy background - but this just seems like old school ludological argumentation for excising narrative from games. Stories are different from games, and vice versa, but they can be effectively merged in hybrid forms - which is how I would classify the majority of 'video games': hybrids of various traditional media, artistic modes, and simulation.

Or another way to put it - 'game' isn't absolute either. See Costikyan on the various definitions of game (he explores the definitions of Juul, Zimmerman & Salen, etc. in the first essay in 'Second Person' eds. Harrigan & Waldrip-Furin, 2007) =]

[EDIT! = On further reflection, I prolly was being a bit sensitive - IF what you're saying is the the new hybrid media we call 'video games' engages the audience in a way that NEITHER traditional narrative media NOR traditional games ever has before, and thus we need and/or will develop by necessity new terminology to add to the old...]

Rich Boss
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"IF what you're saying is the the new hybrid media we call 'video games' engages the audience in a way that NEITHER traditional narrative media NOR traditional games ever has before, and thus we need and/or will develop by necessity new terminology to add to the old..."

I believe that is exactly what Tynan is saying. Native video game narrative operates on a very different rule structure than any other previously invented media. It is essentially all going to have to be emergent, but we don't yet know how to shoehorn a decent story arc into such a system. The rules (rhetoric) used to write books, tv, and movies aren't going to work in this media. Even the rules (debate) used to craft board and card games won't help wedge decent narratives into video games. Video games employ a style of argument called dialectic, something humanity is really bad at and in my experience almost totally unwilling to even acknowledge. New terminology is defiantly needed along with the concepts to support them.

There is a major paradigm shift in human thinking coming, powered mostly by video games. The only people using dialectic before video games came along were the philosophers. They had to rely on rhetoric to move their ideas to the general public and in doing so lost all the nuance dialectic allowed. Now everybody can play, not just the elites.

Tynan Sylvester
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Hey, sorry for the late reply JB. I never knew this thing got so many comments.

Anyway, your last assertion was basically correct. I'm not suggesting that we do any specific thing (like excise story from games). Only that we question the meanings of the words we're using. As I reflected on the concept of story in games, it slowly dawned on me that there were really important aspects of game designs and experiences which can't really be categorized either way. More importantly, I think the distinction railroads our thinking to a degree. It's a useful dichotomy, but we should be able to step outside it as necessary.

Tynan Sylvester
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Rich, thank you for the notes on dialectic. I had never heard this comparison; I'll have to look into it further. I'm just a game designer, not a philosopher, but I try to pick up what I can.

Miroslav Martinovic
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The reason that narrative and mechanics were separated was because creators wanted to have a story/narrative too complex for game mechanics to convey properly. But in reality, all action in a game can be considered a narrative. "I shot an alien in space invaders, then evaded bullet from him and then failed to evade another one and died." is as much a narrative/story, as "The aliens came and invaded the earth, killed the president, and with nation in chaos, you are the only chance to save us!", only their level of complexity is (in some way) different. (If) creator of space invaders wanted to incorporate the latter, he had to do it "externally", provide a non-interactive means of communicating it (cinematic, text intro, that stuff we still usually tend to associate "narrative" with), because the game mechanics were too simplistic to be able to convey it.

but in reality, everything is a narrative. or, narrative is a recollection of a sequence of (connected) events, ANY events. this divide didn't exist, we created it, because we couldn't do any better. but now we are actually getting to a point when we can do better and are ocasionally trying so. what you wrote about is an example of attempt on a path to that goal.

Tynan Sylvester
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A key distinction we should make:

The design of the game VS the experience of the player. I'm with you on the right side of this dichotomy, but not on the left.

We can describe any particular player experience as a story, since it's always a sequence of related events. However, I don't think we can always describe the game itself as a story.

Poker obviously isn't a story, for example. If we must, we can say it's a story generator, but even that has its issues.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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When you hear about a guy getting saved from a car crash at the last minute from the TV, its news. It has an author. It is recounted to you by a person.

But when that "news" happened in front of you, nay, if you were an active participant in that news, would you still call that news? No. It is then a life-changing event. "Author" does not make sense in this point of view.

When you recount your experiences to someone else, it becomes a story to them, and you are the author.

To answer the question of what role the machine does, it functions as the lawkeeper, and referee, the same way the real world is governed by physical laws (physics, thermodynamics etc.) and man-made laws (rules of tennis, for example), they govern how we interact with this world.

Travis Stewart
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Interesting. I see a few problems, though.

First, your definition of authorship appears flawed. For a person to recount something, it must have happened before. Yet plenty of fiction deals with events which not only did not happen (Dan Brown did not solve the murder of a pope and several cardinals), but cannot happen. Surely those who write fantasy or soft science fiction are still authors, even though they are not recounting events. Even if we say that a copied rough draft is a "recounting", given that it repeats the original version of events, we are still left with the question of lies and exaggeration. If your car crash observer tells his friend that he saw black helicopters take one of the victims away, when it was actually a white and red hospital chopper, he is no longer recounting the events he saw.

Second, on the subject of whether a story exists in mere experience or must be formally codified first, I would ask how you deal with the question of the theater. When I watch the events on stage, I do not think there is a significant difference between what I am doing in the audience and what I do when I observe a car crash. Despite this, I can definitely attribute authorship of what I see (on multiple levels, given the interpretive role of the acting company).

Three, while I agree the machine serves as a kind of lawkeeper, I wonder if that's really broad enough to cover the full role of the machine. Cut scenes, for example, are "enforced" by the machine, but do not determine how we interact with the world beyond excluding us from it.

A similar question could be raised about the Codexes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, or the various in-game texts of Final Fantasy 12. In those cases, I am interacting with in-world documents, but I do not know if I am doing so simply as the player, or if the protagonist is opening up a book.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Hey, its not like I'm saying that's what authorship means and nothing else. Yes, you can make up a story (by making up fictional events), or embellish a real one.

A play is a recreation of the story made by a playwright, (sometimes interpreted with varying amounts of liberty by the actors performing), an accidental car crash happening in front of you is not a recreation of anything.

What I mean is when something is currently happening to you, like an emergent series of events that are not predetermined, its not story, only when you recall it for others does it become story.

Cutscenes establish how we players will behave after the cutscene, it sets the mood, informs us by delivering information by showing, not telling. Yes, its one-way, developers do this when they want to impart an experience that does not deviate from their plans.

In the point of view of the developer, I believe the reason for codexes is to service players who want to know more about the lore of the game. Its mainly for the player. The main character already knows the lore and history of his world (in the examples you mentioned), the codexes are for players who want to ensure they are on the same page with the characters when overhearing discussions in cutscenes or otherwise.

The devs know not everyone cares about the lore so reading them is entirely optional. Its something that can be easily moved outside the game, but is put there for the convenience of the player who wants it.

As for in-game books/documents, they can be an essential part of the game, like pieces of paper with riddles you have to solve to progress in the game.

Travis Stewart
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Hm, seems I came across as a little hostile. My apologies.

See, I don't think the element of communication matters in story, and I think I know how to explain why. Suppose I were to die today, and when my family went through my belongings, they came across a completed work of fiction written inside a large notebook. It is in order, has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, all with proper spelling and grammar, and by the grace of God it does not even need editing. Only I never told anyone about it, and never was going to. By your distinction between story and non-story, that is not a story, despite fulfilling all the formal requirements. This feels like it goes against our understanding of how stories, if not all literature, works.

Finally, I would like to say that I really like your explanation for how the codex and cut-scenes remain laws. That said, I'm curious how this law-operation makes the machine's any different from the words on a page.

I hope I'm responding to your actual position this time.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Hmmm, sorry, you lost me there about the death example. When you said "that is not a story", what is the "that" you are referring to? The work of fiction? Or the hypothetical event of you dying?

Travis Stewart
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The "that" is the work of fiction. I don't quite see how it could be the scenario, but then again, I'm probably a bit biased.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Well, you wrote it down, whatever your reasons for not disclosing your work of fiction, when people see it, they'll be able to read it. That's how you can (willingly or unwillingly) impart information to another person without being physically there with him (like what we are doing now). We also write things down so we don't have to say the same thing over and over, among other reasons.

Some novelists even address "dear reader" as if he wanted to be in a conversation with the reader.

Travis Stewart
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So what matters for the story is not its communication, but rather that it exist in a communicable form? Then, to go back to your car crash example, why do I have to communicate what I saw (when I recount my experiences to someone else) before it becomes a story?

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Because thoughts in your head is not as readable as a work of fiction on paper. Last I checked, no one has mind-reading powers.

That is to say, thoughts in your head are not "communicated" (as you put it) until you speak or write about it (or recollect it for yourself).

I would rather use the word "recounted". As long as it has not been recounted yet, then it is not story. Regardless if its written or spoken, fictional or real, embellished or accurate.

Forgive me when I say this is all common sense to me and I don't understand why it is not to other people.

Travis Stewart
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But surely I can recollect in thought? After all, recollection is simply remembering. Yet if, in accordance with your statement that "thoughts in your head is [sic] not as readable as a work of fiction on paper", my experiences watching the car crash are not a story until I communicate what I saw, then to "recollect it for yourself" is not to create a story. If, on the other hand, a story can exist after its events are mentally recollected, then what separates the story of seeing the car crash from the experience of seeing the car crash is the structuring of events, not the communication.

The idea of communication or communicability as a criteria for a story's existence is deeply troublesome for me for several reasons, but a major one is because of the questions it raises. If I structure and phrase a fiction in my head, what about it changes after I tell it to someone else? Does the person listening to me come away from the experience with a story, or does he also need to recount it? When someone listens to an idea I have and says "there's a story in that", are they lying? What about when someone takes aside Janet the reporter and says, "Janet, I have a story for you"; does the speaker actually have a story for Janet, or is the story only being created as it is told to her?

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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Yes, recollection is like talking to yourself without the need of words (but you can certainly form sentences in your head if you prefer), so it is a story for me when I recollect events to myself. Its just that the intended audience is myself. I am communicating to myself without the need for words. Just because it didn't come out of your mouth doesn't mean it was not recounted.

"If I structure and phrase a fiction in my head, what about it changes after I tell it to someone else?" <--- Herein lies the limitation of speech. We living things invented speech to communicate with each other but there will always be loss of information (i.e. misinterpretation). Every time a story is passed down via speech, it loses more and more accuracy, I'm sure you've experienced this yourself. A person who understood a story wrong, and even recounted it wrong from his wrong understanding ("I didn't understand what he told me, I can't even remember his exact words, but it was like..."), will quickly deteriorate the story's accuracy.

I always thought that if everyone can read minds, then speech is no longer necessary. Poetry will no longer be necessary, song will no longer be necessary, art for the sake of self-expression will no longer be necessary, because if we can read each other's thoughts and feelings as they are, there is no more need to use rudimentary tools to symbolize how we feel or think.

Travis Stewart
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So if it doesn't need to be either written or spoken, structured into words, or even have an outside audience, why does the process of recounting matter? What about the process of recounting changes the sequence in my mind into a story? To rephrase the question I tried to ask last post, "If I have a fiction in my head, what about that fiction in my head changes when I recount it?"

On the subject of telepathy, I think we might have even more use for symbolic communication. The poem, the story, and the song are all concentrated and precise expressions of emotion. The mind itself is messy, full of webs of connotation and asides which we "edit" out of what we say. Without the ability to edit those words, those impulses are laid bare. The first episode of Kino's Journey (yes, yes, it's animu nonsense) covers this quite nicely.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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It now has a beginning, middle, and end. You know what will happen next when you recount it, as opposed to events happening spontaneously, or fiction you imaginate spontaneously.

As for telepathy, we may be imagining different ideas on how telepathy works. You say the mind is messy, when I don't believe that is always the case. If I entertained clear and specific thoughts and let someone mind-read me, in my idea of telepathy, the reader would understand exactly what I'm thinking about or feeling. Anyway, I digress. My only point is that language's flaws is it is open to misinterpretations, especially if the speaker and/or the listener does not have a good grasp on the language.

I don't dismiss something outright just because it is anime.

Travis Stewart
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Interesting. I have two questions: If I am watching a movie for the first time, and have no knowledge of how it will proceed, am I watching a story? If I am watching something occur, and I can tell how it will end (for instance, I see two cars heading towards each other on a collision course, and can tell that neither driver will be able to avoid the crash), do I then have a story?

We do seem to have different ideas on what telepathy entails. Also, I get what you mean about language.

It seemed safe at the time.

Ferdinand Joseph Fernandez
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If you are watching a movie, you are watching something that has pre-ordained events. For example, your experience can easily be disrupted by someone saying a spoiler.

We can predict as much as we like, but that doesn't work all the time does it? Where there no situations where you were surprised that the outcome of something was not what you anticipated?

Travis Stewart
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Why should the predetermination of the events I perceive matter? As you pointed out, the person who receives a story rarely receives truly the same story.

I'm not sure why my inability to always predict the procession of events has anything to do with situations in which I can accurately do so.

Tynan Sylvester
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Ferdinand,I like your comparison between the game system and the real world.

Just to make a distinction:

I don't think that any sequence of events in the universe is a story. A story is a sort of mental construct that people create/extract from life and transmit to each other. If it's based on a real event, it never matches that real event completely. This is why we can tell different stories about the same car crash.

So I don't think a car crash salvation is a story. The real event was an unfathomable buzzing of particles and physical laws. Your recounting of that car crash salvation definitely is a story, though, because it can be understood by people and re-told.

**

My comment on authorship in Left 4 Dead was really focused around the distinction between emergent narrative and embedded narrative.The thing with L4D is that it's specifically designed to create certain kinds of situations and events. Variations on the same sacrifices/tragedies/close calls play out again and again in that game because it is specifically designed to generate those scenarios over and over.

This is where the question of authorship appears (as a way to raise the question of story). Obviously if a game shows us a cutscene of some event, that's an authored story. But to what degree did Valve author the story of a dude getting saved from zombies?

I don't think their authorship is complete, because they never actually decided exactly what would happen.

At the same time, it's not zero, because they created their game systems to generate those stories over and over.

Call it a "pattern of outcomes" in the game. The same things tend to happen again and again because the mechanics are designed in a specific way. So what are those things? What do we call them? In a sense they're authored story. In another they're not.

That's the dichotomy I'm attacking. I'm zooming in on the fine line between embedded story and emergent story and trying to show that it's blurry.

And then I'm saying hey, maybe this line doesn't need to be here. Maybe there is a broader way to think about designed systems created for the purposes of entertainment. Maybe thinking in that more generalized way would lead us to some new design concepts which aren't married to the story + mechanics dichotomy.

But that I leave for the book.

Cheers
Ty

Travis Stewart
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Whoops, wrong place.


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