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Time to move on from the gameplay vs. story debate
Time to move on from the gameplay vs. story debate
May 10, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

As the director of UC Santa Cruz's Center for Games and Playable Media, Michael Mateas aims to solve the problem of game storytelling procedurally -- that's his mission, and the work the Center is undertaking is generally along this line.

But in his talk this morning at IFOG -- Inventing the Future of Gaming symposium -- he didn't champion any one way of doing things. Instead, he urged developers to ignore the debate around whether games should have stories and get to work making the best story games they can.

"We're really ready to move beyond these sterile debates on interactive and gameplay," he said, "In a sense, we've arrived."

The End of the Debate

He spent time recounting the debates academics and designers have -- on whether games should have stories at all -- with a certain wry humor borne of the fact that he clearly finds the debate tiring, and a distraction from actually doing work.

"We all know that there's this often-discussed fundamental tension between gameplay and story. That story seems the opposite of what games are supposed to do. These quite heated religious battles have haunted the game design community for decades -- around if and whether games should have stories in them," Mateas said.

"Yet against this grim background we're seeing a Renaissance of work in interactive storytelling," Mateas said. "We've seen creators create a lot of interactive stories that work, in the sense that people are playing them."

He took a very broad view of what work is being done (Among other games, he alluded to The Walking Dead, Cart Life, Howling Dogs, and Spec Ops: The Line.)

"Indie and mainstream games are happily and visibly exploring many solutions to interactive storytelling," Rather than continue the debate, look at a game, he said, and evaluate it: "is it functioning as an interesting aesthetic object? Yes, it is! Let's move on."

It's Important to Take What Works

Mateas argued that you must put that debate to the side and accept that "maybe there's this bigger space of playable experiences -- things that you can play with, that afford play, that aren't strictly games, and there's a bigger space outside of that that are interactive experiences."

There's a good reason for this: Even if you argue these narratives aren't strictly games themselves, the "tropes and techniques are being brought into the inner circle of games."

"Wherever boundaries blur you have people wanting to defend the boundaries," he noted. "I'm saying, 'Let it blur!' This is how interesting innovation happens."

This is how you reconcile the "grim philosophical debate" with the "lots of interesting work people are doing."

The problem, he suggested, is that many designers have been trying to come up with One True Definition of what an interactive story is -- "a single definition of what is story, and the magic approach and theoretical framework that would allow us to interactivize that story," Mateas said. "The debate around storytelling has stalled because frankly I don't think this theory exists. There is no such thing as 'what is story and how do you solve it,'" which he described as "a very engineering mindset."

Rather, he said, "What people who are working in interactive story are doing is to turn to specific historically grounded storytelling traditions" that come from other media, and are rich enough to build on.

Working from Existing Models

There are structural models, he said, like The Hero's Journey. But rather than just telling a story using that framework, as a movie might, he suggested it might be more interesting "if you think about what it means to build a system where the system meets the player halfway."

Here's his basic premise for that: "I'm going to build a deep procedural model of The Hero's Journey where players... create their own transformative experience," with "a rich response to players at a story level. Where the story becomes playable and, importantly, replayable."

But the adaptability an existing framework doesn't mean that you can just grab any narrative form and follow it without deeply considering what it means to use it in a game -- no matter your design approach.

Many movies are built on a structure where the protagonist single-mindedly works to attain a specific goal that keeps shifting away from him or her. Most current games, however, "are not structures that afford a continuous intensifying forward dramatic move," he said. "How you build gameplay systems that allow and maintain this forward movement and don't fall back on the failure retry models that are common in gameplay" would be an interesting challenge.

How do you make a game where "the player is having an impact but is never hitting a brick wall"? That's the challenge he's talking about.

There are also cognitive models of storytelling studied by evolutionary psychologists such as Lisa Zunshine, Mateas noted, which games could draw from. "Our minds have evolved, over time, a number of cognitive modules -- problem-solving and representative mentalities that have evolved to solve problems," he said.

"Narrative basically taps into specific cognitive modules by feeding those modules refined, pure forms of the information those modules were evolved to process." These are "pleasure buttons in the brain -- cognitive capacities that we can tap for aesthetic purposes for narrative fiction."

And, of course, there are genre conventions to be explored in more thoughtful ways.

"Hey, let's look at Harlequin romance novels and really understand deeply the structure of how Harlequin romance novels are structured," he suggested. "Or we could look at contemporary detective noir fiction and do a similar thing."

The Problem with "Player Stories"

He stressed that the important thing is truly understanding the model you are building on. Many games approach a fiction genre, in particular, in an ersatz way. The key, he argued, is finding "some specific tradition and realizing that in some interactive storytelling system. And that's what allows you to make progress."

Many developers cop out of all of this by putting "letting players create their own stories" -- "which I think is good, and I'm interested in," he said -- at the forefront of what they're attempting to do.

But there's an incredibly important distinction here: "What I'm worried about is [using this approach] not as a way to abdicate authorship, but as a way to abdicate responsibility," Mateas said. "Any experience affords a sequence of actions you can later narrate to someone," he noted. Even washing the dishes "affords a narrative," he argued. It's just a very, very boring one. It has no arc and no meaning.

Anybody who has listened to someone recount their MMORPG adventures can relate to this.

"If that's what we mean by letting players tell their own stories -- by throwing any damn thing in front of them... that's a really weak, weak notion of letting players tell stories, and it's not really praiseworthy of us as designers."

No, according to Mateas, the important question is: "What specific tradition are you building on that you want to let people tell their own stories in? How are you going to afford letting players tell that kind of story themselves while the gameplay system and the interactive approach has to meet them halfway?"

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Nick Raymond
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The thing about basing games on a debate is that your not going to get a good game because the developer's heart is not in it. Some guy on a blog isnt going to change gaming, I am not going to change gaming, what is going to change gaming are developers willing to take risk, willing to get yelled at for their beliefs.

If we try to make games like we are making a recipe all we are going to get is the exact same game with a different coat of paint. Look at say Final Fantasy X and Mass Effect 2, both have solid stories, but Mass Effect 2 story couldnt work as a linear journey, and Final Fantasy X story couldnt work with Tidus just hoping all over the map. Their stories only worked because of the different way the story was told.

Ardney Carter
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"is it functioning as an interesting aesthetic object? Yes, it is! Let's move on."

Love this. I'm of similar opinion. The endless debates are not only tiring but ultimately unproductive. Make what you want to make. Don't care for what the other guy made? Good for you. Keep making your thing. Don't argue about whether he should or shouldn't have made it or whether he can/can't be in the "games" club. What does that actually accomplish?

Bob Johnson
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When he talks about interactive story telling I can't get past the fact that Choose your own Adventure books never appealed to anyone outside of elementary school.

But I'm all for creating another name for "games" that are narrative first affairs. Wouldn't that help developers/publishers to make better choices for their audiences and help consumers to make better game purchase decisions?

Also it would effectively end this "debate" because recognition of different distinct "gaming" experiences is what the debate seems to be all about.

Steven An
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You know why those books never appealed to anyone beyond elementary school? Maybe it's because almost all of them were about completely juvenile topics, like space pirates and slaying dragons? The Walking Dead is ostensibly a CYOA experience, but it definitely appeals to a wide range of people (it's not really about zombies - it's about making tough choices and being a leader). Don't blame the form, blame the content.

Changing how people use certain words is very difficult....and frankly, not worth our industry's time and energy. It's like trying to change what people mean when they say "Kleenex". Sure, it's wrong, but it's not worth trying to change it. Get on with making good games.

And plus, we have the words already to describe different types of "games". I can say that To the Moon is a story-driven game. I can say that Day Z is not. And so on. So really, let's just stop it.

Bob Johnson
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But did you ever think that the range of choices you can make in a CYOA are very limited by the nature of the form itself and thus that is why they have never appealed to anyone over 12 and that is why the topics remain juvenile topics?

Story-driven is like calling hockey a puck-driven sport instead of hockey. Or Golf a dimpled-ball and club sport. Its initials don't roll off the tongue either. We can do better for a name.

This notion that the discussion should stop is ridiculous. Quit talking about this topic because I said so? Absurd. Designers are always talking about what makes games games and the strength of the medium. etc. It is very natural to talk about these things. Sorry it makes you uncomfortable like we are killing your first born by talking about it.

Bob Johnson
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Your analogy needs some explanation.

Because any sort of choose your own narrative game is going to have the same limitations as a COYA book. YOu still have to write all the narrative parts.

The problem with the COYA form is the sheer amount of content needed just to give you a few sets of a few choices throughout. It sort of grows exponentially.

2 choices is twice as much. 2 sets of 2 choices is 4x as much. 3 sets of 2 choices is 8x as much. And so on and so forth.

That's why I think COYA books never were let out of elementary school. The amount of content needed just to give you 3 sets of 2 choices in a book is 8x as much content. IT's impractical to give you just a few simpleton choices. It's hard enough to write one good book. Now you have to write 8 good books to make 1 COYA? That inherent nature of the form is what holds it back.

And the choices just aren't that entertaining. Adults see through them. That's why COYA are for elementary school kids. Kick the dog or feed it Alpo. That's the range of choice you get in these things. And these limited broad choices make for a generic story as well.

Steven An
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Yes, it's hard to do well. But the Walking Dead proves that you can do it well, and when it's done well, it can be amazing.

Looking at what makes game unique is a useful avenue for exploring the space, but it's not the only way. If you don't want to explore story-driven games, that's fine, you don't have to. If you want to keep having this discussion instead of just making games, fine, you can do that too.

I'm all for exploring what makes games unique (I myself make mostly mechanics-driven games), but not when it starts to become exclusionary (since I enjoy a lot of story-driven ones as well). That in particular is a pointless discussion to have and just a waste of time. Sorry for killing YOUR first born.

Val Reznitskaya
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"But I'm all for creating another name for 'games' that are narrative first affairs."

To this, I respond with my new favorite quote.

"Wherever boundaries blur you have people wanting to defend the boundaries. I'm saying, 'Let it blur!' This is how interesting innovation happens."

Val Reznitskaya
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Words are also a kind of boundary. If we start referring to The Walking Dead as something other than a "game," we will be subconsciously steered away from talking about it in the context of whatever "games" are. Using language to group things into neat little containers makes it hard to talk about anything in between.

Val Reznitskaya
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It feels like an artificial distinction. Right now, we see a lot of debates around whether games "should" focus on mechanics or narrative. Yet there are games that not only focus on both, but integrate them seamlessly. Some of my favorite game experiences have come from designers who were clearly thinking about mechanics, narrative, AND the relationship between the two from the start. But creating word barriers helps us forget that there's anything between the extremes.

It wouldn't be harder to talk about The Walking Dead, but it would be really annoying to talk about your "metroidvania game with a Walking Dead-like decision system" when half the people in the room are busy wondering if that could "officially" qualify as a game. As long as it's relevant, why should we be pressured to care? It's usually not productive.

Val Reznitskaya
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I think there are some nuances you're not considering. On the one hand, it seems natural to want to use words the way they were intended to be used. It would certainly remove a lot of ambiguity and mis-communication.

On the other hand, what started as the "games" industry is now making all sorts of "interactive experiences" - and largely marketing them to overlapping audiences. The products have changed, but the label has not, and now it's being used as an umbrella term. Unofficially it has taken on a second meaning, coming to refer to anything remotely relevant that comes out of the industry. This is ugly and confusing. Unfortunately, sorting it out is hard and kind of risky.

Here's what I mean. Suppose we figure out what we mean by "game" and find new labels for everything that doesn't fit the bill. After all, there's nothing special about the word "game" itself. However, this is an industry of "game" developers who go to the "Game" Developers Conference, participate in the Independent "Games" Festival and read "Game" Developer Magazine. The label comes with the infrastructure. So basically, we would have to go through every bit of game-related anything and change "game" to "interactive experience," of which "game" is a subcategory. This would be a pain, but it's probably not impossible.

The problem is that if we didn't do this, we would be cutting the umbilical cord to anything that doesn't cleanly fit the "game" definition. Talking about The Walking Dead on a site with "game" in its title would be false advertising, and certain vocal people would jump at an excuse to pressure the narrative communities into the abyss. And there's a chance that people will fall back on the term "game" as a shorthand for convenience, the same way they use "comic" when they mean "graphic novel."

Ultimately, it's a question of whether all of that is worth it. It's not as simple as coining a new word - we have to consider the consequences.

Brandon Karratti
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Steven already mentioned the point, but whenever people mention Choose Your Own Adventure, I'm reminded of game books such as Lone Wolf and Grey Star by Joe Devar, which were CYOA books that also incorporated a pen and paper gameplay to them. Almost like a portable D&D session.

They were definitely written with youth in mind, but they offered a deeper experience than simply "choose a page," as your decisions throughout not only one book, but throughout the series, actually impacted your experiences. (If you're curious, you can pick the Lone Wolf series up on Android for free, I think.)

I'm definitely of the belief that we need to just kind of let the debate go. I never once questioned whether or not I "won" The Walking Dead. Or Heavy Rain. Or Dragon Age: Origins. Or Journey. Or, for that matter, Mass Effect 3. In our current culture, we already do the story-based games, across the landscape.

It's the experience of the game that matters, and when we get into those kinds of experiences, we're not looking for a win/lose scenario. We consciously/unconsciously just accept that "this isn't that kind of game." But then, out of the game, we start arguing about it.

Why can't we just let the debate lie?


...And I didn't realize that this thread had gotten so long. Apologies if I'm just blindly repeating someone else's opinion.

John Trauger
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+1 for the title alone. this is a silly debate.

James Margaris
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This guy eloquently stated what many of us have been thinking.

There is this weird fixation in game writing on tackling seemingly "big" question in overly-broad fashion and coming up with all-encompassing theories that fall apart under any amount of scrutiny. A lot of repetitive arguments based on faulty premises that predictably go nowhere.

In games writing people often try to tackle questions like "do games need stories", "do games need to be fun", "what is fun", "what makes things fun?" - questions that sound deep but are really uninteresting pre-philosophy-101 junk. A lot of emphasis on definitions and One True Answers.

Imagine if critical movie writing was dominated by topics like "do movies need explosions" and "what is humor?"

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Mark Slabinski
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I agree with most of what he's saying, especially when it comes to debate that ultimately leads nowhere but to more semantic debate. I do disagree when he says that player-generated stories is a way of abdicating responsibility. It doesn't matter when you recount that story to someone else, it only needs to matter to you. Ideally you would also be able to articulate the emotions you felt and why it affected you the way it did.

You don't just throw any damn thing in front of them, you throw things in front of them that you, as the designer, think will align in all these different ways that just might make people assign some personal significance to. That's the goal of any world where player-generated experience is an important aspect of the experience, I feel.

Val Reznitskaya
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I don't think he's saying that player-generated stories in general are a way of abdicating responsibility. To me it sounds like he's criticizing the developers who blame their players for making choices that lead to bad experiences. Taking responsibility would mean ensuring that if a player can do it, it will lead do some kind of interesting experience.

Mark Slabinski
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There are developers who've blamed their players for making the wrong choices? That's horrible.

Val Reznitskaya
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There are developers who try to justify throwing any old thing in front of the player by calling it a "player generated story" instead of thinking through the options in the way you describe. Those developers are putting the burden of having an interesting experience on the player. That's the "cop out" he's talking about.

Altug Isigan
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I think the kind of responsibility he talks about is to take on the responsibility to provide a complete game whose internal systemic interactions and relations with the player collapse into a meaningful plot-like experience. In other words, when you develop a system to a certain point but leave it incomplete by simply saying "well, uhm, the player can create his own stories anyway", then you haven't fulfilled your responsibility as a designer/writer. "Player stories" turns then into a term that you hide behind to cover up your incompetence or laziness as a designer/writer. That's like making an antagonist evil without further developing his character, well because you know, antagonists are evil, and the audience will understand that :P By doing so, you're letting your audience (players) down.

Ryan Watterson
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This was an incredibly astute talk. I think it was my favorite. Emily Short, Kevin Bruner and Tawny Schlieski also gave some talks that were incredible. Let's see just very briefly: Kevin's (president/cto telltale) was about the necessary differences in development strategies for interactive narrative vs. games and the making of The Walking Dead; Emily (creative director linden lab) talked about her incredible project Virsu and modeling personality traits onto characters; Tawny's (researcher @ usc IxR) was about her work and the cool cultural/communication thrust of her lab. All the speakers were great, some others included Warren Specter, Brenda Romero and Clint Hocking

Ryan Watterson
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I'm not sure, but they definitely filmed it with what looked like a fairly professional setup so I hope the talks become available online

Darren Tomlyn
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This isn't a silly debate - it's just not happening correctly and consistently.

Story n. An account of things that happen, either real or imaginary, (created and stored inside a 'person's' memory). (Think memory bank.)

Narrative n. A story that is being, or has been, told.

We already HAVE a label for 'interactive story-telling' - they're called puzzles, but we don't recognise that, because we're perceiving puzzles as and by their application, and not recognising what they're applications of.

Puzzle n. Interacting with creative stories being told, (narratives), through choice or discovery, (or inquiry?), or interacting with stories being told in order to solve a 'difficult problem'.

The main distinction between games and puzzles, is that for puzzles, the story must already exist - must already have been written - before the activity is taken part in, whereas the whole point about games, is to compete by writing your own story - the two are therefore rarely compatible, (a race to complete a puzzle is the only way I can see). This is why most so-called puzzle games, are either neither, (and are competitions instead - activities in which people compete to be told whether they have won or lost (often by interacting with a story being told)), or are games and puzzles interleaved with each other, nearly always at the expense of the game, itself.

If something has a solution, (or multiple solutions), the chances are almost certain that it's a puzzle and not a game.

This isn't to say that there isn't any relevant information that can be used in applying games, from the understanding of puzzles, only that it will be very particular because of what games are, and this is currently the main problem - narrative for its own sake, should always be optional in a game.

Altug Isigan
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I think that puzzles are very interesting examples to lay bare the distinction between story vs plot. Solving the "plot" reveals to you the "chronological story".
"The story must already exist". That is exactly how narrative theory sees narratives. They call the story that must already exist, story; and the way we discover this whole story, "plot" or discourse.

Darren Tomlyn
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At the minute there is no distinction being made between narrative and story, even though the basic rules of the language dictates that a difference between them must exist - which is a problem, and is why the discussions of such things are also suffering from inconsistencies, which is affecting the nature of such a debate.

The word story represents something much more fundamental than narrative - which is used to represent an application of a thing that happens (narrate) in relation to this thing we call (a) story:

Story (intangible thing)->narrate (thing that happens)->narrative (application of thing that happens)

This is how the related (functional) taxonomic hierarchy is organised within the English language, for the information such words represent, which acts as the foundation and cause for the basic rules of grammar governing how such words should then be used. (Plot is further derived from narrative).

But since we don't have such a hierarchy atm, we do not recognise or understand the full basic rules of grammar for the English language.

Altug Isigan
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Yeah, that's also why you hear some people saying things like "story narrative". I use the distinction between story and discourse as it is being put forward by narration theory. In this approach, a narrative consists of two layers: the story, and its narration, that is, discourse.

Currently people tend to draw a bold line between gameplay and story, which means they fail to see two things at once: a) that gameplay is one of the ways to plot the discovery of a story, hence, that it is discourse, and b) that their use of the word story is both too broad because it blurs the lines between story and discourse, and too narrow, because it sees gameplay as non-narrative.

Darren Tomlyn
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But gameplay != narrative. And the term/word discourse, itself, is too broad for what we need to distinguish between, and even describe, using the word story itself. (Narrative != conversation, either, which is why narrative isn't really discourse all by itself, either, since it only requires a teller and a perceiver.) (Of course, if people recognise and understand communication as and by its effects - as and by the perception, not the telling - then we have problems!)

Narrate and its application is simply about telling stories - of any kind, taking any form, and using any medium.

But games are not about TELLING stories - they're about WRITING stories. (My kingdom for italics.)

Games are works of art, as being creative stories told by their creator(s)/designer(s) etc., but such a story told, does not define the activity as a game, which is defined as and by the story written by the player(s). Any time a story told, replaces the written story, it ceases to be a game - if only for a moment.

Since puzzles require a story to be told, not written, they cannot be games, as and by themselves. (A choose-your-own-adventure book, is merely a maze in literary form.)

Competitions also require a story to be told to those taking part, too, which is why they also cannot be games - but they're barely recognised to exist at all, at this time.

Things people DO for themselves = writing their own stories
Things people DO for others = telling stories
Things that happen TO people = stories they are told.

Games are about writing stories.
Art is about telling stories.
Puzzles are about (interacting) with stories being told.
Competitions are about competing to be told a story.

Daniel Accardi
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Does anyone else get the impression that there's a bit of a contradiction in this talk, or at least in the way it's represented? It seems like the headline is "ignore the debate, go out and create as a way to determine the truth of issues;" but then we're told that in order to create, we need to "deeply consider" how existing storytelling models work in games, and "more thoughtfully explore" conventions.

It seems that the article bounces us back and forth between the two extremes (mental masturbation and unbound creativity) without making it clear that what's ACTUALLY being described is productive debate. We all agree that talking without producing is meaningless, but what Mateas is really saying is that producing without talking is equally meaningless. We do need to debate; we do need to explore theoretical frameworks; we do need to raise awareness, develop a vocabulary, etc.

That's a sentiment I can get behind, anyway.

Tyler Wright
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There has been a long-time debate of whether story belongs in games or not. Yes or no. Plot enriched vs gameplay purist. Mateas is pointing out that this specific debate is over, because "We've seen creators create a lot of interactive stories that work, in the sense that people are playing them." And so, in a sense, time to move on to the deeper debates of how this all works. Which is a discussion fueled by innovative approaches and experimentations.

From my own experience about 1/2 of my conversations attempting to delve deeper into storytelling mechanics and their obstacles result in counter-arguments against trying to force story (something relegated to film and book) into games. That's not a debate I care about, because I feel meaningful story is absolutely right for games, that it hasn't been fully realized yet, and that most arguments against the concept will be deflated when we as an industry take those real strides that come from these deeper discussions.

marty howe
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Isn't it obvious? As a young industry, we have to use what works (movies and books)

Most current games, however, "are not structures that afford a continuous intensifying forward dramatic move,"

Yes they are. I can only speak for linear action games, because those are the games I make, but you're always progressing to bigger and more elaborate environments, puzzles, objectives, and combat through ever more powerful enemy types and numbers of enemies (start small and build to a climax)

Exactly like movies and film.

"How you build gameplay systems that allow and maintain this forward movement and don't fall back on the failure retry models that are common in gameplay" would be an interesting challenge.

Don't retry. Don't kill the player. And you're always moving forward. Your health should deplete to 10, 5 etc But dieing outright should be because of something deliberate that you do (walk off a cliff, stand in the middle of a gunfight and do nothing etc)

I'll never forget playing Half Life 2, and not dieing for 2 or 3 hours. In Terminator 2, or Star Wars, or Die Hard, the protagonist never dies. Only comes very close.

And don't say its not a good analogy, I think its the best analogy. Because people unconsciously know the structure of a basic film or book. They have a subtle expectation almost. They pretty much know what they're gonna get (good guy beats bad guy, gets girl, saves the day)

An example is Bioshock infinite, you lose the girl, then rescue here, then lose her again, then rescue her again (about 3 or 4 times) Because it's a game, its accepted. But if that happened in a movie, people would walk out. Because it's boring as f**k to see the same thing happen over and over. Remember, consumers are programmed, and if something doesn't feel right, they're thrown out of the narrative and can't enjoy it. Keep it simple, rescue her once. Twice maybe, if you think of a clever way.

And don't say its a 20 hour game, so we have to rescue her 4 times. Keep that idea, use it once, and be creative and come up with other objectives, instead of repeating the same task which feels like a chore, or a job, or work. Instead of fun.

Also, as story tellers in games, we have to give players every emotion. There's a check-list of emotions we go through in books and film. For example, if you watch an Alfred Hitchcock movie, you're guaranteed suspense. But you also get action, horror, laugh out loud comedy, romance. All paced and delivered perfectly, so that the core experience is suspense, but as human beings we get those other emotions catered to also during those 90 minutes. Same as Predator 2, Robocop, Inception, Dark Knight. It's all the same.

The sooner we apply structure to game story telling (the 'formula' that movies and books use) the sooner games will become truly great.

We have to follow what works and learn from it (movies and books) Because if we don't, how do we get better? Copy ourselves?

Luis Guimaraes
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For me the debate is only productive when it's about using AI and leaving a huge part of linear media conventions out of the talk, except for one special thing: timing. Yes, games are good at exploring space and that's why everything seems to be based on "location, location, location" triggers. But that's extremely limiting.

IMO, things should keep going on with or without the player, regardless where he is, that way anything he does will change something in a meaningful way (e.g. character A can't steal from character B at place X and moment Y if the player gets in his way and impede or delay his plans, so many other things down the chain of events are affected and npcs have to adapt their plans to different schedule and location, or give up and move on to their next task.

That way you don't even need an epic 60-hour plot. Make it so the game always ends in 3-4 hours and it's perfectly enough, specially because every time you play and see and do different thing that unveil more and more of what is going on, and you can't be at more than one place (location) at once (timing) so you can't see everything at once, and can't also do and not do things at once so everything will turn out different every time unless you play exactly the same.

A game with 3-4 hours can be finished in one sit and provide a full experience, yet you're bound to play it multiple times to experience everything that's possible. It's also not so much of a burden to writing and design to prepare each character and the overall plot to multipler possibilities as it's not that long anyway and a lot of time will be spent in gameplay and travelling of player and npcs around the playable world (which can be a single house or a small city or a farm or a huge open world, whatever).

And it's actually a game, you can manipulate events to fulfill any goals you might have of ending you want (achieve) or you can just stalk around to see how things develop without without your input (explore). It's your call and thing happen because things happen, nothing is written on stone, there no "choose who dies and how lives" bullshit, you can save both if you're play well enough or you can let both die for profit or to simply see what happen next, or can make the damn choice if you want (but it won't pop up for you, you have to think, take action and do the damn things to create the outcome you want). Or you can just stay the 4 hours AFK and the game happens and ends anyway.

Fair, meaningful systems with deep stories inside them. The video-games way.

That's what I have in mind whenever this topic pops, just can't afford time and resources to make. But someday I will, maybe text-based prototype if that's the case. Until then, I'll keep answering "no, whatever we're doing now is not good enough for me".

And yes, whenever these discussions are about "if" they're completely useless. We really should stop them already and jump into the "how" side of things.

Joe Zachery
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This is not going to change because it really not about that. Gameplay vs Story is really about game developers wanting more powerful console versus working with good enough hardware. People feeling they need more to be able to achieve their ideas. Compared to using what you have and trying to find a way to make it work. As long as you have companies like Nintendo that will say they care about gameplay more. Even though it really about them not wanting to make a overly expensive powerful hardware. You are going to have this debt because their are the others on the other side. Who feel they can't make a game without it being next generation. The story is just there to allow them to have a reason to try something outrageous.

Tyler Wright
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No, not at all. It really is about Gameplay vs Story. Hardware and graphics only come into the argument for those game developers who don't understand narrative, and why people respond emotionally to a great story.

Kyle Orland posted a response on an interesting topic Op-ed: Why photorealism isn’t the key to emotional gaming experiences:

A game doesn’t have to look like a photograph to convey emotion any more than a Pixar movie or a Picasso painting does. The real emotional storytelling moments that people remember aren’t driven by the ability to see the acute detail in a character’s eyes. They’re driven a combination of strong world-building, compelling, believable writing, and most importantly, engaging scenarios that make the player’s actions feel integral to the experience.

Joshua Darlington
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I can see why some people use epics, picaresques, novels, TV, cinema, branching narratives, IF, chatbots, pen and paper RPGs and etc as models for new narratives. However our possibility/opportunity space has increased dramatically since all of those forms were developed.

Arthur De Martino
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I wonder, does the classical "visual novel" approach bad? Does it do not work?
I tested with a small group of players after cutting down the interaction vaccum you usually have in said games (Every conversation had a choice, meaningless as it is. Almost a choice every minute) and they felt engrossed by the story since they were (or though they were) shaping up the world and the characters around their choices.