Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
April 16, 2014
arrowPress Releases
April 16, 2014
PR Newswire
View All





If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb sites:


Film Director Del Toro Developing Video Games
Film Director Del Toro Developing Video Games
July 28, 2010 | By Chris Remo

July 28, 2010 | By Chris Remo
Comments
    89 comments
More: Console/PC



Director Guillermo del Toro, known for his films including Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, has signed a deal to develop multiple games with an unspecified "big company," and plans to announce the titles in the coming weeks.

"We're going to do games that are going to be technically and narratively very interesting," del Toro told MTV news in an interview this week. "We're announcing it in the next few weeks," he said.

"It's not a development deal; we're going to do it," the director noted, implying that he, or a company with which he is closely involved, will be working on the games directly.

In 1998, he founded the production company The Tequila Gang, which has produced numerous films on which del Toro has worked, including The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, and next year's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, the latter of which he is writing but not directing. The Tequila Gang may be the "we" in del Toro's statement that "we're going to do it," but he did not clarify.

Known for his exploration of game-friendly genres like fantasy and horror, del Toro has been bullish on the creative potential of the medium. Last year, he declared that "in the next 10 years, there will be an earthshaking Citizen Kane of games."


Related Jobs

Telltale Games
Telltale Games — San Rafael, California, United States
[04.15.14]

Senior Platform Engineer (Xbox One & PS4) @ Telltale Games
Nintendo of America Inc.
Nintendo of America Inc. — Redmond, Washington, United States
[04.15.14]

Associate Software Support Engineer
Nintendo of America Inc.
Nintendo of America Inc. — Redmond, Washington, United States
[04.15.14]

Software Support Engineer
Nintendo of America Inc.
Nintendo of America Inc. — Redmond, Washington, United States
[04.15.14]

Software Support Engineer










Comments


Tadhg Kelly
profile image
In other news, world famous architect Daniel Liebeskind is getting into professional face painting.



Other than the fact that they tend to bring a lot of money with them, film directors "getting into gaming" is and always has been a meaningless bit of news other than for the comedy value. With all due respect to Mr. del Toro, his craft is storytelling, which has basically bupkiss to do with videogames.



Ironically bringing an architect in to work on a videogame would seem a closer fit.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
Games aren't a storytelling medium folks. No matter how hard they keep trying to bang that drum.

Joel Sassone
profile image
Some games are greatly enhanced by the story. That drum has been banging quite rhythmically for some time.



But we'll see. Too bad he couldn't just make the Hobbit movie, though.

George Kotsiofides
profile image
Hi Tadhg, how're you doing? ;)



"Ironically bringing an architect in to work on a videogame would seem a closer fit."



It would do, but the only example I can think of off the top of my head where this actually *did* happen was in Bungie's 'Oni'.



The levels weren't very good...

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
Hey George,



I'm doing all right.

Tim Carter
profile image
Tadhg, that is not entirely true.

Mark Morrison
profile image
i think it depends on the business context, project, and the filmaker/s. generally, the game environment is still too volatile and wacky for film makers who need a lot of money to keep their camp happy.



btw- i don't think the storytelling argument is relative here (as much). filmmakers are but one minority of the storytellers out there ;)

Aaron Canaday
profile image
I don't mind film directors coming in to work on games. There is a cinematic and story skill-set that is still very valuable. Games like Mass Effect, Drakes Fortune, and other popular games nowadays benefit from people with these skills. Perhaps these directors may not have the ability to SOLELY conceive a project that is an amazing GAME, but saying they are completely useless is an over simplification.

David Tarris
profile image
Tadhg,



There are lots of ways to tell a story. Stories can be about anything from the rise and fall of empires or the personal journeys of individuals. What makes games unique is the involvement of the user in the storytelling process. As a player, that empire can rise or fall because of my decisions as a ruler, or that character can grow to be defined by my actions.



My oft-mentioned favorite game of all time, Deus Ex, is most memorable to me for its story, requiring the player to constantly make choices (both in dialogue and in gameplay) that alter the course of the story. The story was so memorable not in spite of using the video game medium to tell it, but because of it.

Alan Rimkeit
profile image
"Tadhg Kelly - Games aren't a storytelling medium folks. No matter how hard they keep trying to bang that drum."



Really? Then I guess all that awesome story telling in all those great Bioware and Black Isle games I have played over the MANY years were just a fluke. O.o To to mention games like Ico, Psychonauts, and the list goes on and on....

Maurício Gomes
profile image
Hey, steven spielberg game is lots of fun and has no decent story.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
Again with the "Citizen Kane" of games... Citizen Kane can stay where it is thank you very much.



David, Deus Ex is a great example of how the game's story is intertwined with the player's story. In this sense games can tell stories in a way other mediums can't.

Alan Rimkeit
profile image
KOTOR is another game that is a great example of a game that balances gameplay and story very very well. The original Baldur's Gate is another one that comes to mind as well as the original Fallout. There is lots of story in all of those games. They are all very story driven. In fact, with out the stories, the game would not go any where and the players would have been BORED.

DaFacts1on1 Jack
profile image
When I shop for games, I'm not looking for bedtime stories to justify whether or not I should spend 65 dollars plus. I'm actually looking for strong game design that will have me hooked for hours forgetting the world's BS.



If I want someone to tell me a story; I'll buy a book,... If I want to sit through endless unskipable cinematics then I'll buy movie tickets instead. Film directors being game developers is as relevant as the Obama's presidency!!!!! Be for real people, this is the problem with game development as we know it. Everyone wants to put focus on everything but game play by telling stories or having endless cinemats.



It's not overly complex and it doesn't need to have this lengthy story.

Just a theme with real good engaging game play.



THis is laughable,...so Curt Schilling, R.A Salvatore, Todd Mcfarlane, oh and yes who can forget, John Milius (writer on HomeFront), really, how relevant are these people to the game industry.

Haven't seen these projects ongoing now for years. Bottom line is that these experience are usually crafted on the floor by game professionals not Hollywood stars or directors. Also, if the industry isn't already suffering from the "Too many chefs in the kitchen syndrome" this is total non-impactful hype!!!!



Watch these projects and sales, working on everything but a game will not survive the market especially with development that ignores these fundamental of making fun, FUN!!!!!

Nilson Carroll
profile image
Games are just like any other art; they need specific and vague qualities to make them what they are. Story-telling in video games is not crucial, but if they want to make "the Citizen Kane of games," I don't see why they shouldn't. I think this is wonderful news.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
David, what you're describing is choices. The core traits of stories are:



* tight plots

* directed attention

* edited timelines

* compelling characters driven by inherent motivations



Games do none of these things because they are not a storytelling medium. They may dress themselves up with little bits of story, forming something of a loose thread, but really what defines a game is its setting, interactions and robustness of gameplay. They are certainly a visual medium, occasionally even a cinematic, artistic and often engrossing medium. But they are not a storytelling medium.



That applies as much to Mass Effect as it does to Tetris.



In order for games to continue to develop, we need to stop looking to movies as some sort of example and stop looking to movie directors as some sort of lodestone of talent. I like del Toro's films for the most part, but the skills of writing and directing films do not automagically translate over into game making any more than they do into writing symphonies.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
profile image
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Tadhg, but they should be tempered by the fact that not all film directors grossly misunderstand gaming. I don't know the nature or extent of Spielberg's involvement in Boom Blox but as far as I can tell without playing it, it is not cinematic and non-interactive but is based on fun, arcade gameplay.



Perhaps Del Toro has some decent "story" ideas that translate well into gaming a la Deus Ex. It doesn't help that he makes statements like "gaming will have its Citizen Kane". We have already had our share of Citizen Kanes thank you! If he is not aware of them then perhaps his foray into gaming will be misguided...



And anyway, what is with all this Citizen Kane nonsense. It's just a film that critics, not *audiences* tend to agree is the "best" film. I haven't seen it but I don't have time to watch it with more excellent films being released each year. I saw Inception and Toy Story 3 recently and they are both absolutely fantastic! And while I'm here, Pan's Labrynth was very good but a bit overrated. :P

Ollie Barder
profile image
Tahdg, it's nice to finally hear you preach the incompatibility of film inspired narratives in games!

Matt Glanville
profile image
"If I want someone to tell me a story; I'll buy a book"



Well If *I* want someone to tell me a story, I'd *prefer* to buy a game. What you're talking about is personal taste.



With regards to strong storytelling in games: 'not been done much' is not the same as 'can't be done'.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
Matt, people have been saying that for 20 years. It doesn't work.



The point is that game developers and fans should be comfortable in their own skin and celebrating their own artistry through their own medium. The constant attempts to create an unholy alliance of games and movies is just Hollywood envy. Always has been.

Christiaan Moleman
profile image
Games are different things to different people. They are not one thing.

Matt Glanville
profile image
Tadhg, if early film makers took your approach we wouldn't have the rich diversity of modern cinema that auteur theory brought about. Just repeating "it doesn't work" doesn't make it so.



As Christiaan says, it's all down to the individual. I'm sorry you can't get the same pleasure the rest of us get when strong mechanics are perfectly complemented by (and, importantly, interwoven with) a strong narrative. Perhaps this is a problem with your own ability to appreciate these elements and not one with the medium itself.



The same could be said for the fact that not many games display these qualities and intelligent design; maybe its because of bad designers/writers (or ones who just don't understand enough it yet), NOT a limitation of the medium.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
Matt, people have also been saying that "early film-makers and auteurs" thing for 20 years. It's a very old refrain, right up there with "games are still in their infancy".



It's also complete nonsense. Auteur theory is all about empowering the director to create the story and vision as he feels, irrespective of business concerns. However auteur films are still, ultimately, stories - and they still follow the same essential structure. "Auteurism" is a technique, a working method and a statement of principles. It is not a different kind of story, just a story told in a different way.



Similarly, the "we are all individuals" argument is basically an extended evasion from critical thinking, also used forever and a day. All it is is a fear of reductionism because reductionism tends to expose pet theories to evidence and show them to be wanting. There are literally hundreds of thousands of examples of games out there, so it is not unreasonable at this stage to suggest that there are commonalities and observable traits of what works and what does not. The general rules of play, as it were.



Just as we are comfortable with regarding other media as having certain rules to their form while at the same time saying that each is individual (poetry has commonalities of rhyme and meter but each poem is also individual at the same time), we are more than able to look at the vast swathe of games and infer some fairly straightforward ideas of how videogames might actually work, what doesn't really work at all, and thus figure out how to make better ones.



Like the auteurs, such critical thinking would advance games as an art just as it did for film. We would grow considerably more comfortable in celebrating the art of what we do rather than the art of what someone else does, develop our own language for describing this (as opposed to borrowing from film language like "acts" and "plot points" and "hero's quest" and other irrelevant terms).

Adam Bishop
profile image
I think it's great to see people like Del Toro getting involved in the games industry. We have *way* too many games whose only inspiration seems to be Aliens, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, and I welcome the infusion of new ideas that people from other industries and backgrounds can bring.



I really don't understand these arguments about stories in games, honestly. Some people like games more if they have a story, some don't. Some people think it works well, some don't. Why can't we just play the games we like and stop trying to convince other people that their personal taste is wrong?

Anton Pustovoyt
profile image
I don't understand where is all the negativity coming from. If you like action packed games, it's up to you, but why assume everyone is the same? I personally love good story in games to follow (and then I am mainly thinking about RPG, and such wonderful games as Fable or The Witcher), good scenery and atmosphere would not hurt either.



If you dont like stories, up to you, but it aint necessary to say it's wrong for a game to have it.. (And yes, I like cutscenes too).

David Schultz
profile image
You are wrong to say that video games cannot be a narrative-driven medium. I'm just not even sure how you could pretend to hold such a position. It is true that video games do not need much of a narrative to be enjoyable depending on the scope of the game, but it is also true that certain games possess a very strong narrative.



If what you mean is that narratives in video games are different than those in film or novels, and a director's understanding of narrative in film does not correlate to an understanding of narrative in video games, then I agree with you. However, there are still enough commonalities between film and video games in terms of visual language and narrative tools that I don't see why someone who possessed knowledge of both mediums couldn't contribute and make a great video game. In fact, there is enough crossover in terms of talent between these two mediums to suggest that it happens everyday.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
profile image
"We would grow considerably more comfortable in celebrating the art of what we do rather than the art of what someone else does"



Exactly. We have numerous examples of genius game creators and genius games, without worrying about this Citizen Kane bullshit. We needn't let cinematic conventions limit the scope of games.



The complaint isn't about games containing story (which is a vague word that is bound to lead to misunderstandings). It's about games containing *cinema*, which necessarily implies reduced interactivity. The industry is only growing in areas where there are cut scenes short or non-existent...

Matt Glanville
profile image
Well Tadhg you seem to have a good understanding of the history of cinema but I can't help think you are just being pessimistic. No one ever achieved anything by insisting it can't be done. All they do is eat humble pie when someone else eventually proves them wrong.



In this case you have already been proven wrong because many games have displayed extraordinary storytelling power, in some cases far beyond the effects of what a movie equivalent would be. I don't really see what your point is exactly. What is wrong with games that means they can't tell stories, or be the vehicle for someone else's story? Perhaps you're assuming all games have to follow cinema's structured, linear narrative and disregarded the vast potential of emergent narrative. Both can be strong and equally valid.



Also, there is nothing wrong with borrowing terminology from other media where appropriate. The terms you listed are more than suitable for describing both films and games. You seem to be determined for games to reinvent the wheel when it comes to cultural identity, but this is only going to put up a barrier and distance the people who are unfamiliar with them.

Andrew Grapsas
profile image
Sooo... when do we video game developers get to start making big-budget films?

Taure Anthony
profile image
@Andrew good point.....but I think its a one-way street.

Charles Stuard
profile image
Games can be a story telling medium, if they choose to be. Games can be much longer then movies, giving their stories more depth like a novel. They can be much more visual then books, giving them more directed imagery, like a movie. And moreso than any of these other mediums, games can immerse a player beyond the realm empathy. The immersive qualities of a game far exceed the lack of "linearity". It just requires a different kind of skill set, a different technique... but a story is told just the same.



As much as people claim movie directors don't understand games, it seems just as true that so many game developers don't understand story.

Todd Boyd
profile image
Just because you are a musician doesn't mean you can act. Just because you are a celebrity doesn't mean you can design your own clothing line. Just because you are a director doesn't mean you can make a decent video game.

Bonnie Nadri
profile image
Within the MMO, storytelling absolutely IS critical. I think where most people get lost is the differentiation between "story" as purpose and "story" as context; while it may not be a required factor for motivation to play (which is fairly set upon interest or enjoyment of the mechanics), it is very definitely a required factor for all the "intuitive" things that must be present within a world (and make sense!) to drive players to those mechanics and the related challenges they present.



A "world" has no sense without an origin and some sense of the encompassing motivations of the NPCs and players operating within it. Its history, struggle, culture and goals are quite necessary (at least initially) to engage and motivate; every bit of this is STORY.



Does anyone really think Blizzard could have pulled off World of Warcraft without the depth and breadth of story it contains? Every successful MMO to date has relied upon story to distinguish its offer and bring marketability and (at least the appearance of) the unique to entice players into what we all know is essentially the same skinner box as ever.



Do all games need a "story" (context history, struggle, culture, and goals)? Of course not. But to say it is wholly unimportant is as naive as saying it must be an important part of all games.



Middle ground, folks. It's not that hard to find.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
David,



>> "It is true that video games do not need much of a narrative to be enjoyable depending on the scope of the game, but it is also true that certain games possess a very strong narrative." <<



Actually, no it isn't, and this is a further pretty typical equivocation which I would call the "can have cake and eat it too" defence. There are NO games with strong stories. Going one further, there are NO games with stories at all.



What there are three things:



1. Games that intercede the game with story clips. In good cases, these clips essentially set the stage for the next round of the game. They are basically curtain transitions between the action, and best kept short. They function in some cases as self-contained storylets at best, or as self-ego massage at worst.



2. Games that have an ambient background. Half Life, Deus Ex, most Bioware and survival horror games do this. What they are presenting is essentially a player driven faberge egg of game background, as discoverable and interesting as the player wants it to be. These fun components, with their choice engines and multiple paths and quirky NPCs who stand around waiting to be talked to provide a backdrop.



3. Games that insist on being "cinematic". This is where the game yanks control out of your hand to point you at something to you must look at, a quick time event, and so on. They are universally awful, and the worst excesses of Hollywood envy writ large.



None of the above things constitute a "story" by any stretch of the imagination. What they are is elements of a canvass, offering different degrees of control at different times.



Quite a lot of people are determined to try and redefine "story" into something that it's not, that being anything visual and actiony basically. That's the only contortion under which game=story functions in various peoples' imaginations is if they start spinning a whole lot of BS about being the hero of their own tale, a sliding scale of interactivity versus "fixed" plot, and basically make themselves feel legitimate about the fact that they like to play videogames.



And yet these so-called game stories miss the basic elements:



Do games have plots? No. Games have to be very clear about very simple goals, win or lose conditions. It is immediately obvious what the objective is, and the intellectual exercise is in solving the puzzle of how to achieve that.



Do they employ pace and editing? No. Games occur at the player's pace, in real time, often multiple times over because they've died in a level and need to reset. Editing is VITAL to actual storytelling (such as that practised by Mr. del Toro) because it essentially skips over the dull parts.



Are they dramatic? No. Drama requires manipulation of audience perspective, layering of theme and so on. Games require the player to control their own perspective, literal a. Games are certainly intense, but this is not to be confused with "dramatic" in the sense of a story.



Do they have a compelling central character? No. The player is the main actor in the game and doing so from a place of skill and intellectual tests while trying to win. They may certainly be enjoying this process, and even experiencing a lot of simple emotions (like the haunted house feelings in a survival horror) but they are only ever playing as themselves. A player is NOT an actor is the sense that a movie character is an actor. They are not a "hero" in the story sense because to be a hero in a story means to have personality and traits that are wrapped up in the tale. Thus Olivier playing Hamlet is Hamlet, whereas Bob the Gamer playing Hamlet the Game is just Bob, trying to figure out how to kill a Boss (Hamlet's uncle)



And so on.



What this is all about is Hollywood. Envy of Hollywood, a wish for the same sense of respect as Hollywood, and a playing out of childhood anxieties that people used to laugh at us when we played games as kids. We want respect, and we think the way to get it is by out Hollywood-ing Hollywood with a half-baked notion of interactive narrative that has never had much of an existence in real life. Meanwhile, in so doing, we define ourselves by Hollywood as a result and lose any faith that we have in ourselves to find our own way.



That's why "film director gets into games" is news. We seem to lack the confidence to say "so what?" as many other artforms would. Not to take anything away from that person, nor to exclude them, but rather to acknowledge that what we do is very different from what they do, and we are not secretly ashamed of it.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
My I present "Shadow of the Colossus" to the jury:



---

Q: "Do games have plots?"



SotC has a plot, an emotional one at that. I don't want to post spoilers but the definition of plot is "a plot is all the events in a story particularly rendered toward the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect or general theme"



Q: Do they employ pace and editing?



There are moments of the experience where the player controls the pace; the ride towards the colossi but once the battle is triggered the player is at the mercy of the game designer, the one who directed the experience. I will also argue that the game is edited. It's all boss fights, all thriller no filler.



Q: Are they dramatic?



The player's perspective is literally and figuratively manipulated. Discussing the figurative manipulation will spoil the game but as far as literal perspective manipulation the camera zooms out to reveal the scale of combat yet zooms in during the moments when the Colossi attempts to shake the player off revealing the character's fragile grip on this massive monster. These moments are carefully planned out to achieve a dramatic effect.



Q: Do they have a compelling central character?



This is where things get a bit strange for me in some 3rd person games versus others. When I play Devil May Cry 3 I want to be Dante and I know why he fights but when I play SotC there is this odd detachment/attachment with the character. He is powerful yet frail, his motives seem clear at the beginning but never really revealed. I found myself as much an observer of this hero as I was his controller. He has a back story that I could not penetrate, his silence spoke volumes, the way he trips and grabs on to Colossi made him more human than most game characters. My abstract actions are translated into some form of physical acting that conveys the character of the one i'm controlling.

---



What's really amazing about this game is that it has everything you would want to look for in a powerful story without actually saying a lot. The Story of the game is subtle and open enough that it allows the player to be immersed in the world created and directed by the development team behind it. Shadow of the Colossus is a story driven game, a very clever one at that. I hope that this isn't the one and only example that we as a creative medium can come up with.



We are a species of storytellers, so why wouldn't we want to have stories in our games? We have something unique that most storytelling mediums don't and they are called our players.

David Schultz
profile image
What you are defining as "story" is too limited. The three scenarios you submit are stories. Your main issue appears to be a question of quality, but it does not preclude those scenarios from being stories (maybe just not stories of which you approve?) A story doesn't have to follow a Greek story arc to be a story. A story is just a weaving together of events/ideas into a whole (however disparate or obfuscated). This happens in most video games with varying levels of complexity.



As for the issue of drama and characters. I completely disagree. How is creating a video game that someone else plays not a manipulation of perspective, setting a theme, creating a personage, editing a story?



As for the Hollywood issue, this I can understand to a degree. However, I don't think that games will be divorced from film until video games became a cultural institution that is viewed as being equal to that of film (it took films a long time to be considered to be equal footing with literature, as I am sure you know). Even then, we will still be using so much of the visual language from film that we have built on, that games will never be completely divorced from film. I don't think this has anything to do with lacking self-respect; it's a recognition of a very real history and foundational framework that we should not ignore.

Carlos Curran
profile image
Known for his exploration of game-friendly genres like fantasy and horror, del Toro has been bullish on the creative potential of the medium. Last year, he declared that "in the next 10 years, there will be an earthshaking Citizen Kane of games."



I don't know what del Toro means by the "Citizen Kane" of games but what that film did for film in general (help it achieve cultural legitimacy and prove it as a completely unique form of narrative) I certainly hope will happen for games. When I was working on "Six Days in Fallujah" I was really hoping that the release of the game would show publishers that one can release a game that has nothing to do with John Madden or comic book stereotypes and still make a ton of money. I figured that that would have opened the door to any studios trying to takes risks with player agency in narratives. To say that interactive video based experiences can't tell a story is simply saying they must all operate within the mechanics of a "game". If we can get out of that mentality and simply decide to provide a different experiences, or the constructs to all ow for different experiences we will be able to great narrative work that simply couldn't be done in writing, film or any other type of passive performance.

Michael Curtiss
profile image
Arguments such as "games are a storytelling medium" underlie the ignorance of the configurative aspect of how a user functions within the game-space. Markku Eskelinen summarizes this concept in the following quotation:

"Another quick look at Espen Aarseth's typology of cybertexts (Aarseth 1997, 62-65) should make us see that the dominant user function in literature, theatre and film is interpretative, but in games it is the configurative one. To generalize: in art we might have to configure in order to be able to interpret whereas in games we have to interpret in order to be able to configure, and proceed from the beginning to the winning or some other situation.”

This means that all storytelling elements are just extensions of the formal system of the video game, since their appearances are dictated by the game's logic; which is in turn manipulated by the player. So, while these storytelling elements may be scripted, the discovery of them appears to the player to be configurative. Again, this process of configuration shows that meaning isn't being conveyed through individual storytelling elements themselves, but through an understanding of their relationship to the rest of the system.

So, the statement that "games are a storytelling medium" is proven to be false when one considers the fact that any and all storytelling elements are simply individual pieces of a larger system. Stories, in and of themselves, do not convey meaning in the game-space, but the configuration of story-telling elements (and other elements!) can.

And the quote used in this post is taken from here, which also helps to explain this concept: http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/eskelinen/

Adam Bishop
profile image
What seems to be the case, and maybe I'm wrong, is that Tadhg is defining terms in an extremely narrow context that doesn't actually line-up with the way that most people use them. It seems as though to him a "game" is *just* a series of mechanics. So in that sense it may be true that games don't have stories, but it would also be true that games don't have music. But this is a nonsensical way of talking, because no one would ever say "I've never played a game that had music" for what I think are pretty obvious reasons.



When I say "I played Metal Gear Solid yesterday" I don't mean "I pressed some buttons to defeat some challenges" I mean that I took part in an experience that began when I loaded my save file and ended when I turned the console off. And that's what the vast majority of people mean when they say they played a video game. We can get caught up in silly semantic arguments about "what is a game?" if we want, but that completely misses the point of what most people are talking about so it seems kind of silly to me.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
The other problem with being a relatively young medium is that definitions of "art" and "story" evolved from more mature and older mediums. Debate comes from operating with the definitions that we have at the time but I have faith that games will evolve these definitions .

Michael Curtiss
profile image
@ Adam - games are *just* as series of "mechanics" - I think a better term is Bogost's "unit operations". That is an integral part of understanding what a formal system is. However, these unit operations have a great variety of shapes and sizes (from sound effects and QTEs to punching buttons), and I think Tadhg realizes this. And he also seems to understand that it is the configurations of these unit operations is what creates meaning, not the individual operations themselves (as per my earlier post).



edit: and this is just imo, but I think problems arise when people value one operation so highly that it excludes awareness of how it affects other operations, which is dangerous. Again, I think this is what Tadhg is arguing against here (please correct me if I am wrong).

David Schultz
profile image
Michael,



While I agree with what you are distinguishing as configurative versus interpretative (which is very interesting, by the way), I'm not sure I get how that eradicates "story." It seems what you are saying is that it changes the way that a story is relayed or read/interacted with. The story is still there, even if the formal system is different, they still describe a story and a universe. Would you disagree with this?



Thanks, I'll check out the text you referred to.

Aaron Thacker
profile image
Tadhg is of course right that (as he puts it) “game developers and fans should be comfortable in their own skin and celebrating their own artistry through their own medium.” And maybe that involves a certain degree of skepticism that a good film director can make a good game.



However, it seems to me that similar skills are involved in making (at least a certain type of) movie and game – chief among them being the ability to create meaningful characters and to put them in meaningful situations. Must a game (or, for that matter, a movie or a book) do that? Of course not, and there are plenty of examples of very good games that are more interested in mechanics than character and for which the act of design perhaps requires skills more commonly found in architects than in film directors.



But there are lots of games for which character and situation are important. For a game like that, I think we’re allowed to be excited at the prospect of seeing a film maker such as del Toro try his hand at making games.

Michael Curtiss
profile image
@ David
No, I don't disagree with the fact that the story is still there, as its own distinctive "thing". However, if you choose isolate it for analysis, you are then removing it from its place in the system; and it is therefore impossible to determine how story affects the player's *understanding of the system* - which is what is important to a game. This suggests that the story as experienced *when isolated* is different than how it is experienced when playing a game (because of configuration). So yeah, while story can exist as its own separate individual entity (or, unit operation), how that individual part relates to the rest of the system is what is important, not the individual part itself. So story's effect, in the most extremely traditional sense, is nullified . (just to make sure I am clear, while story in the traditional sense is nullified, story in the gaming (or configurative) sense is not.)

edit: Also, I don't think all story-telling elements in a game are unit operations - many just provide context for unit operations.

And Bogost's Unit Operations is written from the perspective of comparative literature, so you may have to slog through some parts.

Alan Kennedy
profile image
Tagdh, in one of your own blog posts from January 2010 you stated the following "The mistake that they are making is failing to build a compelling story. Not a game story, a marketing story.". Yet here you are stating the complete opposite, that a storyteller/writer isn't what is needed in the gaming industry. All I can think, is that you have had a change of heart. Maybe the writers you knew, were so much better back then.



So Del Toro comes up with a compelling story for a game, should he be dismissed; just because he is of the Hollywood variety of storyteller? Frankly given the mentallity of the majority of hard core gamers; putting a story into a game is a waste of time and resources. Better to put lots of big explosions, faster FPS and high DPS; that will keep the fanbase of most games happy.

Bart Stewart
profile image
> What seems to be the case, and maybe I'm wrong, is that Tadhg is defining terms in an extremely narrow context that doesn't actually line-up with the way that most people use them. It seems as though to him a "game" is *just* a series of mechanics.



And a story is *just* a series of character-based events consciously and deliberately defined by an author. I agree, Adam; I think both of these are unnecessarily narrow constructions.



In effect Tadhg is making the Roger Ebert case: no game yet has told a great story; therefore all games are structurally incapable of telling stories. This ignores the potential of the medium, whose full extent remains untapped. How many years elapsed between people making marks in wet clay and the development of the novel as a storytelling form?



I like to tell the "story" of how, in early Star Wars Galaxies, a squad of stormtroopers debarked near my house on Naboo. After a moment's panic, I burst out laughing as the entire squad followed their leader into the nearby river and started a synchronized swimming routine straight out of a Robot Chicken sketch.



No author consciously designed this series of events. They emerged as a function of several interacting systems embedded in the world of SWG. But I would argue that these events do constitute a story, albeit a crude and naïve one: "Stormtroopers landed in my yard, and I was scared because I thought they might attack me, but then they all started swimming and it was funny."



The quality of the story is not what matters, though. What matters is that it's possible at all for the player of a computer game to enjoy a story expressed within the world of that game -- in fact, a story that was never explicitly plotted by any author.



That this is possible at all implies that it may be possible to do it extremely well.

Michael Curtiss
profile image
@ Bart

The kind of stories you are talking about do take place within some game-spaces. The most memorable one I think is Dwarf Fortress (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaxIEFAdsyE). However, these stories, like you mentioned, were never explicitly plotted by any author. These stories are only testaments to the narrative-finding capabilities in humans when there isn't any. For example, in that DF example, all of the variables are simply crunching their numbers, which seems to give birth to an emergent narrative. It is simply patterns of values outputted by functions, dressed up in the skin of a dwarf, camel, and axe. I have found that emergent narrative, like that in DF, is not nearly as impactful as normal narrative, because in the game the player is consciously aware that it is just numbers being crunched - nothing more. I think the following quote by Raph Koster in "Theory of Fun for Game Design" applies here:



"Games train us to see underlying mathematical patterns. The fact that I can describe 'Deathrace' as being a game about picking up objects on a two-dimensional playing field is evidence that its 'dressing' is largely irrelevent to what the game is about at its core. As you get more into a game, you'll most likely cut to the chase and examine the true underpinnings of the game..."



I think the basic problem here is that you (and Roger Ebert) seem to think that stories are the only effective way to convey meaning, which is just not true!



Then again, if we ever come upon true AI, none of what I say here applies.

Tom Baird
profile image
While it feels silly to say there are no stories in games (I think everyone here can tell a story of something within a game, or a game storyline), I think that a Director is not role in which those stories are created in games.



In games the Director is the player. He directs the story. He chooses what to look at, where to go, how to get there, how to react, how fast to go.



A better movie based role for games development would be a writer, or possibly a set designer.

Movies are a third person experience, guided by the director (they did this, they did that, they went over there, and they died)

Games are a first person experience, guided by the player (I did this, then I did that, then I went over there, and then I died)

And that makes storytelling in games an incredibly different beast from author directed movies and books.



That's not to say that Mr. Del Toro doesn't understand this and may have great ideas for creating vivid and engaging environments to explore and engage in.

Kelvin Bonilla
profile image
It's interesting to see other people coming into an industry. I think more than anything, rejection or disinterest should be the last thing on our minds or any other industry's mind.



Innovation people, comes from anywhere. You don't have to have a degree or long term experience in order to contribute something remarkably innovative to an industry. This applies to any industry.



When we educate ourselves on something like say music, we learn what has been discovered and tested. We learn of what works and hasn't worked (note how I said hasn't instead of doesn't). This doesn't mean that we can't go outside those boundaries to create new things. Otherwise, we'd never evolve!



I agree that games don't need story; Lumines and Gran Turismo are great games!

I do also agree that some games (or should I say genres) use story at their main selling point even though they'd still be a game without them (a very horrible one though).



I love to play Final Fantasy 9 & 7, and quite honestly I HATE the battle system, but I like the story and it's what keeps me going. I want to see what happens to Zidane. I want to know where Cloud came from. You COULD make a Final Fantasy game with just walking around the world map and grinding on monsters, but that would be one boring game.



Could these 2 final fantasy games exist without story? Yes. Would it be a good game? No. Why? There's no point to it; it wasn't meant to be a grinding game, it was meant to be a story with some interaction.



I think Del Toro should be welcomed with open arms, and we should hope he creates something amazing. Why not acknowledge someone from the outside to want to join? What do we have to lose?

Adam Bishop
profile image
@ Michael

"For example, in that DF example, all of the variables are simply crunching their numbers, which seems to give birth to an emergent narrative. It is simply patterns of values outputted by functions, dressed up in the skin of a dwarf, camel, and axe."



And the story in a book is just a series of ink splotches on pages, output by a printer, dressed up in the skin of symbols that humans versed in a certain language can pick up as words. There is no fundamental "story" in ink on paper any more than there is in code running on a computer. Any story anywhere is one that has been interpreted by humans. Reductionist thinking may be helpful in some cases, but it can just as easily be stretched to absurdity. The whole is often more than the sum of its parts, as they say.

Meredith Katz
profile image
I think one of the key things to note when 'gameplay' and 'story' are discussed is that interactivity -- the key to gameplay -- can be used to serve story in incredible ways. Earlier, playing Metal Gear Solid was mentioned -- the games may be liberally joked about having the longest cutscenes in the known universe and little interactivity, but what it does with interactivity (again, the core of games, and what differentiates itself from traditional storytelling) to engage the player and create an attachment of the character TO the story? Is incredible. Think of the scenes of shooting Grey Fox or walking down the microwave hall. These are scenes which are agonizing because you, the player, are having to do it. It's not an issue of choice; there is no real 'choice' in this. It's an issue of player control. Watching a cutscene about this would be meaningless; doing stuff like this all the time would be meaningless. But the game takes basic activities you do all the time (shoot, walk) and put them in a context where you have to do it to survive but, because of the story which has been presented to you so far, you don't want to -- and this creates dramatic tension.



Likewise, FF7 was mentioned. What about when you approach the praying Aeris and suddenly, all your button controls aren't serving their usual function -- all they do is make Cloud almost attack her. Again, this interactivity is an act of engagement between story and mechanics -- they put the player in Cloud's shoes; this isn't what you're intending to be doing! You know these aren't the motions that should be causing it! But it's happening anyway.



Having these moments all the time would weaken them, perhaps. Perhaps not; Eternal Darkness is a game all about the player's standard gameplay actions causing story (narrative/mood/setting/tone, a combination of elements that all make up 'story') to occur around them. And Eternal Darkness is pretty well-liked.



But having key, important moments of story revolve around how the player interacts with the game? Incredibly powerful things to have in a game.



So I think talking about having one exist without the other will always be robbing from what the genre is capable of making players feel. They might 'enjoy' one or the other but I doubt they'd engage with it so fully.

Catalina Quijano
profile image
I would love to see Assassin's Creed fleshed out, I consider that game to have a story. Isn't that why they are making a comic book out of it?

Josh Foreman
profile image
Hrm... Seems to me that the word "story" is as slippery as "Love" or "God". In technical discussions like this it helps to establish precise definitions or else you just get people talking past eachother. For the record I agree in spirit with Tadhg Kelly. I'm not sure if he was getting at this or not, but it seems to me that what the artform of games bring is the opportunity to create a new kind of story, and our reliance on cinematic story is holding us back. Our current system denies agency to the player by defining them through a written character. At some point I think we will find a way (currently technological limitations still hamper our ability to do this fully.) to bring about this new form of story by bringing the setting, theme, and active agents, but allowing the player to drive the sequence of events through the mechanics that we have designed. Right now we have some games paying lip service to this idea, (Fallouts, Oblivion, Fables) though the use of rudimentary branching options, but they still feel the need to prod the player along with cinematic storytelling at times. I think this is a stop-gap while we await the freedom to craft a new kind of experience.



I wrote about this in more detail here if anyone cares to read it:



http://joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-i-hate-stories-in-v
ideo-games.html

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
Carlo,



(On Shadow of the Colossus)



.. Q: "Do games have plots?"

.. SotC has a plot, an emotional one at that. I don't want to post spoilers but the definition of plot is "a plot is all the events in a story particularly rendered toward the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect or general theme" ..



That's not the full sense of what a plot is. Plot is a contorted compelling thread throughout a story which drives forward the action and character, resonates from the actions of the central characters, provides the questions that they must answer and the mystery that they must solve. A poorly plotted story is one which is immediately obvious, and a film without any kind of plot at all is not a story at all (for example, Koyaanisqatsi is not a story).



My point with games is that because they are goal driven, they are not capable of delivering a plot. In SOTC there are storylets that transition the action (as I mentioned) but in the main what you are actually doing is riding a horse toward a dot on a map and then killing that dot. Similarly in Ico, there are storylets bracketing the game but in the main what you are actually doing is solving place-block-on-switch puzzles.



The problem with trying to create complex goals within a game (to drive a plot) is that they obscure the game goals. This results in such problems as seen in adventure games where the puzzle- and riddle- nature of the gameplay often leaves the player doing such things as screen-scanning (trying to find anything clickable on the screen to advance) and object-swapping (cycling through inventories to see which object fits in which lock). Subtlety and complexity do not engage the game-playing brain. All must be obvious and clear, otherwise we don't know what to do next.



However this is not to detract from the artistic feeling of either game. They both present a soft, slightly sad sort of fantasy world and ooze art. What they are not oozing is a story, but rather a feeling of a place and time, a window on some other place. A large part of my argument with games vs stories generally is trying to convey that it's the places that we make that are the art rather than a yanking fake narrative trying to make a movie.



Games aren't a storytelling art, they're a worldmaking art.





.. Q: Do they employ pace and editing?

.. There are moments of the experience where the player controls the pace; the ride towards the colossi but once the battle is triggered the player is at the mercy of the game designer, the one who directed the experience. I will also argue that the game is edited. It's all boss fights, all thriller no filler. ..



That's not editing.



Editing at a basic level is the jumps in time between scenes. A character says he is going to visit another character, and we jump immediately to the taxi cab he is in, and then jump again to the other character's apartment. That's simple editing.



Editing is also inside scenes though: A character conducts a conversation with another, the film is shot, and the editor removes many of the unnecessary lines and shots because they over-egg the scene, creating a tight scene that expresses everything that's needed.



Simply only having boss fights is not editing. That's just only having boss fights. The player is not "at the mercy of the game designer" in an editing sense at any point. I can literally spend ten to fifteen minutes simply running across the back of one of the colossi hitting part, grabbing onto handholds, or just taking in the view. It's all, as a player, up to me and it's all happening at exactly the same real time pace with no variation.



No game is capable of editing because primary to the game is the enabling of choice. Choice dictates that I am at my own speed and approaching puzzles or action challenges in my own way.



What a game can do is keep the level of action interesting, or at least on some sort of timetable. The AI director in Left 4 Dead is a great example of how this effect can work to continuously spawn zombies and stop the player from camping for too long. Games are great at generating pressure in this way and it helps to reinforce the worlds and paper over the cracks that may be in it.





.. Q: Are they dramatic?

.. The player's perspective is literally and figuratively manipulated. Discussing the figurative manipulation will spoil the game but as far as literal perspective manipulation the camera zooms out to reveal the scale of combat yet zooms in during the moments when the Colossi attempts to shake the player off revealing the character's fragile grip on this massive monster. These moments are carefully planned out to achieve a dramatic effect. ..



No, again, this is just not correct.



When I went to see Inception last night, Chris Nolan and his team used the full effect of camera tricks to yank my perspective around. From the grandest shot of a street folding over on itself to a focused shot of Leonardo DiCaprio waking up on a beach, the manipulation of focus created dramatic tension that carried all through the film (along with the music too).



In games, I control the perspective. Whether it's a side-scrolling platformer, a first person shooter, an overhead real time strategy or a transitioning set of fixed camera points (such as an adventure game), it's all up to me. I focus on what I choose to focus on, not what the game developer chooses that I should focus on, and this means that meaning, dramatics and such go out the window.



What they are replaced with is backdrop. In Doom, I could charge through the single player levels killing stuff or I could stop and looking at some crazy demonic symbols on the wall. I could get frightened (this was 1994, expectations were lower :)) by the sound of a cacodemon in the next room and not know what it was. These are all valid emotions and sources of tension. They are not, however, dramatic. We might use the word "dramatic" in everyday language with a wide variety of meaning, but in the sense of storytelling, "drama" means something much more specific (and is directly related to plot, see above).





.. Q: Do they have a compelling central character?

.. This is where things get a bit strange for me in some 3rd person games versus others. When I play Devil May Cry 3 I want to be Dante and I know why he fights but when I play SotC there is this odd detachment/attachment with the character. He is powerful yet frail, his motives seem clear at the beginning but never really revealed. I found myself as much an observer of this hero as I was his controller. He has a back story that I could not penetrate, his silence spoke volumes, the way he trips and grabs on to Colossi made him more human than most game characters. My abstract actions are translated into some form of physical acting that conveys the character of the one i'm controlling. ..



I think this more a description of what you intellectually think you do rather than what you actually do. What you actually do, when climbing all over the colossi, is look for their weak points and try to figure out an optimal strategy to take them down. Different players do this in different ways because they have different personalities that they are bringing to bear. Some players are inclined to empathy, others are inclined to behaving like asshats.



Games are certainly capable of evoking empathy. In Ico, most people describe some feelings of empathy for Yorda, for example. That is perfectly normal, and as humans we do want to care. However just because we care does not automagically mean that what we are involved in is a story. Emotional reaction to art comes in many forms, and most of those forms are non-narrative.



Taking the example of Koyaanisqatsi, it is perfectly valid to feel for the subjects portrayed on film and appreciate not just the beauty but also the message and emotional content of the art. Reading TS Eliot's "The Waste Land", it is perfectly valid to feel for the message and landscape and even project into the poet's perspective of how he sees the world without ever coming anywhere near a story. Image, song, sound, emotion, speech, music, all of these things are artistic vectors and the best artistic games use them to their fullest.



What doesn't work for games is when the game suddenly decides to stop all that and have movie bits. They are almost always tedious, self-referential and egotistical. Even in the much-vaunted SOTC the actual cut-scenes can be quite tedious, obvious and are actually removing me from the art, which is the world. In Ico, where much of the game has been set in this spooky and sad castle, there is a point where we suddenly see a whole dialogue sequence with the evil queen and it's actually pretty dull. In Deus Ex there are many a canned speech sequence with the characters where their personalities become paper thin. In Mass Effect, the moments where great plot twists are unveiled while we watch are bum-numbingly dull.



Why? Some of it is to do with writing and voice acting, sure, but in the main it's because these cut scenes are pulling us out of the art that is the world and foisting something on us that we actually don't need. I'm playing Starcraft 2 at the moment, and there is far more cut-scene and rambling "story" in it than in the first, and while these scenes are certainly impressive from a production standpoint I find myself hankering for the simple mission-briefing mode of the first game.



The mode of going to extended "movie moments" in games in order to somehow impart complexity and depth is just all wrong and it speaks to a severe lack of confidence in game developers to be game-makers and world-makers rather than wannabe-film-makers. A whole lot of games, such as Starcraft 2 and Mass Effect, could ditch this whole side of their experience with absolutely no loss to their quality or experience, and in fact be much better for it.



However, as artists we do not yet seem to have the confidence to do that. We're still relying on that Hollywood crutch.





.. What's really amazing about this game is that it has everything you would want to look for in a powerful story without actually saying a lot. The Story of the game is subtle and open enough that it allows the player to be immersed in the world created and directed by the development team behind it. Shadow of the Colossus is a story driven game, a very clever one at that. I hope that this isn't the one and only example that we as a creative medium can come up with. ..



As a piece of created art, Shadow of the Colossus is a wonderful game. As a mode of game-making, it is pretty typical however. It is, fundamentally, a 3rd person action combat game. It's world, on the other hand, is enchanting and continuously engaging as a place. As worldmakers, the team has done an excellent job of making us believe in this other place.



Where it goes awry, like all games, is when it decides it's time to stop all that and have movie-moments. Where it decides that we've had enough of being game art and we have to pretend that we're in a movie again. Where it jars is the points at which it decides it's going to adopt conventions of plot and drama and such, when they are unnecessary to the experience.



.. We are a species of storytellers, so why wouldn't we want to have stories in our games? We have something unique that most storytelling mediums don't and they are called our players. ..



For the same reason that we don't have stories in our sculpture. We are a unique species of ARTISTS, and our story art is only one kind of art. With videogames, what we have created is a way to make worlds, worlds that use game mechanics and pressure in order to convey something. What they convey exactly is all down to the creator, whether it be a sophisticated city like Liberty City or a very lean idea like Canabalt, that feeling of being in a world that operates by its own rules is the art that games are.



The pretensions of "story" are simply a crutch, a lack of confidence to be ourselves and tell the world that what we do is valid and righteous in and of itself. By buying into the language and ideas of story, we relegate ourselves to a side-show to the world of movies, and we envy them as a result.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
I apologise if I don't get to your individual post, but there are quite a few to respond to:



@David Schultz

What I'm defining as story is what story actually is rather than what some people would like it to be. A story is not, as you say "just a weaving together of events/ideas into a whole ". That phrase describes any and every experience we could have and applies as much to a ride at a carnival or climbing a mountain or going on a date as it does playing a game. Like free verse poets trying to redefine what "poetry" means in order to legitimise creative prose and call it poetry (but it's not) simply trying to redefine the meaning of "story" is just an intellectual exercise that fails the reality test. In reality a story IS a Greek arc of plot and character woven together to form a specific set of effects, and has never been anything else.



Secondly, "How is creating a video game that someone else plays not a manipulation of perspective, setting a theme, creating a personage, editing a story? " - by that rationale, how is a visit to a gallery to see paintings that an artist has created not a story. The same answer applies: It's not. Just because you've created a world that people play in and has an artistic message and themes does not make it a story in an of itself.



@Carlos Curran

Yes, to say that all games must operate within the mechanics of a game is correct. Where you're going wrong is viewing this as a limit to be overcome. Songs all operate within the mechanics of music, or else they feel like random mish-mashes of sound. Structure is not a limit, it's a tool that helps us do great work.



@Adam Bishop

I've heard this "narrow" argument before, and it too belongs in the "have cake and eat it" bin. Some writers, for example, intellectually reason that the three-act, two-plot point structure of scriptwriting is "narrow", but it's not. Structure and understanding of structure is incredibly useful. Where you say "just a series of mechanics", I say that understanding and using mechanics is the best to really place a player in a game world and deliver an artistic experience. If you think that game mechanics are in some way a problem then I submit that you have a severe lack of confidence in the videogame as art form.



@Carlo Delallana

I agree. We have borrowed a lot of language from other media and it affects our ability to think in our own terms.



@Alan Kennedy

That's (another) confusion of terms. A "marketing story" is a story that surrounds a product and attracts fans. So for example, Steve Jobs is a part of the marketing story of Apple. By hearing the origin tale of Steve Jobs, many fans are converted to his message of quality computers and other devices, which helps raise them above what most anonymous manufacturers make. Marketing stories are external to a product. They are not to be confused with actual stories.



@Bart Stewart

Actually, I'm not making the Roger Ebert case at all. Ebert's case is a critique of games from the point of film as a scale of quality. My case is the diametric opposite: Games are an artistic medium but not a story medium. The potential quality of their artistry is not even vaguely related to film in any way, and we should be developing our own frame of reference to study and explore. Your example of the Naboo stormtroopers is a case in point: You are laughing at an emergent effect of the game world. It's not a story at all. It's just funny. Trying to make that fit to "story" in some way and cleaving back to "story" as a frame of reference is limited.



@Kelvin Bonilla

What I'm saying doesn't exclude the Final Fantasy experience at all. It's hard to convey in this comments form, but world-making is a rich, not shallow activity. Where many games go wrong is where they pause the world and decide it's time to kick back for 5-10 minutes of watching some "story" bit play out. A large part of the appeal of the Final Fantasy games comes from the exploration of the world, uncovering it and finding out all its parts. But also because in so doing generates reward. Thus the exploration of that world must be clear and open, the very opposite of plot and drama. Immersion and story run counter to each other.



@Meredith Katz

Metal Gear does no such thing. It's hour after hour of tedious exposition wrapping around really interesting stealth-maze gameplay. What saves them from being openly dreadful is that they manage to retain a big sense of humour through the whole thing. If Metal Gear was not somewhat comical in its side-gags etc then it would be unbearably dull. Where game mechanics get inverted for specific purposes it can often be momentarily engaging, but equally for the player it can feel unfair. In many games there are points where players lose all of their weapons, for example, or are mandated to a specific mission in a specific way (when they could usually do something much more optimal). These are almost wholly negative experiences however and rarely produce the desired effect. The reason is that the game world has already established some rules and mechanics as a baseline and the player has accepted the scenario and started to learn how to play well. Sudden shifts in mechanics feel unfair, stupid and so on. It occasionally increases the fun (Eternal Darkness is famed for it, as you say) but commonly doesn't.



@Josh Foreman

I would not define it as a "new kind of story". What we do with games is make worlds. How artistic or just-for-fun those worlds are is where it's at.



Thanks all for the engaging replies.

Olivier Besson
profile image
was'nt G.Del Toro supposed to be involved into another troll (story), namely "The Hobbit"?

Please "big-company-of-the-game-industry", don't distract him too much!!

Adam Bishop
profile image
@Tadhg



This story has fallen well off the front page, so I'm not sure if you'll see this, but I'm curious, would you say that putting soundtracks in games is a sign of a lack of confidence in the form? After all, even in a game like Rez the actual mechanics aren't musical. It's entirely possible to play Rez with the sound turned off, and you could still get a high score. So should we stop putting music in games? I would argue that we should not because in many cases music enhances the experience. And even though the music is not fundamentally part of the "game" at a reductionist level, it is very much of part of the *experience*, which is what I think we should be aiming for. Ultimately I don't care whether or not the games I play and make are "pure games" or whatever you want to call them; what I care about is using all of the tools available to craft the best possible experience. I don't consider that a lack of confidence in mechanics, I think it's a confidence in the ability of different mediums to come together to create a more powerful whole.

Michael Curtiss
profile image
@ Adam - your earlier comment



The difference between a game and a story, again, is configuration. A game challenges the player to discover it's underlying structure in order to advance, while literature does not. So while yes, you could boil any piece of literature down to simple parts of a whole, the relation to games is not 1:1. So, if story in a game is mathematically-based, the player will find that out - only because the game, by its inherent nature, challenges the player to do so. Raph Koster's "A Theory of Fun for Game Design" points this quality out.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Adam



No of course not, any more than I would say you should leave out sound effects or animations or particle effects or interact-able objects (such as the clickable books in Deus Ex). You're misunderstanding my argument: I'm not a ludologist arguing for purity of game mechanics and nothing else. I can see how it might be construed that that's what I'm saying because of the traditional ludo-narrative divide, but my position is wholly different.



We make *worlds* when we make videogames. A world may well be as simple as a chess board or it may be as complex as Liberty City or the entirety of Azeroth. Mechanics and rules set the basis for how that world works, but discovery, levels, play, open-ness, closedness, mastery, mood, music, incidental characters and so on and so forth are all totally valid parts of that. They can be functional, hilarious, scary, tragic, artistic, all the rest of it.



My point is that to create a world is art, and that is the soul of the art that we do. What it is not is a story. Obsessively focusing on character and plot and other such ideas from stories are completely at odds with games and gameplay, world creation and immersive experience. They don't fit, and many many years of making games that try to make them fit has repeatedly shown that they really don't sit well together.



Storylets and ambient backdrop certainly have their place in the whole, and they can be funny, add value to the experience and change the game dynamics but they are, and always will be, transitions between gameplay and not the focus of the endeavour.

Meredith Katz
profile image
@Tadhg Kelly



I suppose all the other people I've talked to about the emotional impact of those control elements in MGS will have to beg to differ with your lack of emotional impact, then, but you can't say it "doesn't do it". You can say it "doesn't do it for you", and that's perfectly fair. Emotional engagement is an individual element, albeit one that can be manipulated towards a majority. The fact you didn't enjoy it or find that how it handled it increased engagement does not mean it did not occur as a general note, nor that the rest of us found MGS incredibly dull as you did. That's where taste comes into play -- all art (and games do make a stab at engaging with the individual as an emotional experience, as much art does, which is why I'm using the term) will have people who are into how that approach is handled and others who won't. One person's symbolism is another person's pretentiousness; on the other side of the coin, one person's beautiful simplicity is another person's "not enough to do", etc. All of these elements have a matter of taste, but that's just one of the risks IN design -- trying to find what appeals to a large group and designing that game towards them. A game designer does have to assume that the player is involved in the basic gameplay, style, the story (events/setting/etc) being woven, etc, to be able to manipulate those to effect; yes, some will be, some won't be. Given the popularity of the MGS series, I'd suggest that it's a case where "most will be, some won't be", mind.



Yes, of course, inverting game mechanics can be unfair. That's why it has to be studied and carefully implemented. Saying it can feel unfair doesn't negate the point that it can be very powerful and something that should be considered.

Meredith Katz
profile image
@Tadhg Kelly



We make *worlds* when we make videogames. A world may well be as simple as a chess board or it may be as complex as Liberty City or the entirety of Azeroth. Mechanics and rules set the basis for how that world works, but discovery, levels, play, open-ness, closedness, mastery, mood, music, incidental characters and so on and so forth are all totally valid parts of that. They can be functional, hilarious, scary, tragic, artistic, all the rest of it.



My point is that to create a world is art, and that is the soul of the art that we do. What it is not is a story.



I do love the way you've described the art of creating a game world. I disagree that it's not story -- or rather, not part of story, or might not become part of story as games continue to be made and explored -- but I think you got the nail on the head of how world-building and setting and immersion all are art and the basic soul of gaming.

Kelvin Bonilla
profile image
@Tadhg



I do see your point. What you say makes sense, however, it does slightly deviate from the point I was trying to bring up.



I do find myself exploring the Final Fantasy world because I want to see what it's all about, but if you've noticed the approaches of Final Fantasy 10 & 13, you will see that there isn't really much exploration at all. Actually, if you dare to explore in these games, you will be forced to advance the plot.



I see where you say that these games provide a "sandbox" for people to play in, but at least in respect to Final Fantasy 13, there really isn't a sandbox. Every map has a vast space to explore, but it's really just a scene. The game goes from scene to scene, essentially like some sort of movie. If you think about it, the major gameplay component of Final Fantasy 13 is the combat system. However, the combat system has 2 outcomes: Victory, (only has a significance when combat is story related), Defeat (Game over, start from last save). Besides going back to the save point, there is no punishment for losing... So if you don't really get punished by losing, and nothing really advances the game unless the battle is story related (which in the case would develop the plot further), why would this not classify as someone playing out a story? If the plot is already set, and we're traversing through it because it's the only way to beat the game, wouldn't that mean that we have to play out the story if we want to end the game? Wouldn't that mean that in order to finish a game we must experience the story? How could we beat the game if there is no story? It would just be a grind fest.



One thing I've been taught in making games is that if there is no "Win" & "Lose" condition, all you have is a tech demo. Without story, Final Fantasy has a lose condition, but no win condition. Without story, Final Fantasy would be a tech demo.



So I ask you, Tadhg, where do you see I'm wrong here?

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Meredith Katz



Individual perspectives are of course important, and I would't presume to try and outline a grand theory of enjoyment any more than I would a grand unified theory of all game genres. However that said it doesn't detract from what I'm saying at all. There are genuinely some people out there (quite a few) that enjoy anti-story films that deliberately screw with the conventions of narrative because they like the experimentation. Similarly there is an audience for free verse poetry and the like.



The arts being what they are, there is always infinite experimentation. However the arts being the arts, there are also clearly observable generalities of form. While the anti-plot film is an interesting exercise, the story form of film (arcs, acts, etc) is far more common and natural. Some of the discoveries within anti-plot filmmaking cross over into story film, and so the whole is evolved. But the general form remains because it is intrinsic to how it works. It's not just an audience expectation thing either, it comes from an instinctive place of pattern recognition and understanding. The same is true in music, dance, fiction, architecture, sculpture, etc.



The same is also true of games. There are some departures, experiments in anti-mechanic, in control-alteration, and so on and they all exist on the fringe. Some of those ideas make their way back into the form, but they don't really supplant it and make the form itself different. I can't speak for any one person's emotional reaction to anything (and that would be foolish) but often on the edge of the arts the people who are into the avant garde are deliberately trying to make a slight cognitive leap to see beyond, and intellectualise or rationalise their experience to be more than it was.



Control and rule alteration, for example, has been successfully used a few times in games, but many more times (for instance, in quick time events) gamers complain about it, finding it annoying to have their playing experience taken away and given back on whims. So that puts us back to it being an interesting and potentially entertaining tool to use as a part of worldmaking rather than an example of how the form itself is supposedly changing into a new kind of storytelling.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Kelvin Bonilla



Most gameworlds are not mere sandboxes. A pure sandbox of simulation with no purpose often makes for a pointless game, and usually doesn't really work that well. Games do need goals, and that means changing the landscape or a key part of it, difficulty curves and so on. Otherwise they get boring. That's why games have levels and Grand Theft Auto has missions. The pressure of a target and the promise of reward drive the players further on. So taken in that context, Final Fantasy makes complete sense.



On the combat, the fact that losing reverts to a save is not special. The vast majority of games do the same thing. The challenge does not have to be pinned to a total success or failure, it can be incremental. So you are playing a game.



What you are not doing is "playing out a story". Playing out a story is what theatre actors do on a stage with a script. What you are doing is playing a game, building a better set of fighters, exploring, and watching the landscape change. Just as in any regular game. All that the storylets and movie moments and ambient background are doing is, in effect, changing the level set.



Where things go off the rails (and part of why the FF games are consistently slated for not being as good as of old) is the movie-moment parts that start to overtake everything. They want to over-egg the development of the characters and so on. The result, as is always the case, is long boring and distracting dialogue sequences that serve no purpose, and whose content could just as easily be placed within the world as opposed to forcing you to sit and wait.



So that's where you're going wrong.

Bart Stewart
profile image
Doing my best to understand this argument, what I think I'm getting is that "game" (defined loosely as rules-based play) and "story" (defined roughly as events happening to people that are expressed through a deliberate plot) are two distinctly different forms of artistic expression with no intersections. If that's accepted as true, then it follows that a game can't "be" a story. It might have some bits of story bolted on to it, but when you're enjoying those, you are -- by definition -- not "playing a game."



If that's a reasonably close restatement of your perspective, Tadhg, then that leads me to two reactions. One is that I think most gamers and probably a majority of developers are going to find it too hard to accept, and will try to disprove it, either through words (as in this thread) or actual games... and I really look forward to seeing the latter. Even if they don't wind up constituting a "proof" of either viewpoint, the resulting game-story-things could be extremely interesting in what they tell us about what a game -- or a story -- is capable of being.



My second reaction is to look for a way to reconcile the two positions. Let's say you're right in your definitional approach, and there are no innate points of intersection between story and interactive computer game. However, as you say, there can be stories told alongside games, using the same technology as that which allows interactive gameplay.



In that case, is there any philosophical problem with the idea of simply calling these things "interactive electronic entertainment products" (or something shorter and more euphonious)? If people could agree that "game" and "story" aren't the same but can be made to work together to create an "entertainment experience," would that address your objection?



In other words, would the difference of perspective be resolved if everyone agreed to stop calling these things "games" and start calling them something like "interactive electronic entertainment experiences," a term describing an artistic form that encompasses both gameplay and story without conflating the two activities?

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Bart Stewart



Actually I think that hard-to-accept factor's what driven many developers to try and square the circle for about two decades, with basically zero success. What began as a simple sales tool to use on the shop floor (the promo reel) has become this large elaborate attempt at making some sort of interactive Hollywood, and it just doesn't work. Time after time we see the same terrible scenes, terrible characters, faux emotions, awful homages to other films - and even in the good games that do maintain a great game world, it still comes across as pretty lame. To use a theatre example, a whole lot of money is being spent on the curtain transitions, which nobody cares about.



I don't want to see any more attempts at reconcilement. I really don't. That's been tried A LOT and it just doesn't work. What I want to see instead is game makers actually considering their own work as worthy of some creative respect and making great artistic worlds that stand up as their own creation.



Renaming isn't really an option, and again it belongs in the same school of thought as trying to redefine the term "story" to fit a square peg into a round hole by pretending that square is just round with some edges. What we do is make*games*. Games that people play. That's our job, in some cases our passion and our life's work. We don't make interacto-plays or virtu-dramas or whatever. Other people may want to go try that and found a new artform, and good luck to them if they do.



But that's not what we do, it's not really desirable or a part of what motivates. We make games. With game mechanics. That operate in game worlds. And we should be proud of that art, and say so.

Josh Foreman
profile image
Thanks, Tadhg, for making me think really hard. As I already stated, I believe we are in the same philosophical camp on this issue. But as in most debates, I think the real sticking point is in the definitions: specifically 'story'. I get these from MW:



1 archaic a : history 1 b : history 3

2 a : an account of incidents or events b : a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question c : anecdote; especially : an amusing one

3 a : a fictional narrative shorter than a novel; specifically : short story b : the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work

4 : a widely circulated rumor

5 : lie, falsehood

6 : legend, romance

7 : a news article or broadcast

8 : matter, situation



You seem to be working with 3:b, and many others here (myself partially included) are using 2:a-c and maybe even a little 6 and 8.



When I speak of a "new kind of story" I don't think I am tying to pound a square peg into a round hole. I'm saying there is the potential for our medium, once matured and properly technologically outfitted, to add a new definition to Merriam-Webster. I don't think it's a target we can articulate and shoot for at this point, but I feel like it's out there, waiting to evolve.



But I totally agree that our current attempts of splicing game and story are horrid.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Josh Foreman



Actually I think what tends to happen with the use of the word "story" is that it is used in a dual fashion. For example, I understand what you're saying about, say, the use of the word as a shorthand for a generalised description of events (and indeed point to the explanation I gave about marketing stories above). Story is a word used in regular language in a wide variety of situations.



However the dual use comes from then stapling that to "Storytelling" and saying that because "story" is a word with a wide variety of uses that it must follow that "storytelling" can be applied to all of them. And if a game can be described as a situation, thus a "story" by one possible definition, then the principles and artistic conventions of storytelling must be applicable.



However, "storytelling", especially in entertainment and literature, has a very specific meaning. It means a Greek arc drama. All that's actually going on here is that a number of very well intentioned people are trying to conflate two entirely different things together through the use of a common word, but it's a a bridge that has no existence in reality. "Story" meaning a simple recounting of events is not the same thing as "story" meaning a marketing term to describe a sales tool for products, and is also not the same thing as "story" meaning a deliberately plotted, crafted and edited narrative presented in a dramatic or literary form.



Why this attempt at conflation persists is all to do with Hollywood envy and generalised search for artistic legitimacy. It's a deliberate confusion of terms to try and prove that black=white because white seems legitimate but black seems somehow inferior.



It's that sense of inferiority that is the problem. We lack the language to define our own legitimacy, we borrow the language from somewhere else, and it makes a bad fit. But we keep banging on it anyway and never really improving on what we make because the fundamental conception behind it is simply unreal.



So when I say "games are not a storytelling medium" I am quite specific: They're not and never will be interactive movies. They're worlds, and that's a whole different way of thinking.

Kelvin Bonilla
profile image
@Bart Stewart

@Josh Foreman



Thanks guys for your input. I appreciate your comments, as this has greatly helped me shift my thinking to better understand what Tadhg is saying. It seems the ambiguity of the word "story" made me think differently, but I see a bigger picture now.



@Tadhg



I sort of see where you're going with this. To further understand your point, my question would be, what do you make of the story writers for games in the industry? What do you make of their job? Considering your point is that Hollywood story and game story are different, does their existence in the game development world develop any sort of impact? What would you think is their responsibility as a story teller who creates a story for a game?





Separate note, do you guys know if there's any way to move this debate to a more exposed location? I think this topic is very interesting and it would be great to see other people bring in their opinion on this discussion. I think it would benefit the evolution of this thought and promote a different way of thinking to anyone who comes across this.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Kelvin Bonilla



I think they largely get a raw deal on two counts: First, they tend to get imported into projects to movie-ise a game up by adding lots of storytelling-style content that will never really work. Second, they tend to come from skill areas where Greek arcs are what they know how to do, and so have a hard time feeling that their work is of value because developers don't really give a stuff for their contribution. I've sat in on a few round-tables at events where game writers are often asked by the audience whether their work has any point at all, and that's not a happy place to be in.



However, game writing is a key to building a great game world. Getting out of the storytelling mode and regarding it more as an asset-building activity and it becomes far more relevant. An example is the radio station content in Grand Theft Auto, which underpins a huge amount of the mood of that gameworld and is some of the best writing seen in games. Another is all of the layered jokes and clues in Grim Fandango etc. Adventure games thrive on great writing snippets.



A more subtle form of game writing is scene depiction for artists. So this means describing locations, style, character behaviours and so on, all a part of the design process. All in all I think that the most valuable skill that a game designer can have (as opposed to a level designer, which is a different skill set entirely) is to be a great writer and communicator. It is as much a fault of how studios are run that they don't value this skill in the right way, and instead tend to treat a game designer as a sort of manager or implementer, and a writer as someone to come in and do the movie bits.



On your side note, no :(

Gama really needs a forum!

Josh Foreman
profile image
@Kelvin



I'm pretty jazzed to find some folks articulating these feelings I've had for years. I edited a little essay wrote a while back and posted it here at Gamasutra. It deals with some of these issues head on.



http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshForeman/20100729/5668/Why_I_Ha
te_Stories_in_Video_Games.php



I'm also working on some follow-up blogs to help foster this conversation. (Specifically, how to transplant the fruit of storytelling out of cinematics and into the gameplay)

Crispin Hands
profile image
@Tadhg



Have you played Uncharted 2 and/or Heavy Rain? By my definition of story, those 2 games are resoundingly successful at telling stories. I fell in love with the characters, loved the plot and wanted to know what happened next. I haven't finished Heavy Rain yet but I was downright sad when Uncharted 2 was over.



To my mind, the reason they were so effective in this endeavor had a lot to do with:



1) excellent writing

2) excellent acting combined with excellent directing

3) excellent use of many story-telling devices used in film

4) drawing on the rich cinematic language we have as part of our cultural history



My point is this: your original assertion is that story has nothing to do with games and having someone with cinematic experience is useless. I disagree.



While I am admittedly somewhat dubious of Del Tormo's involvement resulting in anything particularly special, I do believe that having film expertise on board during the game development process can be extraordinarily beneficial and that both industries have a great deal to learn from each other. I have experienced this first hand on several titles. More importantly, I believe that story IS important to certain games. In fact, as a gamer, "story-based" titles are my preference.



When I play through Halo, as loose as the story is, I still care about it. I care about the characters, the plot and the outcome. I love the cinematic presentation and I feel like I'm part of a great epic drama. When I played through Ico, Grim Fandango, the Monkey Island games, Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus, Uncharted 1&2 and countless other story-driven games, I cared about the stories. They were important to me. The games would not have been the same (or nearly as good) without them.



The sales figures on many "story-based" games suggest that, at the very least, I'm not alone.



And that's the beauty of our industry: our audiences have a wide array of tastes and preferences.



Now if you want to talk about games with poor storytelling in them, that's a very different subject. They are numerous, painful and they damage the perception of our industry to a public that has grown up subject to a barrage of film and television and therefore have their expectations of entertainment set accordingly.



To me, that's the crux of the problem.

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Crispin Hands



No, not played either of them. I don't yet own a PS3 as I'm trying to pay for a wedding this year. I played a little of Heavy Rain at a friends' a while back (5 mins worth). It struck me as broadly the same sort of thing as Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. So, if I may use that as a corollary example (as I have played it):



Indigo Prophecy was a game that didn't work. It has exactly the same problem as every other would-be story game, in that it's basically trying to engage two wholly different modes of entertainment and making a mess of them in the middle. Why it doesn't work is this:



The game world is too constrained by the want to be "cinematic". There are a lot of storylets, bits of character exposition, and so on. And they are interrupted by survival-horror-controls style gameplay that involve mouse gestures and keys. The control system seems to be designed with interactivity in mind while still trying to be cinematic, and the result is that it fails to do both.



In a typical third person game, the character moves relative to the camera because it feels natural, but in IP the camera is sometimes deliberately placed for cinematic shot value. This means that the controls need to be character-relative, which is immediately and continually confusing. The problem is that as the scene changes, there are many moments where the character walks into walls, rotates left rather than right, misses detection zones for objects and so on. The upshot is that the experience is not at all fluid, making for neither great cinema nor great game play.



Then there's the mouse-gestures (or what look to be QTE button presses in Heavy Rain). They're not fun because they never really get any more interesting than Push Up or Push Left. Add to this that as a player you have to look out for them, which means your attention is looking at the scene analytically rather than dramatically. This again undercuts the impression of both the game and the story massively, the game because the challenges they present are tedious, and the story because the suspension of disbelief breaks every time you are distracted by these tasks.



The result is that playing a game like this is very disjointed. On the one hand there is not much of a game there, while on the other there is just enough that you need to be paying attention as a player (rather than a story viewer) that the story doesn't make much sense. You fail in tasks regularly, which means repeating them, which is also a break of flow. The overall result is deeply unsatisfying, obvious and dull. At the end of it, you feel that really it would have been better if they had just gone ahead and made a movie, as all the interactivity bits ultimately boil down to page-turning and nothing more.



Indigo Prophecy for me is the prime example of a game from the last couple of years that proves beyond that doubt that games are NOT a storytelling form. And you'll note that I'm not talking about the quality of writing and camera direction and so on, but rather the way they try and stitch the form together. Actually I think David Cage's writing is pretty good (not stellar, but not bad) in the game, but it's the core concept that really just doesn't work.



On the other games you mentioned:



As I said already, I think storylets are useful tools in games. When playing Halo, it's fun to know that things are going in a direction and that there's some sense of context. However they must be viewed in their proper place, which is as curtain transitions against level combat. In Ico, similarly it's as transitions between puzzle solving. In both games the richness of the worlds, their style and ambience matter FAR more and are not "storytelling" but "worldmaking".



With adventure games like Grim Fandango, the elements of the game world matter even more because they are used for puzzle unlocks. Although the flaw in these games was often that the story got in the way too much, making the puzzles oblique and leading to screen-scanning and inventory-swapping in order to basically luck your way through segments of the game. And again, repetition, doing the same tasks over and over to find the right answer, these are the things that make up the actual meat of the game. In many cases the movie moments essentially just serve as interlude.



On sales:



While the sales figures suggest that many games have sold that have some story elements, that does not mean "story games sell". You are playing fast and loose with the language of the meaning of "story" here, which is something that we already discussed above. Halo is not a "story game" in the same vein as Heavy Rain, for example. It is a first person shooter. It's played primarily as that, to shoot things up and play multiplayer and so on. It's a game.



And this is true of most popular games. They are *games*, with challenge and skill and gameplay sure, and also great game worlds, interesting places full of mood and things to see and do and capable of delivering emotion on their own terms. Whether it's Sim City, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, Liberty City or Halo the *world* is what matters.



On cruxes:



No, the crux of the problem is the attachment to "story" and its metaphors and conventions. It doesn't fit nor is it desirable. There's no point in discussing techniques for something that doesn't work. It's a bit like discussing different decoration styles in buildings built on sand foundations. The problem is larger than that, more fundamental and intrinsic.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
Tadhg,



You seem to be missing one of the most salient points of this discussion - just because a game's story didn't do it for you doesn't mean it wasn't compelling and original for someone else (sry, but I just had to use the two most common cover-blurb buzzwords). You can't discount the potential of a medium, simply based on logical extensions of your own emotional and aesthetic responses, in spite of a plethora of opposing viewpoints - at least not in earnest debate, which this certainly seems to be. Otherwise your name is Roger Ebert (cheap shot, I know...).



A non-absolutist statement that would include most of your point of view is:

Games tell stories in a fundamentally different way than movies or books or any other narrative medium.



=)

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@JB Vorderkunz



"You can't discount the potential of a medium, simply based on logical extensions of your own emotional and aesthetic responses"



I'm not. I'm saying that this potential was never there, and essentially a lot of people wish it was but in reality it does not exist. And rather than it being simply a logical extension of my own feelings, I've explained exactly why I think this is so in detail across many examples that others have raised.



To say that "games have the potential to be a storytelling medium" lacks intellectual rigour when the overwhelming evidence of videogames of the last 20 years shows not only that they do no such thing, but are no better at it today than 20 years ago. The easy position to take is one of vagueness, but the disciplined (and therefore craft-improving) way is to look across the form and examine why this is so, and put forth commonalities.



It is my own theory, fairly well backed up by examining various games, that game worlds matter far more than game narratives. A "game world" can mean something as simplistic as Tetris, but also something as complicated as Azeroth. From a functional perspective, a world-focused approach proposes that all games are placing the player in the world, enabling him with mechanics and restricting him with rules and pressure. Such pressure may well be quasi-directed (as seen in Halo) or simply blocks falling from the sky, but the combination of mechanics, rules and pressure create the game.



From a character perspective, a world-focused approach proposes that the player's game character is unimportant. As a player enters the game world the game provides him with a point of contact, and through the point of contact the player interprets the world for himself and acts within it. Mario is a point of contact, the invisible hand twisting Tetris blocks is a point of contact and the "God" perspective and mouse of Black and White is a point of contact.



The point of contact is an extension of the limb of the player into the game world. Since the "who" of the character is unimportant, the player is free to engage in any and all behaviours that he deems appropriate. His motivations are driven by exploration, reward seeking and overcoming challenges. The last two of these activities are driven by the need to optimally play, and require that all game information be broken down into symbolic quantities (how to win/lose, what elements to interact with, how to play) so that the player can interpret them efficiently.



Furthermore, as the player is increasingly immersed in the challenge of the game and its world, greater concentration on efficient information is also required. This engages analytical and survival emotional responses, which in turn blank out the more sophisticated responses required to appreciate narrative. There is a reason why a film is best seen in a dark room with a big screen and loud speakers, and it is all to do with dominating the attention of the viewer. When running away from a horde of attacking Zerg or racing to the finish to beat a friend in Gran Turismo, the player does not have the attention span to also be told that the cars or the Zerg are meaningful.



As the game advances and the mechanic/rule/pressure trio continue to advance, interest in a game is maintained through variation, increases in pressure and enabling of further reward. The point of contact itself often becomes directly or indirectly more powerful (more guns, powers, abilities, a better car, etc) along the way.



Artistically and creatively, the world-focused approach proposes that it is the other characters around the player, the setting, AI behaviours, mood music and the interact-able objects that deliver the emotional and therefore immersive component. Rare is the game that involves our empathy purely based on mechanical gameplay, and even such apparently simple games as Bejewelled 2 actually deliver a lot of emotional feedback to the player in the art style, sound effects and so forth. The humanity of games, if you like, comes from these sorts of components.



Now if you find all of this to be "absolutist" then I guess we find ourselves at an impasse because I find it to be empirical. It accounts for not only our logical/rational responses of play but also our emotional, empathic, delightful and other emotions and also our capacity for symbolic understanding. The art of what we do, in short.



Invocations of storytelling potential despite essentially zero evidence are increasingly sounding like certain religions because such faith-based ideas cannot be examined with rigour. I may just as easily say that there is potential for the sun to explode tomorrow and it would be just as examinable. If, on the other hand, we are serious about the statement that games are an artistic form then it behoves us to examine how and why that is so, and to do so from a basis of what is real rather than what is not.



The mistake that narrative-driven theories all share is simply that they have no evidence of existing in reality and rely greatly on conflations of terms and a wish for the game of tomorrow that will vindicate them. That wish has been out there for a long time and is no closer to happening. As we grow more sophisticated in our production techniques were are discovering that videogames have a form, just like every other kind of art, and that form is quite clear.



Games are an artistic medium. But "games have potential as a storytelling medium" is essentially wishful thinking based on some very hazy interpretations, syllogisms, and linguistic tricks.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
We could argue in circles forever, but the truth is that as long as you define your terms and I define mine, we can be smugly self-assured in our own righteousness. You're argument holds validity only by fiat - you haven't clearly defined the following terms: narrative, story, world, immersion, etc. If you're going to exchange a new technical definition for a common understanding, then you should explain and defend your definition.



Also, anecdotal evidence is not empirical research. Did you verify that a statistically significant number of players of Indigo Prophecy had the same reactions you did? Basing a claim such as, "But "games have potential as a storytelling medium" is essentially wishful thinking based on some very hazy interpretations, syllogisms, and linguistic tricks." on anecdotal evidence is absolutist. =)

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
ARGH! my first published you're/your error!

Josh Foreman
profile image
@ JB: Actually, Tadhg did define what he means by story:



"However, "storytelling", especially in entertainment and literature, has a very specific meaning. It means a Greek arc drama. All that's actually going on here is that a number of very well intentioned people are trying to conflate two entirely different things together through the use of a common word, but it's a a bridge that has no existence in reality. "Story" meaning a simple recounting of events is not the same thing as "story" meaning a marketing term to describe a sales tool for products, and is also not the same thing as "story" meaning a deliberately plotted, crafted and edited narrative presented in a dramatic or literary form. "

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@Josh Foreman



Thanks for that.



@JB Vorderkunz



For the purposes of the thread I feel I have defined my terms well enough. Were it for a book perhaps (and this is one of my various side projects) then greater rigour would be required, but not for here. It's all in the posts above.



On another note:



...Also, anecdotal evidence is not empirical research. Did you verify that a statistically significant number of players of Indigo Prophecy had the same reactions you did?...



This is a straw man. Games are an arts subject, not a scientific endeavour. In the arts, discussions and theories and breakdown rest on the discussion of individual works, analysis from the point of view of the critic who then proposes his ideas to the wider community. What we're doing here is no different from a poetry group talking about the impact of the Waste Land or the form of the sonnet.



One does not need to have examined all sonnets to speak on the subject of the sonnet, nor speak to all readers. Commonalities are clear, and commonality of reaction from the community quickly determines whether a point of view is adding to the discussion, subtracting from it, or is just plain wide of the mark. Every movement in philosophy and the arts has started under the same sorts of small-discussion and analysis conditions.



Art and the study of art isn't a science and never will be, and that applies to games as well as everything else. There is a difference between anecdotal and critical thinking in the terms of the arts. One is entirely feeling based, the other is "model and examine examples" based. So when, for example, I put forward these ideas I'm doing so by talking about a lot of specific games and parts of games in which these ideas seem to work.



On the other hand, saying games show a potential for storytelling also requires test examples. Several have been raised and I've spoken on the ones that I have played, or have close corollaries, and argued with each one that the premise that they are storytelling experiences is faulty. Furthermore I've expanded on that out to say the problem is one of trying to pull multiple meanings of story under one banner in order to be able to claim that "storytelling" applies to all of them.



So it's all too easy a defence to play the statistics card. It is, again, neither rigorous nor open to examination and allows for those same hazy interpretations and syllogisms and declarations of maybe-one-day-storytelling ideas to go essentially unchallenged.

James Hofmann
profile image
One thing that has captured my attention recently is the need for any product(artistic or otherwise) to focus itself towards a pertinent need and make things outside of that need secondary. For example:





Dance music has to sit well in a DJ set and keep a strong beat for the crowd to follow.



TV news reporting needs to focus on stories with strong audiovisuals or emotional responses that can draw in viewer attention.



Academic papers must present their arguments in as formal and logical a way as possible, in order to defeat doubts or criticisms.





Incorrect focus is at the heart of what makes game projects go far astray of their goals, and fear of lost focus is the main reason to fear Hollywood types swaggering in and dumping piles of money on game projects.



With respect to storytelling in general, the fear transforms itself into "story will take away from game design" - or implicitly, that the design doesn't need story at all. It is true that story is an insanely expensive thing to add to a game and not always necessary. But I don't think that the separation of roles is correct either.



I think there are definitely games that pull off a focus _reliant_ on techniques of art, music, writing, and cinema - Prince of Persia(I mainly think of the '89 original here), SotC, Rez, Flower, Zelda, Ultima(the later ones), Fallout, Baldur's Gate, Phoenix Wright, Deus Ex, and a lot of others come to mind. The common thread is that you're able to be drawn into the world and "live" there for a while, and the overt narrative is wispy, often possessing a dream-like quality. I concur with Tadhg on this aspect. Even the game mechanics come secondary to the world in this model - and even the games with a lot of writing, which tend to be pointed towards as "storytelling" games, still retain an ulterior motive. For example, Phoenix Wright focuses on exciting battles in the courtroom(and to a lesser extent, on conducting detective-style investigations) - each episode is chock full of "filler" plot and expository text that doesn't advance any traditional narrative goal, but supports the world and the experience.



The alternative path that is well-known, of course, is the mechanics path. Tetris, Mario, Civilization, Farmville etc. The game world - if there is a world - gets shaped around the goals of the mechanics, and the game design accumulates mechanics and content primarily to add more possibilities and long-term interest to an existing game world, rather than to support a pre-existing vision of how the world should be.



Comparing the two, an interesting theory emerges - these are just two ways of viewing the same thing. You can start from the world you want to build, or you can start from the mechanics you want to explore. If you're on track, you will find ways to align the two and switch paradigms at any time. It remains valid to stay firmly on one side or the other, but neither can go completely neglected or you end up with the "interactive movie" or "unintelligible blob of mechanics" scenarios. (Multiplayer deserves its own discussion, too. But I haven't thought about it deeply yet, so have no opinions to offer.)



So, now that I've said all that, I can return to the story/design balance. The analogy of sculpture comes to mind: the design was already there and you only arrive at it by taking away the elements that aren't part of it. You can always fit story into an original design - but the optimal story may not involve any cutscenes or voice acting, and the optimal mechanics may be tight, simple affairs that you can prototype in a weekend; but we tend to attach prestige to "more-better" design, which blows up projects by forcing both the world and the mechanics to be built to a potentially harmful level of detail, and to shoehorn in heavyweight narrative elements at every opportunity. We especially love favoring narrative. But it's far too easy to lose focus at that point. Drama in the real world does not take place on every street corner, and it tends to feel artificial when that happens in games.



The discussion of Indigo Prophecy/Heavy Rain comes to mind. Do those games really benefit in a substantial way from being so lavishly produced - more than if they existed as, say, visual novels? If not, then they're basically a sell-the-sizzle marketing exercise.



On the other hand, a lot of games really, really need to be populated with expressive characters busily shooting guns and having sex and jabbering at each other about lost kingdoms and inheritances and the nature of society. They wouldn't make sense otherwise...and so the design needs the story. Hence why I'm also in agreement with the "involve more writers early on" crowd. The final plot may not actually be that important, given how it tends to play such a servile role; but their input on the game world and its potential for "story hooks" is. It can powerfully shape how the rest of the game is made.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
"Art and the study of art isn't a science and never will be, and that applies to games as well as everything else."



Ok, sure. But you've still not made a case for why games aren't fundamentally a narrative medium except to repeat that you think too many people use a term too broadly - but we'll get there soon...



"One does not need to have examined all sonnets to speak on the subject of the sonnet, nor speak to all readers. Commonalities are clear, and commonality of reaction from the community quickly determines whether a point of view is adding to the discussion, subtracting from it, or is just plain wide of the mark. Every movement in philosophy and the arts has started under the same sorts of small-discussion and analysis conditions."



You're making claims about the fundamental nature of games, claiming that a scientific approach is useless and that you are the only one in the discussion who is thinking critically, and then you make a case for using fuzzy statistics. How else can I understand the paragraph above? "commonality of reaction from the community" sounds awfully like a euphemism for getting a data count (whether the variable be nominal or ordinal).



"Furthermore I've expanded on that out to say the problem is one of trying to pull multiple meanings of story under one banner in order to be able to claim that "storytelling" applies to all of them. "



Why the hell shouldn't it? I wasn't aware that some universal rule of grammar and/or semiotics bars complex concepts from having multiple expressions in various contexts, but apparently you are aware of such a rule? Your arguments are reasoned but entirely subjective - 'critical thinking', as it were, doesn't actually certify truth. There are passages in Aristotle's Politics that are as reasoned and rational as possible, yet they are flat out ignorant, bigoted and racist. In this case, you're just being a bit disingenuous about the validity of your opponents' arguments - they can define their terms and calculate accordingly just as you can. This is reminding me of the Atheist debate - atheists tend to take the fact that God's existence can't be proved as a victory and Theists can always defend from the position that God can't be disproved either.



You can't prove games aren't a narrative medium, even if you've never experienced them as such, simply b/c other people have had such and experience. That was my original point - you've ignored everyone who's said "yeah, but I actually enjoyed ____ as a good story". Art is like Obscenity, you know it when you see it. If someone has seen a game as a piece of narrative art, you can't deny them their aesthetic response...

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@JB Vorderkunz



...But you've still not made a case for why games aren't fundamentally a narrative medium except to repeat that you think too many people use a term too broadly...



Actually, I have. I realise the topic has been going on for several thousand words already and is quite conversational (and so pretty inefficient as a read), but I've explained it all as I see it above. The very short summary is:



* First I broadly declared "games are not a storytelling medium"

* Then I described the core traits of stories

* Then I described why these core traits don't exist in games

* Concurrent with that I undid various pat arguments (about auteurs, the uselessness of a default "we are all individuals")

* Then I expanded on the core traits of stories and why they don't fit

* Then Hollywood envy

* Then Shadow of the Colossus

* Then why "story" actually means Greek arc drama

* Then the so-called "thinking in terms of mechanics only is narrow-minded" straw man (It's not)

* Then the difference between marketing stories and stories

* Then why I'm not Roger Ebert, nor a ludologist

* Onward into the boredom of cut-scenes

* A quick aside on the equivalent of anti-plot film being anti-mechanic games

* And then why a world is art

* Back to anti-mechanic again (more fully)

* Distinguishing between a world and simple mechanical simulator, and why playing in a world is playing and not a story

* Then the dual use of the word story to try and create a disingenuous conflation over "storytelling"

* Then why game writers get a bum deal

* Then Indigo Prophecy



... and that's roughly where we started talking. We've covered a LOT of ground so far.



I'm sorry now, I have to go out. I'll get the rest of your post later.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
Tadhg,



I've found you to a well-spoken and intelligent commentator, whom I just happen to disagree with on some pretty big issues, so let's just agree to disagree in a friendly manner, b/c I just have to disagree that you've proven all of those bullet points, but in further discussion we'll just spiral on endlessly in this post-repost manner. Have a good one =)

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@JB Vorderkunz



Sure thing, of course.

JB Vorderkunz
profile image
Tadhg,

I'd like to say I think you write very well and I appreciate your patience and perspicacity in responding to me. I agree with you on some points (that the building of the ludocosm, if you will, is of paramount importance for a game which intends to affect the player with meaning); so I hope I didn't offend you unintentionally through the vagueness of internet chattery and poorly worded responses. =)

Tadhg Kelly
profile image
@JB



None taken, worry not :)



And thanks for the compliment about my writing.

Josh Foreman
profile image
You're writing a book about this, Tadgh? Can't wait to read it!

Rui Campos
profile image
There is a lot of resistance to what Tadhg is saying and even a bit of misunderstanding. But all he's really saying is that Games are about gaming and nothing else. How is that controversial? Games are systems that we play with and attempt to master, they have rules and outcomes. This is not storytellin by any means. Sure, you can add story elements in there, but that's all you'll be doing - adding story telling elements.



Games are much better at giving you experiences. Put your story away and put your narrative in the game world and the mechanics is how I'm interpreting Tadhg. I coudln't agree more.



His point regarding hollywood envy is correct as well, and I'd add to it by saying that it points to a fundamental insecurity of the gamer regarding her gaming hobby. It's a lot like telling everyone that you read Playboy for the great interviews and short stories. You only ever make that argument because you are being attacked by someone who dissaproves of your playboy reading.

Bonnie Nadri
profile image
Tadhg, you wrote:



"However, "storytelling", especially in entertainment and literature, has a very specific meaning. It means a Greek arc drama. All that's actually going on here is that a number of very well intentioned people are trying to conflate two entirely different things together through the use of a common word, but it's a a bridge that has no existence in reality. "Story" meaning a simple recounting of events is not the same thing as "story" meaning a marketing term to describe a sales tool for products, and is also not the same thing as "story" meaning a deliberately plotted, crafted and edited narrative presented in a dramatic or literary form."



In order of response to the above, the following:



(1) Your assertion that "story" or "storytelling" is in any way objectively contextualized Greek art drama is simply incorrect.



The etymology of "story" and therefore, "storytelling" is a derivative of the Latin "historia" and the context is factual retelling of events, not drama and particularly not arc drama. (Oxford University Language Center offers excellent resources. I recommend them: http://www.lang.ox.ac.uk)



(2) The literary term "Story" has an agreed upon technical meaning within language (as above) as well as within the discipline of composition/literature/literary process, and that meaning ALSO is not merely Greek arc drama; additionally it is not a marketing tool, nor does it necessarily have to adhere to a specific dramatic or literary form, thus it is equally possible for a game to have a story as well as that story being unconfined by your preferred boundaries.



You seem to be asserting that no game has or should have any vested interest in presenting "historia" and that there is no context wherein any game should have or need to do so.



You also seem to be implying that the only instances of story in games are those that are nebulously defined by yourself as "hollywood envy" or the "generalized search for artistic legitimacy".



You'll excuse me if this seems rather over the top for any discussion of logical validity on the matter; as your anecdotal opinion of the motivations of industry or artisans demonstrates nothing more than that you have opinions (To be sure it does nothing to make or prove a point about story or stories in games).



You persist in your claim that games are not a storytelling medium. Yet all human experience is story and all human creations are storytelling medium because all humans are, in fact, storytellers; particularly in so far as all humans concoct, maintain, and are constantly revising the perspective of their "historia" - comprised experience and conclusions in relation to it. And this "story" has many versions that exist across any number of contexts as they live and breathe in "the real world".



I am certain you will take great issue with the deliberate demonstrate of multiple contexts and how they are each completely valid; just as you will undoubtedly disagree that I am "correctly" using the terminology (at which point, I politely refer you back to Oxford University Language Center, previously linked).



I have no idea why you have such vested interest in your opinion, but there is no doubt that you do. (Ah, upon further review of comments since my last visit, it becomes apparent... you're writing a book on the matter!)



It remains an inconvenient fact that games are human interactions that serve any and all purposes a human is willing to find in them; be it exploration, escape, education, or entertainment. Story is a natural part of this purpose, either as vehicle for context or conceptualization.



Forgive me, but I think in your insistence upon telling everyone what can and cannot be, you've lost sight of something important:



You may be utterly convinced that games are not a storytelling medium and you may ferverently insist that games will never be interactive movies, but neither of these things obliged the industry or the rest of the world in any way.



In closing (and lest you mistake the pointedness for rudeness), I wish you all the best in your chosen crusade; I just doubt very seriously that you are magically going to rend an innate part of human process from a very natural avenue of expression.


none
 
Comment: