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Are you a game designer, or a fiction writer?

by Lewis Pulsipher on 06/09/14 09:04:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

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


Especially in video games, many "designers" conceive of themselves as fiction writers rather than game designers.


Slides from Are you a game designer, or a fiction writer?:

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher



Question arises from the ECGC

East Coast Game Conference 2014 featured lots of discussion of story in games

Ken Rolston, keynote, called himself a writer

Mary deMarle talked about integrating story and game

Heather Albano discussed what amounted to same storyline but 3 or 4 quite different results from player’s point of view


Player’s viewpoint: Experience a story written by the game developers, or “write your own” story

Some writers clearly think they should decide how a game works, not the game designers

Which is a manifestation of the notion that all games (or at least, video games) are story

(My view is that there are three kinds of players/games:

Games are all math

Games are about people

Games are stories)


Why do people play?

Do people play a game for the story, or the gameplay?

I’m firmly in the gameplay camp

And the “games are about people camp,” with stories included because stories are about people

Stories don’t last.  Once you know the story, you’ll rarely want to experience it again

The smaller the game, the less room there is for story – unless you get to a few art games that are much more story than game (Journey,  Stanley Parable, etc.)


The Essential Difference

Game designer invites emergence, wants players to create the “narrative”

Game writer sets up a story (perhaps with variations) for players to follow

They’re trying to impose a passive experience on an interactive challenge – quite a challenge in itself

Not quite the same as a desire to “control the players”.  Puzzle designers control players.  Fiction writers often control players but many wish they didn’t have to.


Game designers like emergent behavior, up to a point

I especially like emergent objectives, where the player(s) find their own objectives, other than winning/beating the game, to pursue

They don’t like something that breaks the game

Fiction writers don’t like emergent behavior, their objective is to control the story

Though many are trying to find ways to provide 3 or 4 stories within one game

And sometimes fail, as in Mass Effect 3


Game formats

AAA video games are often about an “experience”, more or less a story

Tabletop games are usually “rules-emergent”, the game gives the players opportunities to write their own narrative or even story

That’s also true for many casual video games

Tabletop RPGs are the bridge between the two, and can be played either way


All kinds of games are moving more toward stories.  GenCon (50K participants) is a story convention as much as game convention.  The question is, what do you want to do, design games, or tell stories?

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