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September 20, 2020
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Remaking The Narrative Form

by Mitchell Nelson on 01/27/16 12:55:00 pm   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.

 

Games are a new kind of literature.


There were 2 schools of game design: narratology, that grew out of how we understand narrative story content, like novels and films and ludic game design that describes the behavioral construct of games played by humans and other animals to learn. Narratology is over. It is to games, what filming a play from the front row is to movie making; an outdated and simplistic technique that does not take advantage of a new medium's unique strengths.
 
Ludic game design, or behavioral game design is, in my opinion, the future of the medium. I say this because an emergent story, with you are the author and the star is a far more powerful experience than being dropped into another author's story.
 
Notice that an interactive experience is the parent of every narrative. For instance, writing a new James Bond screenplay requires the author to be in a present tense, interactive mode - "Will Bond parachute into the building, helicopter in, swim up into the fountain or crash through the front door in tank?" See that, branches, decisions. Once the author decides what Bond will do, the flat, past tense, narrative is created by eliminated unused branches.
 
Similarly, when you describe how your day went, you leave out unimportant, interactive decisions - Rather than say  " I had to decide between that new taco truck or a quick run to Chipotle..." - You just say "I grabbed a taco". You do this to make an efficient narrative, after the fact. A narrative then, is a lossy form of data compression. The real-time, branching version is the original.
 
So, to create this new literature, the first step is learning to be a good party planner. You do not force the party goers to attend refreshments and entertainments in a fixed order, you choose where to locate the punch bowl and cake, relative to the flow and fung shui of the location.
 
The next more sophisticated level of creatorship is to learn to be a good jazz band. Let the player(s) be the soloists and play their hearts out. You just keep time, comp the chord changes and follow where they lead.
 
Finally, you can learn to create a Nareme Machine. If a meme is an atom of an idea, a nareme is an atom of a narrative. A clever team can create a machine that hands out valid atoms of narrative to each player that combine to create new stories - custom hero's journeys, for each person, for each play through.
 
Just as music uses 12 tones to create nearly endless songs, a finite number of interactive naremes can be combined in many orders that, like music, have pleasant major, sad minor and bittersweet resonance for the player. Last context colors next perception, step by step. Progressions of naremes feel like natural stories, but created by player choices, in real time.
 
Some people use the rough approximation that story is as needed in games as it is in porn. There is some truth to it. In reality, there is a level of "creatorship" in this new literature, but please do not think it means authorship or writing stories in any conventional sense.


Like a markup language does not specify a font to get a page design, good game design uses less explicit means to allow many possible stories. There are no wrong notes on a harmonica, so you can play freely, at any skill level. That is perfect game design. New stories are diatonic.


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