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Opinion: Game Worlds Attract Players, Not Game Characters

Opinion: Game Worlds Attract Players, Not Game Characters

August 31, 2006 | By Simon Carless

August 31, 2006 | By Simon Carless
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In a new Letter To The Editor sent to Gamasutra, Lionhead and Climax game design veteran Tadhg Kelly takes issue with a recent 'Game Writing' book excerpt, suggesting that "the character becomes the player" in games, and users are not buying into the game character, but the game world.

Kelly's letter in full is as follows:

"As I often do, I feel I must draw attention to an article that's bugging the hell out of me, namely the book excerpt from "Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames".

The reason? This:

"Lara Croft is someone you want to be as you move through the world, whereas the guards are enemies to shoot and sources of information to eavesdrop on."

There is a current fashion in theories about video game writing to borrow heavily from the analogy of the roleplaying game. In roleplaying games, players play characters and engage in a kind of half-improv, half-puzzle solving/dice rolling kind of activity where the player is easily seen in the role of "hero".

The thing is that this relationship does not apply to videogames. As I've blogged before, one of the fundamental differences between video games and roleplaying games is that in RPGs the player becomes the character, but in video games the character becomes the player.

There is nothing theatrical or performance-related about playing Lara Croft, or any of the many avatars that populate game worlds. Lara is not an actor, she is a doll. It wouldn't matter to the game if she were blonde, black, South African, Martian or whatever, she is just a doll. The Master Chief is just a doll. Mario is just a doll. It's the world that the players are buying into when they pick up these games, not the idea of being the doll.

While video game writing is an area that has much to be explored and expanded upon, the thing is that we really should start out with the correct principles in mind. When writing for video games, we are not writing for roleplaying games or movies, novels or any other form.

Video games are a bit different, and one of the key differences is that the central purposes of narrative-ish elements is not as "a justification, a reason, or an excuse for the gameplay encounters" (as they are in RPGs) but rather as a reward structure.

Simply put, in video games the player rarely if ever needs a structured reason to do the next level or mission. It is implicit in the game already that tasks must be accomplished. The narrative elements largely act as baubles and rewards for the most part, rather than an integral part of the playing experience."

Anyone interested in replying further to Kelly's opinions may submit a Letter To The Editor on the matter. Previous correspondents should also note that a final update to the 'Too Many Clicks' letter series will be posted in the near future.


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