On Storytelling

Most games released today come packaged with a unique story in which the player takes on the role or roles of one or more characters. These characters typically have their own personalities and motivations independent of the player. In fact, story lines in video games often happen with little, if any contribution from the player. Naturally there are some games such as Mass Effect which enable the players to make some choices but the outcome of the game is more or less the same. This is because game developers cannot possibly account for all of the player’s choices. So to make the game concise and understandable, these choices have to be artificially limited. However, the “story” behind the game is a requisite part of playing. There needs to be motivation for the actions committed by the player, especially considering many games have players engaging in violent acts. Without appropriate justification, the assault and/or murder would be senseless.

I had one such experience with the game Guild Wars 2. While there is certainly justification for the murder that occurs in the game, it’s not adequately conveyed so I truly felt like I was engaging in violence for the sake of violence which was not enjoyable for me. In this way, the story was an integral part of making the game “work” for me. This is likely because I feel, at the very least a little bit, invested in the character I am playing, I took time to create and develop a character in the beginning of the game, and in my mind, this character would not be so willingly violent.

At the other end of the spectrum, randomly generated “roguelike” games such as Minecraft, Pixel Dungeon, Dungeon Soup, and many more involve acts of violence and often times spleunking with no explanation besides a simple task (get to the end of the dungeon and kill the demon). This works though to an extent because the impotence to continue playing is to achieve a goal rather then to see a character grow. In this way there are two types of games. Story-driven and goal driven. Sort of like how there are “character-drive” television shows, which you watch to see the characters interact rather then to see a progression of a story to an end goal (as in shows like House where the way they “beat the boss” is the most important factor).

These two ends of the spectrum truly illustrate the different ways to design a game. Do you want explore an interesting mechanic or idea or do you want to explore a story? Which is important to you decides which game you choose to play.

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