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Video Games as a Storytelling Medium

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There are approximately three kinds of video games that I would say exist: those that tell stories, and those that are designed purely for gameplay, and games that aim to balance the two. I would say that most video games nowadays try to balance the two, or aim for one extreme.

 

There are games that get storytelling right: Spec Ops: The Line (save for where it flops at the most crucial scene in plot development), Papo & Yo, Mass Effect (save for the hardcore flop in the third installment), The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, To The Moon.

 

There are games that get gameplay right: Supreme Commander, Just Cause 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, later Call of Duty games.

 

There are games that get both correct. For whatever reason, I cannot seem to think of many good examples right now. Far Cry 3? Wolfenstein: The New Order? Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic?

 

Typically, the games that are remember most are the ones that managed to balance a story with the gameplay and get the player involved. Those tend to be adventure games with player decisions affecting the storyline. Mass Effect tried really hard and succeeded with me pretty well. I never finished the first. I spent fifty-nine hours in Mass Effect 2, twelve in the first installment, and less in the third.

 

Our experience with video games are subjective. Each us will experience games differently than each other. Someone may like Papo & Yo, but I absolutely hated it and left the game several degrees of ticked. Someone may be moved by the game, but the only things I liked about it were the music and art. Nothing else. But that's what stories do. And famous game critics, like IGN, have been noted to mark a game down for having a heavy story.

 

I tried having a discussion with my English professor about Spec Ops: The Line and its tie-in with the classic literature novel Heart of Darkness and the movie Apocalypse Now. But that's hard to discuss. Movies are usually a couple hours, books can be read in a day or two, but video games are like virtual playgrounds. They can take up to several hundred hours to complete fully.

 

Some games like Guild Wars 2 have wonderful story telling mechanics. Guild Wars 2's story telling is remarkable (I'm told).

 

So what, as far as story-telling goes, strikes your fancy? Notable examples?

 

Have any experiences you'd like to share?

 

And if you were to write a game, how would you like to communicate the story?

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I can think of some for the third category: Uncharted series, Last of Us. Batman Arkham series, Portal, Dust, Final Fantasy Crisis Core, Metal Gear Solid, and Cave Story to name just a few for me

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My favorite video game series ever is the Kingdom Hearts series, there is a major element of story telling but in some, like KH2, or KH Dream Drop Distance you can roam around and do different mini games and just play. It also factors in two different worlds (Disney and Final Fantasy).

Another great series for story based video games is Sly Cooper.  It gives you goals, and you can always find a new goal, but there are also mini goals throughout the different places in the game, like trying to find and break all of the clues to open random safes, or finding the correct amount of keys to get an upgrade.

I always like video games that lean more toward a story based game, Portal, Halo, etc, because in ones that are majorly free roaming, I tend to get distracted and just walk around and then get bored and stop playing(Skyrim/Oblivion).

Actually before  Skyrim had come out, all I would do in Oblivion(I was quite a bit younger, and not much of a gamer) was decorate that big castle you get in the beginning... And that's it.

Writing a game always has sounded like fun, though I don't know how I would have the story go, I'd like it to have a strong story line, but also allow the player free roam of the map(s) and have smaller goals or achievements that they can work for that are separate from the main story line. So, no matter if they're strictly following the story line, or just running around, they've always got a goal within the game.


 

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Salem I think you left out a branch of video games though it's a bit off the topic. Minecraft and good are both what I call video games but they are also sandboxes where you can make your own rules or better yet tour own story or mini game.

 

For balanced story/game play, I'd have to say everything on valves Half-life tree (which includes portal) is a perfect example. Dust an elysian tale is also good if you like a platformer and like Norzman said, cave story is also good. If any of you haven't played cave story, it may be a free download on pc and anything current, albeit barebones in the way of tech specs, should run it. Great diversity on how you play. dust an elysian tail is a great game for Furs and some one started a topic about it here that mentioned Christian symbolism in the game.

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I've definitely found games like GTA V, Gun, Hitman: Absolution, Red Dead Redemption, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and Wolfenstein: The New Order did fantastic jobs of balancing the two. Gun also happens to have an amazing soundtrack, I've got it on my ipod ;)

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Salem I think you left out a branch of video games though it's a bit off the topic. Minecraft and good are both what I call video games but they are also sandboxes where you can make your own rules or better yet tour own story or mini game.

 

For balanced story/game play, I'd have to say everything on valves Half-life tree (which includes portal) is a perfect example. Dust an elysian tale is also good if you like a platformer and like Norzman said, cave story is also good. If any of you haven't played cave story, it may be a free download on pc and anything current, albeit barebones in the way of tech specs, should run it. Great diversity on how you play. dust an elysian tail is a great game for Furs and some one started a topic about it here that mentioned Christian symbolism in the game.

I left out sandboxes because they're the write-your-own-story game, which leaves out the author standpoint while making a game. It's not very possible to tell a story where there's absolutely none for the player to experience. They'd have to make their own. Hence Minecraft has no campaign nor driving plot. It's devoid of narrative. It does have the capability, as you said, to be turned into a story, if someone makes an Adventure Mode map.

 

Half-Life 2 is definitely a good example, and Dust: An Elysian Tail was DEFINITELY one of the better examples! I love that game. And Dean Dodrill, the sole programmer and artist is a Christian. He even thanked the Almighty God in the credits. Dust's OST is fantastic as well.

 

Cave Story was something I was told was really good as well. I need to get it some time.

 

 

I've definitely found games like GTA V, Gun, Hitman: Absolution, Red Dead Redemption, Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, and Wolfenstein: The New Order did fantastic jobs of balancing the two. Gun also happens to have an amazing soundtrack, I've got it on my ipod ;)

I heard GTA: V was good, but I'm a PC gamer who's also a broke college student so it's not something I'm currently able to get at. I've heard of Gun, Hitman; Absolution, Red Dead series, but haven't played them yet. Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is a Star Wars game I haven't played, strangely. And Wofenstein: The New Order is at the top of my Steam Wishlist.

 

I'll also check out the soundtrack. I'm a sucker for music.

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All stories are a dual act of creation: The author creates the story in the telling and the audience re-creates the story in the consumption. That's why literary analysis is so much fun--it looks at different ways to re-create the same story.

 

Most games are more like movies than books. They try to tell a specific story are less interested in the audience participating in the re-creation aspect than they are having the player be one of the actors. Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, etc. generally have a linear story with the player expected to follow a set path. These games are fun and all, but even games like GTA where you can make choices end up with the ending changed based on a few possibilities.

 

I would really like to see games that push the storytelling into a co-creation between the developer and player. That's not really something that's possible in other media. Fallout gets close with the ability to build new areas, and Warcraft/Starcraft also get close for the same reason. But those stories tend to either lack depth or be more of what has come before.

 

What would a truly co-created video game experience look like? I wonder.

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I left out sandboxes because they're the write-your-own-story game, which leaves out the author standpoint while making a game. It's not very possible to tell a story where there's absolutely none for the player to experience. They'd have to make their own. Hence Minecraft has no campaign nor driving plot. It's devoid of narrative. It does have the capability, as you said, to be turned into a story, if someone makes an Adventure Mode map.

 

Have you ever read After Action Reports (AARs) for games like Crusader Kings II or Total War: Shogun 2? Not every AAR writer is good at conveying a story, but there are those who are able to take their actions and everything the AI does and weave it into a story. I would imagine that creating an AAR for Minecraft wouldn't be too much different from creating one from any of Paradox's or Creative Assembly's strategy titles.

 

And the author in a sandbox game would be filled jointly by the player and by the game. For instance, some friends and I have started a new Minecraft server using the Dark Trilogy modpack. And something that happened early on was that two of them got sucked into a the same hungry node multiple times. Their choices and lack of knowledge led them to fall victim to the hungry node over and over again, but had the game not spawned a hungry node near a location we decided was worth building in then they might not have died seven plus times.

 

All stories are a dual act of creation: The author creates the story in the telling and the audience re-creates the story in the consumption. That's why literary analysis is so much fun--it looks at different ways to re-create the same story.

 

Most games are more like movies than books. They try to tell a specific story are less interested in the audience participating in the re-creation aspect than they are having the player be one of the actors. Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, etc. generally have a linear story with the player expected to follow a set path. These games are fun and all, but even games like GTA where you can make choices end up with the ending changed based on a few possibilities.

 

I would really like to see games that push the storytelling into a co-creation between the developer and player. That's not really something that's possible in other media. Fallout gets close with the ability to build new areas, and Warcraft/Starcraft also get close for the same reason. But those stories tend to either lack depth or be more of what has come before.

 

What would a truly co-created video game experience look like? I wonder.

 

Indeed! Reader-response is a valid form of literary criticism because different readers bring to stories different things. My experience of reading The Lord of the Rings will be different from your experience. And my experience of reading it will change over the years.

 

A truly co-created video game experience might look like Minecraft or Crusader Kings II. Because those games give you a framework--give you the setting and the various rules to follow--while leaving you open to chart whatever path within that framework you want. And the games will throw in plot complications such as a creeper surprising you and destroying part of your base or another lord declaring war on you while you are in the midst of a different war.

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I by no means intend to instigate argument here, but i would like to make what i think to be a valid point.

I understand what you mean salem, and i originally brought up sandboxes, because you said videogames

could be defined in three tiers, but that excluded a branch, i just meant to say, there could be a fourth tier.

 

however, if we look instead at videogames more on a gradient (i hope that is the correct word :P) comparison,

we can see how minecraft could still apply.

 

on the far end we have games with a concrete hard story, like call of duty, or alan wake, no real decision making, go through the motions.

 

then we have games like cave story, a few decisions here and there, story changes slightly, or bioshock 2 with multiple endings.

 

then we have games like skyrim have a story but all the fine details are completely up to you,

 

and finally we arrive at minecraft which has a shell of a story when playing in survival. first you arrive, then you must survive and andventure and create shelter, as you gather resources and explore you can find a gateway leading to a great dragon and on pc you can even summon another evil known as the wither. there is a story there but it is just highly variable,

 

we go from, no choice, to moderate choice, to frequent choice and finally we arrive at choice dominance.

minecraft would apply opposite the way a "story telling game" such as the first "the walking dead" game would apply, and it was more a story book similar to the goosebumps books where you would flip to other pages dependant upon making a decision of "go up the stairs" versus "flee home like a pansy"

 

getting back to topic however, where would you fine furs place the original pokemon on the list?

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Game mechanics can be considered a part of storytelling. Remember that with film things such as close-ups, pans, and camera angles are all part of how the story is conveyed. So when analyzing a film it's not just the plot, characters, and setting you have to pay attention to, it's also the various aspects of the medium that affect how the story is able to be told and how the story is conveyed.

 

In the same way, then, a video game has different aspects from both film and books that tie into how stories can be told in the medium. We should expect that games will be able to do some things not possible in other media in terms of storytelling and also have difficulty or not be able to do other storytelling things.

 

And isn't telling a story in some sense 'writing' that story?

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Let me explain how I define "story-telling" as opposed to "story-writing." There are games where all the story elements (in-game) are predefined narrative bits. The story is not fluid, does not change, and is not up to the player's creativity on a whim to write the plot. If you're telling a story, then suddenly let your audience adjust how or what happens whenever or however they choose, then the story is not in your hands and you're no longer telling it. Typically, stories being told have an objective in mind, either a moral or a point to prove  or just a good story to tell. Games like Spec Ops: The Line are linear, straightforward, and it heavily criticizes the façade of choice and moral dilemmas in videos. In games where choices are limited, you're just choosing between which path of the story to walk down. For example, the choose-your-own-adventure Goosebumps books could be considered analogical to the Mass Effect games where you make decisions. (This analogy is not perfect since those books were severely limited with their scope). Regardless, the decisions you make as a player are always limited. The game has control over the narrative.

 

In other words, the game's giving you the story. It's telling you the story.

 

Where sandbox games come in is outside the game's narrative (to continue from above, if the game has no story-based interaction with the player, then the narrative experience moves from being told to being created. The plot ceases to come from the game and comes from the player, thus sacrificing the game's story-telling ability to allow for the player to tell their own stories. That is different from being told. You'd be telling.). In other words, the game is not communicating a story, but giving you the option to write your own. In that case, the game is not story-telling. In the instances where the game gives the option to create your story, the game is not story-telling, but you are instead.

 

I started this thread with the intention to hear stories of maybe how a game's narrative experience may have moved players.

 

For example: Spec ops: The Line is a game that turns the concepts of heroes, violence for enjoyment, and entertainment on their heads. The way the game addresses the player directly as Captain Martin Walker makes the game incredibly personal and makes you feel the weight of your actions. When the game revealed the conceit at the end (or in the middle if you noticed it), it really screwed with my head. Further research into the game and its development revealed that only morally correct decision at a point in the narrative was to actually stop playing the game. This game placed me in the boots of Captain Martin Walker in his journey into fallen Dubai with his pals to uncover the mystery of the Damned 33rd.

 

The game told me the story of Captain Martin Walker by placing me in his shoes, in his head, making his decisions. The story was experienced. At no point did I alter the narrative, or write it.

 

I would deny that Minecraft has a story. There are objects with names, but there's no 'quest.' There's an illusion that The End is actually the end of the game due to how hard it is to beat, and once you've reached that point, you've likely experienced all the game (it is possible to miss it entirely, or miss most of what the other part of the game has to offer). But nothing drives you there. There is no story handed to the player. You'd write your own in that case.

 

 

The biggest illusion presented by games like Mass Effect, Elder Scrolls series, and games where the scope of the story appears unlimited but isn't, is that they create the feeling of choice. In each of the games just aforementioned, there are hundreds of choices to be made, but all those choices actually do is give you another piece of the story to indulge in. Role-playing/adventure games typically unconsciously present two ways to be played:

 

1: Where players attempt to play the role created for the purpose of the games narrative

and

2: Where players attempt to play the game in the role they created.

 

Example:

1 - Playing as the Dragonborn and doing quests and having an arc of the game's story told to me.

2 - Playing as an archer/craftsman who hunts deer for skin to make armor and sell it. I'm exploring the game's sandbox element, but it's not telling me the story. It's waiting for me to hurry up and continue the game's narrative.

 

Either way, the character is contained within the story, and the total utility of the story, as far as things go, is still a limited experience.

 

 

If we're reciting a story, and we are writing it as we tell it, I would be concerned for the integrity of the original story being communicated. In essence a modified or derivative story (a different one) is told.

 

EDITS: fixed some typos.

Edited by SalemPertaeus

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Let me explain how I define "story-telling" as opposed to "story-writing." There are games where all the story elements (in-game) are predefined narrative bits. The story is not fluid, does not change, and is not up to the player's creativity on a whim to write the plot. If you're telling a story, then suddenly let your audience adjust how or what happens whenever or however they choose, then the story is not in your hands and you're no longer telling it. Typically, stories being told have an objective in mind, either a moral or a point to prove  or just a good story to tell. Games like Spec Ops: The Line are linear, straightforward, and it heavily criticizes the façade of choice and moral dilemmas in videos. In games where choices are limited, you're just choosing between which path of the story to walk down. For example, the choose-your-own-adventure Goosebumps books could be considered analogical to the Mass Effect games where you make decisions. (This analogy is not perfect since those books were severely limited with their scope). Regardless, the decisions you make as a player are always limited. The game has control over the narrative.

 

This makes me think of the Fable games, specifically Fable II (because that's the one I've played the most). 

 

In Fable, it's definitely story based, but it's a 'choose how you get to the ending' sort of game. There's three ways you can really play Fable II, good, evil, and neutral, what unfolds in the story depends on how you play the game, but it all leads you to an end. There is always a goal, always a story line, but you get to choose how you want to go about the adventure.

 

(Also, [off topic, but still Fable] I always thought it was cool that if you were all good you got a halo, and if you were all evil you got horns.)

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Let me explain how I define "story-telling" as opposed to "story-writing." There are games where all the story elements (in-game) are predefined narrative bits. The story is not fluid, does not change, and is not up to the player's creativity on a whim to write the plot. If you're telling a story, then suddenly let your audience adjust how or what happens whenever or however they choose, then the story is not in your hands and you're no longer telling it. Typically, stories being told have an objective in mind, either a moral or a point to prove  or just a good story to tell. Games like Spec Ops: The Line are linear, straightforward, and it heavily criticizes the façade of choice and moral dilemmas in videos. In games where choices are limited, you're just choosing between which path of the story to walk down. For example, the choose-your-own-adventure Goosebumps books could be considered analogical to the Mass Effect games where you make decisions. (This analogy is not perfect since those books were severely limited with their scope). Regardless, the decisions you make as a player are always limited. The game has control over the narrative.

 

In other words, the game's giving you the story. It's telling you the story.

 

Ahh, I see! I think Foxbunny and I have a slightly different understanding of the author-reader interaction. For me, at least, that means I view writing as a subset of telling along with speaking, filming, dancing, composing, etc. In other words, writing refers to the act of telling a story in a specific medium, in this case "printed" text.

 

In my view, the audience is an active participant in the telling of a story and what a specific person brings will affect their experience of a story. The story of Peter Pan will be very different for a ten-year-old child and a thirty-year-old parent despite having the same words (or frames if you take a movie version). And so the story will change without changing.

 

To illustrate how easy this can occur, let us consider the word tree. I want you to pause here and picture or think about what sort of tree you see/think of when you hear the word tree.

 

So what sort of tree is it? My guess is that not all of us will come up with the same image/descriptors/etc despite having the same word to work with. And while stories do create larger contexts that explain how we should interpret various words and plot points, they still allow for some variation in interpretation. The context of the reader is just as important as the contexts of the story and of the author.

 

Where sandbox games come in is outside the game's narrative (to continue from above, if the game has no story-based interaction with the player, then the narrative experience moves from being told to being created. The plot ceases to come from the game and comes from the player, thus sacrificing the game's story-telling ability to allow for the player to tell their own stories. That is different from being told. You'd be telling.). In other words, the game is not communicating a story, but giving you the option to write your own. In that case, the game is not story-telling. In the instances where the game gives the option to create your story, the game is not story-telling, but you are instead.

 

...

 

I would deny that Minecraft has a story. There are objects with names, but there's no 'quest.' There's an illusion that The End is actually the end of the game due to how hard it is to beat, and once you've reached that point, you've likely experienced all the game (it is possible to miss it entirely, or miss most of what the other part of the game has to offer). But nothing drives you there. There is no story handed to the player. You'd write your own in that case.

 

In my view narrative is more than just plot and dialogue. Furthermore, because the medium of video games is different from that of "printed" works or film there are story-telling techniques that are unique to video games, such as being able to have an AI that reacts to the player. Even in linear games you can find variance in how the AI will react to the players--they might not always open an encounter by using the same ability or you might reach them at a different point in their set patrol route.

 

I suppose I see Minecraft as having a story because I tend to see stories in everything. But in a sense the game is giving you narrative elements--it puts a main character (defaulted to Steve) in a setting (often random, but can be specified) where plot happens (you discover ore in an abandoned mine shaft and then have to fight off a horde of spiders and other nasties pouring out of the dark tunnels). Granted, Minecraft doesn't dictate the story as it is happening, but that doesn't mean there isn't a story, at least in my opinion.

 

If we're reciting a story, and we are writing it as we tell it, I would be concerned for the integrity of the original story being communicated. In essence a modified or derivative story (a different one) is told.

 

In one sense, every reading or watching of a story is a different telling of that story because of the different contexts the audience brings. But in another sense it is the same story if it is conveyed via a more fixed medium, such as print (we'll leave off the digression into the fixity and fluidity of texts and language). Of course, oral storytelling isn't as concerned with having each recitation of a story be exactly the same as long as the core of the story remains the same. And when I orally tell stories about my various adventures I am partially writing those stories as I tell them. Each telling is a little different but can be said to be the same story if the core hasn't changed.

 

I started this thread with the intention to hear stories of maybe how a game's narrative experience may have moved players.

 

I tend to play a lot more strategy games, so my narrative experiences, I suppose, fall somewhat out of your definition. I'll have to think back a bit to Morrowind or the Myst series and share what I remember at some later point.

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I tend to play a lot more strategy games, so my narrative experiences, I suppose, fall somewhat out of your definition. I'll have to think back a bit to Morrowind or the Myst series and share what I remember at some later point.

 

I hear Myst was spectacular. I personally haven't experienced it but I wish to.

 

I tend to consider the reception a bit different from the storytelling experience. There are games, movies, books, even CDs that I might say communicate their stories in unique ways. Since everyone experiences things different, I like to try to separate people's noumenons of stories versus the actual craft itself. That's pretty well near impossible.

 

What I'm still looking for is what mediums are particularly striking. All the Elder Scrolls games have each struck me differently, although the more modern they get the less fun I have with them. Skyrim was a bummer for me, after the first seventy hours. The story of Skyrim, presented by it's near-wasteland countryside, was nearly lost on me. The 'story' aspect of the setting was a major moodkill for what could have had more potential with me. Oblivion, ironically, with the odd graphics and visually scary conversations, did a much better job at immersing me than Skyrim. While the soundtracks from both games have their ups and downs, including Skyrim's OST including some themes of Morrowind, Skyrim's was a bit better. It kept me going for a while, before I turned it off completely, despite being a music nut.

 

The presentation of some legend, or tale, in a story is greatly affected by how well the speaker can give it. I daresay that the writers of the story for Skyrim may have had a much different idea of their wasteland before the design crew took their creative license with it. It might be possible to say that the noumenon of the story may actually, as with most ideas, been damaged by the medium it was told. This is why some games presentations can completely shred the intended experience of the story. To continue running with the idea, the change of combat in Skyrim had hindered the perception of the game due to the lack of overall magic. (That was perhaps the second most 'unpolished' aspect of Skyrim's combat.)

 

But regardless, how we perceive the story doesn't affect the story itself.

 

Makes me wonder where else this talk could go. It would be as if, if we took Direlda's examination of Minecraft and applied it to a hike. Someone goes outside for a walk, comes across some deer, maybe. He continues on, maybe finds a clearing and punches down some trees to make a house (kidding). Instead he pitches a tent.

 

So we, the spectators, may call that a story because I narrated it. But if we were out there ourselves experiencing it, would it be a story then? We were not presented with a plot, but rather be writing it as we go along. I would think that in a video game, that maybe that experience would be limited and random. I might not call that a story but others may.

 

I guess my deliberation is a matter of 'if the story is written' or 'being written.' I'm unable to blend those two while consistently considering it story-telling, especially if it's coming right back to us.

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Most video game storytelling has touched me by holding a pillow over my face and screaming "Movie! Watch the movie!" until I stop trying to participate. Most games act like movies. Your actions in the game don't matter because you are just the actor filling the role of Cloud for this performance of FFVII. Interactivity, in such cases, is just a gimmick without any real consequence. It's like Dora turning to the screen and asking the viewer to shout a word back.

 

I find myself annoyed by fetch quests that are designed solely to give me something to do as the player between cinematics. Rails/invisible walls are equally annoying because they don't make sense. And the no-fail element so common in games is ridiculous. Yet games with these elements are often praised for their story. Some of these elements are OK because they can be used to teach the player how the game is played. They are the training montages of video games--effective in limited use. In most games, these elements are the game.

 

When people share their stories of awesome things that happened in games (which means they were affected by those things) they are most often interactions between the game and the player--I wandered into a camp with three giants and did cool stuff and defeated them. Did the player write that story? The camp was a written into the game world by the developers. The way the giants reacted was written by the developers. The outcome, though, was uncertain. That is the power of video games. I could have run. I could have climbed a hill and fended off the giants with arrows. I could have been killed. And the result of that interaction would change my behavior as a player--confidence or caution.

 

The original Fallout games (the first two) were great for the fact that they had a well-defined stories and yet allowed the player to do as they chose--and they were actually fun. The story would continue without player interaction--which means the player failed the original quest by running around and goofing off or getting distracted by another interesting element. There were mysteries that would encourage the player to actually follow the main story (which had multiple solutions) and subplots, and the ending of the game was determined by the choices you made. It was a lot more like playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons than watching a movie or reading a Find Your Fate book. That's where I found the story that had the greatest impact on me as a player--when I had to choose between the mission and what I believed was right, and it was a real choice with real consequences in the game world. Most games are like funnels guiding you to the pre-determined ending.

 

Maybe I'm jaded because I know that developers can make a compelling story that's fun and actually allows the player to interact with the story rather than simply mash buttons to make the story continue.

Edited by foxbunny

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So I'm having difficulty with finding examples of how the narrative of a game, as Salem defines it, has affected me.

 

For instance, in Morrowind I never actually completed the main story arc. One of the things I remember most was trying to free the slaves and then discovering that despite having broken into the slave merchant's store and lockpicking the cells open the slaves wouldn't take their freedom because there was no scripted quest for them to go free. Another was having the random assassins that one of the expansions added in spawn in a closet in a Legion barracks, preventing me from falling asleep until I had opened the door and let the more powerful Legionaries take the assassin out. Stumbling across the person who fell from the sky and then trying out the scrolls of Icarian Flight only to meet the same fate the first time around. Or discovering that there is a mudcrab merchant. And having fun wandering around in Solstheim.

 

The stories of Myst and Guild Wars 2 are interesting, though they haven't moved me very much. The discovery of new places in GW2 or uncovering solutions to puzzles in Myst are what I remember more than the storyline.
 

But regardless, how we perceive the story doesn't affect the story itself.

Makes me wonder where else this talk could go. It would be as if, if we took Direlda's examination of Minecraft and applied it to a hike. Someone goes outside for a walk, comes across some deer, maybe. He continues on, maybe finds a clearing and punches down some trees to make a house (kidding). Instead he pitches a tent.

So we, the spectators, may call that a story because I narrated it. But if we were out there ourselves experiencing it, would it be a story then? We were not presented with a plot, but rather be writing it as we go along. I would think that in a video game, that maybe that experience would be limited and random. I might not call that a story but others may.

I guess my deliberation is a matter of 'if the story is written' or 'being written.' I'm unable to blend those two while consistently considering it story-telling, especially if it's coming right back to us.

 

I would say that our perceptions of a story do and don't affect the story itself. Disney's The Lion King is going to progress the same way every time you watch it no matter what you think of it. And yet, if you are familiar enough with Hamlet to see the parallels between the two stories, then that perception will alter The Lion King for you.

 

And I would say that both examples of the hike would be a story. But that's because I view our lives as unfolding stories.

 

For me stories in video games are better when they are co-created by the player and the developer/game systems. Dungeons and Dragons as Foxbunny pointed out, is probably a good model of this. One player from the group takes on the role of Dungeon Master and decides how the NPCs interact with the players as well as throwing in events and quests. But the DM doesn't fully drive the story because how the players choose to act, where they go, and so on also affects the story. And seeing how I have many more stories of D&D affecting me, I would say such a system works.

 

The was the time when one of our party members swore all of us into eternal servitude to a dragon because his attempts to flatter and placate a dragon were interpreted differently than intended. Or the time we thought a Big Bad was called "Master Dinner" because one of his servants had shouted, "Master, Dinner!" but we hadn't heard the pause between the two (it was helped by the fact that Master Dinner was essentially a giant maw that ate through the floor). Or how we took to calling our adventuring party the Unfit Apocalypse (I can't remember if our communal Rock Band 2 band was named before or after our party name, as that was also called Unfit Apocalypse) because we always seemed to destroy quest hubs despite our best efforts not to. Or the time we did a campaign somewhat in the WoW setting and I had a minor miner Worgen Warden.

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The final level of Bastion strikes that balance between gameplay mechanics and storytelling about as good as it gets, and in general, the game wove the two together incredibly well. Also amazing soundtrack.

 

Brothers: The Tale of Two Sons is suppose to be one of those games to play if you want to see what games can do with storytelling as a medium, but it's still on my to-do list.

 

Final Fantasy 6 has some remarkable moments of storytelling given it lived on a SNES cart, the famous Opera Scene for instance, and even added characterization to battle mechanics. But the game is paced JRPG slow and sooo many hours.  Still, a wonderful title and wonderfully powerful story if you can get through the gameplay slog. One of the top JRPGs of all time.

Which brings me to Chrono Trigger, which tells a delightfully wondrous tale of time travel, sacrifice, and hope. It's actually themed very heavily on things surrounding Christendom, and as far as my opinion is concerned, fixes the typical JRPG slog. As to storytelling mechanics, there's this one scene in the middle of it where your gameplay actions and choices at the very beginning of the game have great impact, and going into the game, you have no idea. It's an eye-opener moment. My favorite JRPG of all time.

 

But even then, I can't say I don't prefer the gameplay updates that Kingdom Hearts did to the formula.

 

There's also an old Tower Defense game named Immortal Defense that did something special in mixing gameplay aspects and the story it wanted to tell. Your towers are aspects of your personality - anger, Id, fear, and the like - for starters, and the rest, well, you'd just have to play through it to experience it.

 

The problem with Myst is that it's expansive and bewildering. There's suppose to be an amazing story there, but unless you're incredibly dedicated or most of the way to a genius (or use a guide, but that kinda defeats it), you'll probably lose the thread of that story trying to get through the puzzles.  I'm not that sort of puzzle person, so didn't have the patience myself despite trying a time or two. I much preferred the 'Drawn' series (Dark Flight/Painted Tower) where the puzzles are a pleasant distraction.

 

I do need to play Spec Ops: The Line still.

 

And I really do need to mention Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  It's a game that not only tried to ask the question 'What is it to be human?', it tried to make you question yourself as a player by the choices presented via game mechanics.  It all fell apart at the boss battles, but eh, certainly met with some success in the general sweep of things.

 

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The type of thing that Direlda is talking about falls under 'Emergent Gameplay' or story in this case. Simple elements combine up to something greater dependent upon the player's actions.  It's the narrative we impart on a sequence of events to find meaning, which works very well sometimes, and at other times, unravels a bit at 'On his way to build a castle, Steve blundered into a dark pit and got half-eaten by spiders, then drowned upon breaking into an underground reservoir'. You can spruce those events up any way you like, reach deep into the human experience, but will still be hard-pressed to make a satisfying plot out of them alone. So in that way, such stories can be lacking, or missing some of the elements we look for in a good story.

 

Which has all been said before, but felt like putting my spin on it.

 

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As for the Skyrim piece, I fell into the same problem as you did, Salem.  Enjoyable to begin with but lost its way when I found myself spending hours selling junk and wandering the wilds for no particular reason.  The narrative structure was too loose, too samey,and easily lost, largely due to the experience presented by the gameplay.

 

I much preferred Witcher's model, although that is a game I'm obligated to say you shouldn't play due to adult content and straightforward pagan themes.

 

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But back to the point of the thread, I think video games as a storytelling medium 'works' when gameplay mechanics are given meaning and import to the story being told. Most gameplay mechanics are completely unhinged from the story the video game is trying to tell, and it's that dissonance between action and narrative that breaks video games as a storytelling medium. World of Warcraft is very good at creating that dissonance sometimes. I remember one quest where you're basically told 'You! Prove you're different than the murderous barbarians slaughtering my people by going out there slaughtering all of them!' That doesn't work, as much as the writers try to hide it behind the world's generally broken morality.

 

The 'trick' is to remove that dissonance between action and narrative, and it's a very hard trick to pull off sometimes.

 

Here's a little ten minute flash diversion as one possible example - Today I Die

How well do you think it did as a storytelling medium or experience?

Edited by Rythe

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I definitely understand some of the vibes. Video game developers often like to showcase their game's engine and they do that by cinematic cutscenes, pretty graphics, shiny objects, sometimes colors, character models, and engine features. In those cases, it's off-putting. I'd prefer an 8-bit game with gameplay and story potential over a game with photorealistic graphics and gameplay and stories that aren't good. Unity, recently, as far as I can tell, gets hammered for its gameplay and story (not reading actual critics, just reviews from players and a few specific people). And the graphics are not optimized either, leading to cruddy performance. Devs... don't show me your game, let me play it.

 

Quoting Rythe, those are a bunch of games that I'm familiar with.

 

Bastion - I hear great things about this game, but I could not stay interested in it.

Brother: Tale of Two Sons - This is the reason I bought a controller (it's necessary for gameplay). Issue is that I haven't been able to afford the game.

FF6 - I'm not a fan of Final Fantasy games, at least not anymore. But I know that I just finished this and think it's a likely comparison, from your description.

Chrono Trigger - I've wanted to play this for years.

Immortal Defense - This sounds really cool. I'll have to check it out.

Spec Ops: The Line - I just streamed 90% of the game last night for a friend. (I'll warn you lads for violence, though. This game is brutal.)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - This game is fantastic. There was a Director's Cut release on the PC edition that fixes the boss fights, adds in more story, and smooths over The Missing Link DLC integration. Regardless, this game has been at my forefront of my interests for a LONG time. It serves as a prequel to the other two Deus Ex games (each consequent game went back in time. Even The Fall (terrible mobile-to-PC port) happened before DE:HR.). Playing a pacifist role was a lot of fun.

 

I've played The Witcher 1 before, didn't like the gameplay. Started the second and realized that the first game is vital for ANY sort of context. Also I still need to upgrade my PC to properly play it.

 

*swats at Warhammer and Warcraft games*

 

Today I Die was very interesting. I spent about five minutes toying around with it and could only produce one ending. Is there only one?

 

 

So how do we think video game developers should integrate stories with player action? Are all stories made by the player, or played by the player? Is the main character leading the story and we're playing him, or are we leading the main character and making his choices?

 

I often feel that there's a choice to be made between assigning a quest and giving a personal story involving the character. I think it's EXTREMELY hard to make a personally involved story-line for a player-made character. Although there was a method in The Last Remnant that may be interesting:

 

Imagine being given major and important quests by the characters around you. Those who play far into my RPs know that 'missions' and 'quests' are often personal stories given by in-game characters that often the player has bonded to. Those quests become personal. I've seen Mass Effect and The Last Remnant both do it, to varying degrees of success. The Last Remnant's text-based character voices ended up striking with me ten times more than Mass Effect's. Obviously, our mileages vary and these quests can falter.

 

(Also, for those who play my RPs and have the chance to read this, look out for "special characters." They're notable/remarkable. Especially in Starlight.)

 

 

I don't mind playing a very linear game if the story is good. I also don't mind playing an open-world do-as-you-will RPG if I'm able to find lore to dig myself into.

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Destiny of an Emperor was a great game (first one I finished). It had a great story, fun play mechanic (for a 1980s NES RPG), and had decent replay value because of some choices you could make as the player. There's an unexpected betrayal that actually touched me emotionally.

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