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The Story of Games and Narrative

August 21, 2013

This is a big topic – really big. I’m not planning to write a full account of it here in this post. But it is key to say that there are a few things people interested in games and narrative need to understand.  I’m writing this in reaction to comments George Lucas about games and stories:

A member of the audience asked what the panel thought of Lucas and Spielberg’s comments, made during a separate USC School of Cinematic Arts session in June this year this year, where Spielberg in particular claimed player interaction meant games had little to offer in terms of telling stories, saying “The second you get the controller something turns off in the heart, and it becomes a sport.”

This echoes and idea that came up during Nine Worlds about Cyberpunk and how it was working as a narrative form:

They were further joined by Wagner and Deus Ex: Human Revolution writer James Swallow, who issued the bold challenge: “Maybe cyberpunk dead to literature but it’s not dead to video games because what we can do is a different form of experiential storytelling that you can’t do in books. We can take the audience to a different place that books and films can’t do.”

Games are fundamentally different story telling mediums to both film and books. Not better, not worse – different. I love all three and think that a world without any one would be a poorer place indeed. That said here’s where I start from:

  • Games do not need story to have a narrative. The player forms their own journey though the game, which forms a set of connections all their own and so a narrative is born.
  • Games are not films. Don’t expect linear forms of story to emerge from a game and be as good as those emerging from film – a form designed for linear story.
  • Games are still not films. When we want to be told a story we can watch a film or read a book. When we want to take part in, or create our own story, we can play a game.
  • Games are really not films. When you tell a story via a game we don’t expect it to be experienced by the player the same way we as the designer imagines it will.
  • Don’t tell gamers and game designers how games are rubbish at story. There a loads of examples of great games with great stories. If you’re not playing games and making this point then you need to play games before you wade in. If you are playing games and making this point then I suggest you make a game that shows us how you’d do it in that form. Else I refer you to point 2, above.

That’s all for now, I think… PS. Games don’t do story? My reply – Last of Us.

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