What Video Games Can Teach Us About Narrative

 

Earlier this week, I addressed the potential for popular fiction to be compelling without being exclusively fun. Yesterday, I introduced the sandbox model of games, which offers opportunities for learning without direct instruction. Today, I will discuss instruction and persuasion through traditional storytelling and its translation into interactive environments.

The potential of traditional storytelling to offer insights or arguments doesn’t need to be explained. We are all familiar with the occasional power of novels and movies to make us consider, reflect, imagine, or feel. But it’s worth noting that not all linear fiction is focused on plot. Some stories are driven by events. Others are driven by characters. Even static settings can be major themes by themselves, which is why so many fans of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or the Aubrey-Maturin series dig into lore and history in addition to enjoying those narratives. Sometimes, we are challenged to unravel puzzles and to anticipate the next plot twist. Other times, we passively enjoy witnessing the interplay between a group of delightful companions, without any expectation of final resolution.

Middle Earth

All of this is possible in game fiction. What distinguishes games from more passive entertainment is interactivity. In any game, one way or another, it is the player’s role to take action and to move the story forward.

Games can differ from films by varying degrees. The most film-like products challenge players to solve puzzles, to defeat or escape foes, or to navigate motion trials (a race, for example) without offering the player any control over character development or plot. In these games, the player does not direct contents much as unlock it. Cinematic sequences called “cutscenes” which temporarily remove player control punctuate periods of intense action and serve as rewards for overcoming challenges.

On the other hand, blockbuster games increasingly incorporate “divergent storytelling” into their story arcs. Mass Effect is a popular science fiction series by Canadian developer Bioware which provides serious and powerful Hollywood-quality plots while simultaneously empowering players to make significant choices within the greater narrative. This is accomplished through dialog trees that enable players to determine the courses of conversation and even the fates of central characters.

Here are two examples of branching, interactive storytelling.

In the first video, the consequences of the player’s choices do not directly relate to the main plotline, yet the scenario invites deep reflection and bears emotional weight. The player-character has been approached by a man whose wife was killed in a recent battle. The man requests that the protagonist help him to convince the military to release his wife’s body for burial. Though Bioware’s limited resources prevented them from providing every option a player might desire, and bias is certainly evident in the selections offered, the player is given more nuanced options than simply to help or not help the grieving husband.

In the second video — this one from Mass Effect 2 — the consequences of the player’s choices in the first Mass Effect game carry over into the sequel. In a dramatic moment in the first game, the player-character must choose which of two key characters to save. The woman in the scene above would not even exist in Mass Effect 2 had the player made a different choice in Mass Effect 1. Furthermore, this character is only a love interest of the protagonist in the sequel because the player chose to make it so in the original game.

These are examples of storytelling through dialog options. But players may also be empowered to affect plot elements through non-verbal actions, such as saving a hostage before he is killed, discovering useful resources, or gathering allies.

More importantly, these examples demonstrate an advantage that the video game medium has over traditional fiction like novels and movies. Whereas in older art forms, the audience can refine habits of moral appraisal by identifying with the scripted choices of this or that character and wondering what one’s own decisions might have been in similar situations, a narrative-game player can actually simulate those decisions and be presented with consequences. Game developers can guide the player through a variety of “What if…” scenarios and show where each decision or reaction might lead.

Your thoughts?

Next time, I’ll explore the near future of game persuasion in the forms of environmental feedback and post-script narration.

There are 27 comments.

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  1. Cantankerous Homebody Inactive
    Cantankerous Homebody
    @CantankerousHomebody

    I’ve read some books that have made me rethink my opinions on things but I can’t think of any examples of games that have.  I think in more traditional art forms, like a story or a movie, you have a character who is an example that you can measure yourself up against.  Maybe?

    In games the protagonist is always “you” or greater or lesser degrees and the protagonist is always some kind of hero. Someone has a “theory” attributed to his name that escapes me at the moment.  Basically the main character is usually  presented as a great human being no matter what he does even though he’s just murdered like 5,000 people.

    Lazarovich says something like that to Drake in Uncharted 2: “how many people have YOU killed? THOUSANDS?!” and I said “no way!” until I checked my game stats and realized geesh I’ve killed like 1800 people. Spec Ops: The Line also tried to 4th wall guilt trip you.  The plot tries so outlandishly hard to make you a terrible person.  I actually avoided most of the atrocities out of spite and to the game’s credit it let me do that.

    Maybe games are different than stories because your avatar is never abstracted from you like how characters in stories are?  I don’t know, games never quite felt the same to me.  Do we play games to learn how to be more moral people or are games really more just a child-like power fantasy or an escape into some grand adventure?  Can we even write a morality play without it descending into a nauseating sea of liberal tropes anymore?

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Game graphics are beginning to approach photo realism. Voice actors are being replaced by full body actors exactly equivalent to Hollywood films. Game physics and environment design is becoming increasingly vivid and believable. Technological improvements like this can contribute to film-like dramatic sympathy.

    But few games begin production from a story script. AAA games now employ Hollywood scriptwriters much of the time, but we are only beginning to see storytellers in game production who grew up with the medium and know how to utilize it.

    Games are still young as a dramatic art form. I believe the form will eventually move audiences emotionally and philosophically. For now, just getting players to care deeply about game characters is a challenge.

    John McClane shot a lot of people in Die Hard, yet we still connect to him and other characters in the story. Until now, games lacked the nuances of body language and setting to allow us to fully immerse ourselves in their stories.

    • #2
  3. Belt Member
    Belt
    @Belt

    I prefer to play role-playing games with a strong, coherent story.  Currently I’m finishing up Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I play through the storylines to find out what the developers are saying, and once that’s exhausted I’ll replay to come up with my own narrative.  I really respect Bioware and their ability to craft compelling stories.  But there’s only so much you can do with a dialog tree.

    As you note, the technical craft keeps improving, but in the end that world is still static.  Can artificial intelligence fill in gaps?

    • #3
  4. Cantankerous Homebody Inactive
    Cantankerous Homebody
    @CantankerousHomebody

    Aaron Miller:Games are still young as a dramatic art form. I believe the form will eventually move audiences emotionally and philosophically. For now, just getting players to care deeply about game characters is a challenge.

    John McClane shot a lot of people in Die Hard, yet we still connect to him and other characters in the story. Until now, games lacked the nuances of body language and setting to allow us to fully immerse ourselves in their stories.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily about the realism of the graphics as much as it is how much you’re invested in the narrative.  I think the most moving experiences I’ve had in games that I can immediately recall is the ending to Metal Gear Solid 3 and Heavy Rain.

    Neither of those make me reflect on who I am though. Geralt, from the Witcher, will always make decisions based on my value system where decisions are possible.  Plus you have to be able to divorce the decisions you make from the gameplay consequences of the decision.  Like some decisions you’ll make in Mass Effect is based on what you want your alignment will be or like how I’m currently playing Wasteland 2 with a FAQ so that I don’t miss out on any guns.

    • #4
  5. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Let’s not let the subject pass without discussing Bioshock, which presented you with moral choices that paid off at the end or damned you, depending on whether you chose compassion or power. I mean, you had to earn this:

    bioshock1

    It’s a moment no movie can match, because that’s you. That’s who you’ve been and what you’ve earned.

    The second game amplified the point, and when your daughter showed you what she’d learned from watching you, it could be chastening. (The only person I shot in cold blood was perv who ruined the little girls – and the game, I think, forgives you for this.) Bioshock 3 was on rails more than the others, it seems, but you didn’t notice because the narrative was so amazing. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but the relationship between the player and Elizabeth, the girl he’s sent to save, is the finest character interplay in the medium to date  – there’s a tension and ambivalence you can’t quite figure out, there’s something the game isn’t letting you feel. For a reason.

    I have known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back… frontiers! I’ve stormed Normandy, banished the hordes of Hell, blown the Strogg Macron to bloody bits, brought down a Soviet rocket at the Cosmodrome with a shoulder-mounted missile. But there are quiet, happy moments in Bioshock Infinite that show them for the comic-book episodes they were, and show what the medium can do.

    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Cantankerous Homebody:

    Like some decisions you’ll make in Mass Effect is based on what you want your alignment will be or like how I’m currently playing Wasteland 2 with a FAQ so that I don’t miss out on any guns.

    That’s a good point. Games sometimes provide contradictory incentives. Depending on the particular game, that might be a design flaw or it might reflect an attempt to please a variety of playstyles. Different consumers often enjoy the same product for different reasons.

    But emotional power or serious commentary can be the focus of a game’s design. The Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row games, despite being very liberal and gleefully vulgar, occasionally make valid satirical points in memorable ways. And that Mass Effect scenario of a soldier’s body being kept to learn about unfamiliar enemy weaponry really got me digging deep for the best answer. Incidentally, the choice I wanted as not an option in that game dialog (I would have asked the grieving husband to let the military study his wife’s body, but would have left the decision with him).

    Generally, players do keep a lot of emotional distance from even well represented game characters, though. Who would cry if the Master Chief died? In Neverwinter Nights, I cared so little about the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) that I leveled up before even leaving the city limits… by killing innocents for xp and loot. Yes, that happened to be a D&D game, and that character was Neutral Evil.

    In Mass Effect and other games, I tend to play a variety of characters with a variety of goals and personalities. But I always play one character who represents myself.

    And, even when I guide very different characters through the game, I am instinctively measuring their choices — as good or evil, charming or asinine, charitable or gruff, and so on — which requires first that I have standards to measure by. If I don’t have standards immediately ready, those scenarios encourage me to consider the possibilities. In other words, even characters very unlike the player can encourage him or her to reflect.

    • #6
  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Also, graphical realism isn’t everything. This trailer is proof that even cartoonish characters and settings can carry emotional weight.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    James Lileks:Let’s not let the subject pass without discussing Bioshock, which presented you with moral choices that paid off at the end or damned you, depending on whether you chose compassion or power. I mean, you had to earn this:

    bioshock1

    It’s a moment no movie can match, because that’s you. That’s who you’ve been and what you’ve earned.

    Seconded.

    I’d add that the single most dramatic moment in the game was — essentially — a cutscene and the player’s inability to control the action was a huge part of the drama.

    • #8
  9. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Aaron,

    I will not stand idly by as positive things are said about the Mass Effect series.  On guard sir.

    • #9
  10. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Aaron Miller: These are examples of storytelling through dialog options. But players may also be empowered to affect plot elements through non-verbal actions, such as saving a hostage before he is killed, discovering useful resources, or gathering allies.

    The biggest lesson of the Mass effect series was that there weren’t really any choices.  They all turn out to have no significant impact on the world at large, despite the fact that your character is ostensibly the most pivotal figure in the galaxy in this conflict.

    Take the Rachni choice, which most of us were giddy about seeing the eventual effects of.

    Quick primer: There is a race of large insect like creatures called the Rachni that nearly wiped out the galaxy in a previous war.  It was thought that they were extinct, but your character finds a Queen.

    You have the choice to believe that she intends peace, and allow her species to survive, or kill her and ensure the threat is eliminated forever.  It has further implications as if you spare her, there are hints that the Rachni will aid you against the greater threat you face in the story.

    In the third game, no matter what choice you made, the story unfolds largely the same.  If you spared her, the villains of the story have taken control of the Rachni and are using them for their own ends.  If you killed the queen, the villains have found a different queen and are using her for their own ends.

    This has been part one of “Bioware are a bunch of hacks.”  Stay tuned for parts 2-200.

    • #10
  11. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Fallout 3 has moments on par with great movies.  In particular, the climax of the major arc Stealing Independence.  Having fought, cajoled, buffaloed, bribed, snuck, dashed, and gritted your way to the ostensibly straightforward objective, you find that you have become deeply invested in an entirely new set of conflicting goals, and the scene that unfolds is a masterpiece.

    • #11
  12. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Aaron Miller: In the second video — this one from Mass Effect 2 — the consequences of the player’s choices in the first Mass Effect game carry over into the sequel. In a dramatic moment in the first game, the player-character must choose which of two key characters to save. The woman in the scene above would not even exist in Mass Effect 2 had the player made a different choice in Mass Effect 1. Furthermore, this character is only a love interest of the protagonist in the sequel because the player chose to make it so in the original game.

    This was a great moment and the emotional climax of the entire game.  Choosing who lived and died did carry significant weight. (Though honestly, who saved Kaidan?  Sorry pal, I only save people with personalities.)

    And yet, notice that the survivor of Kaidan and Ashley were unavailable as a companion in the second game.  The sequence you linked to has the character behaving very nearly insanely just to avoid having to letting them join your group.  It made the choice of the first game seem largely irrelevant, as there were virtually no visible effects from it.  Did you save your love interest?  Too bad chump, they hate you anyway.  Proceed as if you never made the choice.

    Bioware had to be bullied into adding the surviving character into the crew of the third game.

    • #12
  13. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II was hardly cinematic, with unimaginative bad guys (hey, here’s a similar dude with a slightly better weapon) and repetitive rooms about as interesting as MYST (yawn!), but it was *still* parsecs better (see what I did there?) than any of the more recent movies in the franchise.

    Off-topic a bit, but the animated Clone Wars series (had a son in the right age range, what can I say) was also much better than the contemporary movies.  At least the first bunch of episodes was.  It got really bad all of a sudden.  Musta got the roving eye’s attention.

    • #13
  14. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    Frank Soto:

    This has been part one of “Bioware are a bunch of hacks.” Stay tuned for parts 2-200.

    I cut Bioware a lot of slack for not truly fleshing out the near infinite number of possibilities that could result from the different choices (since they only have so many resources), but I will never defend them for the abomination that was the Mass Effect 3 ending.

    After years of talk about how everyone’s endings would be different and personalized, they couldn’t even muster more than one ending, albeit in three different colors for your choosing. Seriously, I’ve never been more angry about the ending of any piece of fiction ever. And sure, they “fixed it” with a free update, but that didn’t fix the mind-numbingly stupid literal deus ex machina twist they came up with. Argh! Now I’m angry again.

    • #14
  15. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    zepplinmike:

    After years of talk about how everyone’s endings would be different and personalized, they couldn’t even muster more than one ending, albeit in three different colors for your choosing. Seriously, I’ve never been more angry about the ending of any piece of fiction ever. And sure, they “fixed it” with a free update, but that didn’t fix the mind-numbingly stupid literal deus ex machina twist they came up with. Argh! Now I’m angry again.

    You and me both.  I argue that it is the worst ending in the history of fiction.   I am prepared to unleash 5000 words on the subject at any moment.

    • #15
  16. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    You can’t talk about narrative in modern video games without bringing up the Telltale games such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, and Tales From the Borderlands. They are essentially purely narrative, often more like an interactive TV show than a game.

    Telltale’s games also include the branching dialog options and different story outcomes that result from your choices, although like Frank’s complaint about the Mass Effect games, you do usually end up in generally the same place. I’ve heard someone use a coloring book as an analogy for how your choices affect a Telltale game. The picture is essentially the same, but you color in between the lines with your own choices.

    In any case, I highly recommend any of Telltale’s games that I listed above. Even if you don’t play a lot of videogames, the “game” part of them is extremely easy to get a handle on, and the stories are all worthwhile, with the interactivity adding to the experience like how Aaron described above.

    • #16
  17. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    Frank Soto:

    zepplinmike:

    After years of talk about how everyone’s endings would be different and personalized, they couldn’t even muster more than one ending, albeit in three different colors for your choosing. Seriously, I’ve never been more angry about the ending of any piece of fiction ever. And sure, they “fixed it” with a free update, but that didn’t fix the mind-numbingly stupid literal deus ex machina twist they came up with. Argh! Now I’m angry again.

    You and me both. I argue that it is the worst ending in the history of fiction. I am prepared to unleash 5000 words on the subject at any moment.

    Agreed, and I could likely do the same! My friends and family have heard me rant about it enough over the years.

    • #17
  18. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Onto the overall subject at hand, Games do offer potential that no other medium has.  As James pointed out it is the only medium where YOU are the character.  It creates a deeper investment in the story.

    And though I don’t believe any current games have executed this potential well, games do offer the possibility of stories diverging for different players based on the decisions they make.

    It is still a medium where most of it’s potential is untapped.

    • #18
  19. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    For me, the real potential for joint storytelling is NOT in video games, but good, old fashioned (is something that dates from 1970’s “old fashioned”?) pen and paper Role Playing Games.

    For those that don’t know, the pen and paper games generally involve several players and a Game Master (GM) who runs the show. There is no worry about coding, or things like “The Players cannot do that because we did not think about it” that you get with the computer. As a GM, in my players come up with a good idea to move the story forward, I can adapt on the fly. (GM’s that cannot do this are considered to “railroad” the players. All games feel like they are railroading me).

    If the players want to scale a wall, they can try (Don’t fail your climbing roll). There are not big blocks to stop the players from exploring – the world is in the minds of the GM and the players. The Story itself unfolds in fascinating ways. The Players, almost never act like I think they will. That is great.

    And you really get to play roles. Yes, it is “me” the character in the game online. I have feelings about the journey of my Sith Inquisitor (Revanite that he is). Still, I have the most affection for pen and paper characters I ran for months, or years, in monthly or weekly games.

    I do like RPG online, MMPOGS, etc. But, for me, the best fun gaming, is a group of friends around a table, character sheets and dice, with snacks around the corner. It is as much a party as a bunch of guys watching football together, and a whole lot more stimulating of the brain.

    • #19
  20. Cantankerous Homebody Inactive
    Cantankerous Homebody
    @CantankerousHomebody

    Frank Soto:Onto the overall subject at hand, Games do offer potential that no other medium has. As James pointed out it is the only medium where YOU are the character. It creates a deeper investment in the story.

    And though I don’t believe any current games have executed this potential well, games do offer the possibility of stories diverging for different players based on the decisions they make.

    It is still a medium where most of it’s potential is untapped.

    I guess I have to apologize to Aaron, I thought the subject was more on how divergent storylines can be woven into a morality tale.

    There have been games that have done a great job of immersing the player into the story.  One example, for me, is Heavy Rain where you basically have to navigate though a typical adventure game with quick time events (e.g. you have to press X at the right moment to dodge an axe) for action sequences.  Failing a series of QTEs could result in any of the four protagonists dying.  Dying, though, is not a fail state; the game will just save itself and continue with the story.  I don’t think any game has delivered quite the same edge-of-my-seat white knuckle experience for me.

    <Spoiler Country>

    I also really liked Metal Gear Solid 3.  At the end of the game the traitor you’ve been sent to assassinate was revealed to be, in fact, a true patriot whose death was necessary to smooth over American-Soviet tensions after a mission went south.

    After painting a sympathetic portrait they bring you to the point where your character has to kill her.  She knows she has to die, you know she has to die, and as the gun is pointed at her in the cinematic control is reverted back to the player.  The only thing you can actually do is to execute her.  I thought it was an effective way to underscore that moment.

    • #20
  21. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Agreed that the series ending was a terrible letdown. It’s amazing how little work went into the ending compared to the the actual gameplay.

    Frank Soto:

    In the third game, no matter what choice you made, the story unfolds largely the same.  If you spared her, the villains of the story have taken control of the Rachni and are using them for their own ends.  If you killed the queen, the villains have found a different queen and are using her for their own ends.

    Yes, it’s one thing to imply consequences without showing them. It’s another to contradict the implication.

    That said, I also cut Bioware a lot of slack because making player decisions show up in cinematics and actual gameplay can be very expensive in money and production time. Making it happen is possible, but it requires a lot of foresight and developers have to pick their battles.

    That expense will probably lessen as game design toolsets improve and become more comprehensive. The toolsets are gradually becoming advanced enough that eventually not every gameplay designer will have to double as a programmer.

    Mass Effect 2 had the best storytelling in the series, in my opinion. The player was encouraged to invest a lot time in conversations and side character subplots. More than that, though, the player could select two side characters among a variety to be his or her constant companions in the game. So the player was encouraged to pick favorites. Then the game enabled a strong variety of possible endings, including the possibility of losing multiple team members.

    For now, perhaps it’s more prudent for game developers to leave many of those consequences to the imagination.

    ME2 had the best story, but ME3‘s multiplayer combat mode was a blast. Here’s hoping that the next Mass Effect game will include a similar mode. I also hope it will involve more freeform exploration and natural discovery, ala Star Wars: Galaxies.

    • #21
  22. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Cantankerous Homebody:

    There have been games that have done a great job of immersing the player into the story. One example, for me, is Heavy Rain where you basically have to navigate though a typical adventure game with quick time events (e.g. you have to press X at the right moment to dodge an axe) for action sequences. Failing a series of QTEs could result in any of the four protagonists dying. Dying, though, is not a fail state; the game will just save itself and continue with the story. I don’t think any game has delivered quite the same edge-of-my-seat white knuckle

    I consider it a storytelling handicap that nearly all games are still achievement-oriented with definite win conditions. Real life isn’t a game one simply wins or loses. In a sense, we win and lose simultaneously, with many problems never have an obviously correct solution.

    There is room in the market for a variety of storytelling styles. Bioware tightly controls the main plotline because they want the story to feel cinematic. That’s one option. Another option is to set up consequences for player decisions without stealing control from the player or directly commenting on the justice/injustice of those decisions.

    By the way, I think quick-time events in their present form are terrible design. Having to make important decisions quickly, like in your Heavy Rain example, can be good and powerful. But specific button prompts (“Quick, press A! Now press B! Now A!”) are a poor way of manifesting that situation. Button prompts displace the player’s attention from the game-world and the drama to arcade-style, toyish interactions. Triple-A games should beyond such gimmicky design by now.

    • #22
  23. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    I do like RPG online, MMPOGS, etc. But, for me, the best fun gaming, is a group of friends around a table, character sheets and dice, with snacks around the corner. It is as much a party as a bunch of guys watching football together, and a whole lot more stimulating of the brain.

    Nothing beats the dice. Of course the reason the table top is so effective and engaging is because everyone really has a lot more freedom since the GM develops the game directly in response to peoples actions. While a video game presents one with options. Its the difference between going to a restaurant and going to a grocery store. The possibilities for what you will eat and when are so much more in the grocery store.

    • #23
  24. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Aaron Miller:ME2 had the best story, but ME3‘s multiplayer combat mode was a blast. Here’s hoping that the next Mass Effect game will include a similar mode. I also hope it will involve more freeform exploration and natural discovery, ala Star Wars: Galaxies.

    Really? While the talking was good and all in ME2 the overall story was an abortive filler episode. The over all plot of ME1 was way more solid and complete. Why you actually felt like you accomplished something at the end, while ME2 just kind of felt like a prelude and a bit of a treadmill. Personally ME3 had the most engaging build up of all the ME games as you scramble around the galaxy trying to piece together a “last alliance of elves and men”, though its original and generic end did much to undue everything. Though they managed to fix a lot of that with the various DLC.

    I do agree though that ME3’s multi-player was amazingly fun. Could you imagine how awesome an ME4 co-op RPG could be?

    • #24
  25. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Valiuth:

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    I do like RPG online, MMPOGS, etc. But, for me, the best fun gaming, is a group of friends around a table, character sheets and dice, with snacks around the corner. It is as much a party as a bunch of guys watching football together, and a whole lot more stimulating of the brain.

    Nothing beats the dice. Of course the reason the table top is so effective and engaging is because everyone really has a lot more freedom since the GM develops the game directly in response to peoples actions. While a video game presents one with options. Its the difference between going to a restaurant and going to a grocery store. The possibilities for what you will eat and when are so much more in the grocery store.

    Nothing beats home cookin’!

    • #25
  26. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    There are books & there are games. Books could have a guiding intelligence behind it, putting into the work every power a man might possess. But a game has players who limit, not to say cripple any guiding intelligence, if they are to feel, like you seem to want to feel, that they are making their own choices, making changes to the game, so to speak. So I’d like to see a game do what John Ford’s movies could do. I do not believe it will ever happen & games have been around about as long as cinema when Ford started making masterpieces in the ’30s, if that sort of comparison matters.

    In political terms, a book is the tyranny of a wise man. He chooses what to put in & what to leave out & how to arrange the parts & what sequence to create from the start. Games, however, are turning more & more into something like to democracy, or at any rate democratic elements are introduced–wisdom matters less & less, freedom to choose or to consent matters more & more.

    If you think of these things in terms of trade-offs, at some point freedom would mean everyone is free to make his own game, which is a terrible invisible curse on most people, who would lose access to better story-tellers than themselves. It might rob people are good at telling stories of an audience, too, because, strictly, it would destroy the prestige of the story-teller.

    Perhaps games might strike a balance & retain a level of–increasingly more concealed–tyrannic mind while offering people choices as to their actions. But I cannot say what they balance would be. There is a delusion in people–perfectly summarized by Mr. Lileks–that you, however way you conceive of yourself, are acting in a game. That delusion conceals the old Shakespeare equation character plus circumstances equals destiny. What you call narrative & used to be called plot or story or what’s going on or what have you–that’s only a way to make that equation come alive for people. You cannot do that without a hard teaching about the relation between character & circumstances–which means you cannot allow people freedom beyond the constraints of what would be done by such & such a man in such & such a circumstance.

    In fact, the more I think about what freedom there is in games–it is not freedom from tyrannic books, but freedom from democratic life. Games do not make you a hero, but they do assume that you can do consequential, important things–at least important for human beings. Games have to face the implications of that kind of desire to be important.

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  27. Ricochet Thatcher
    Ricochet
    @ToryWarWriter

    Speaking of games, I just ran a LARP event for a 100 players.

    LARPs or Live Action Role Playing Games, are stories where people act out there characters and motivations in a setting controlled by game masters or storytellers.  They can be one shot or part of larger campaigns.  The game I ran was large convention event that occurred over two days as part of a campaign that has a set date of 5 years.  I run a local game and am connected to nearby games in not just Canada but around the world.

    The game we run is Awakening which is part of World Of Darkness games published by Onyx Path.  The short story is that the world is controlled by factions of Wizards who have been involved for a war to control humanity for millennia.  The protoganists seek to free humanity and give them magical enlightenment and are called the Pentacle, and the antagonists are called the Seers of the Throne and are humanities jailers.  There are numerous other forces at work in the universe, including third party groups who may or may not be friend or foe.

    The players involved in the lead up to this convention event, were given many choices, and I feel for the first time were given a real hand in determining the outcome but had Mass Effect choices.  There was a general sense from many people in the lead up that, I as the Storyteller could not be a) serious and b) would not pull ‘the trigger’ on the consequences.

    As it became closer to the event and players realized they could not just ignore the problem and that I was serious, the players responded.  They used resources they had no idea about.  Discovered secrets about other groups that were burying the truth for there own advantage.  In the course of that weekend they helped rescue thousands of innocent refugees from certain doom, rejected a disadvantageous cease fire offer from those Seers I mentioned, argued and wrangled amongst themselves all sorts of moral questions (at one point, mass machinegunning the refugees was discussed), and defeated a terrorist armed with 100s of Nuclear bombs, that some of the players were involved in handing over to him. 

    It was fascinating to watch my usually liberal friends suddenly engage in all sorts of behavior as soon as something they cared about was at stake.

    I am not sure exactly where I am going with all this, but I thought I would contribute.  Certainly I called the game Mass Effect Level events.  I guess there is more than one way to crack an egg.

    • #27

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