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Where Stories End & Games Begin Getting Beyond “Narratology vs. Ludology” No They Aren’t, Yes They Are Long predates game studies… Hal Barwood and Chris Crawford (and others) were arguing about this in the 80s. Not all media tell stories Analogy to music

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where stories end games begin

Where Stories End & Games Begin

Getting Beyond “Narratology vs. Ludology”

no they aren t yes they are
No They Aren’t, Yes They Are
  • Long predates game studies… Hal Barwood and Chris Crawford (and others) were arguing about this in the 80s.
  • Not all media tell stories
  • Analogy to music
    • Some tell stories: the musical, opera, the rock & roll ballad
    • Others don’t: orchestral music, instrumentals, etc.
no they aren t
No They Aren’t…
  • Similarly with games:
    • Some tell stories: RPGs, graphic adventures, action/adventure games
    • Others don’t: Strategy games, puzzles, etc.
  • Can we get beyond this debate? How do games use stories, and what are the issues?
the basic conflict
The Basic Conflict
  • Stories are Linear
    • Author chooses events for maximal impact
  • Games are Interactive
    • And player must feel he has some degree of freedom
    • Thus games are non-linear (and excessively linear games are unsatisfying)
  • Divergence from the optimal path produces a less effective story; excessive linearity produces a less effective game…
non linear fiction
Non-Linear Fiction
  • Perhaps this is simplistic
  • Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch
    • …But really just a play with time (Proust/Remembrance of Things Past, Joyce/Ulysses, Vonnegut/Slaughterhouse Five)
    • These are hat-tricks—not going to see a genre of Hopscotch novels
    • But still interesting: This is the minimal branching narrative (one decision point)
    • More game-like than a typical story, but still a long way from a game
hypertext fiction
Hypertext Fiction
  • Robert Coover, Eastgate Systems, afternoon: a story (Michael Joyce)
  • Multiple choices at each node, netlike narrative
  • Generally not a predefined resolution, instead strives for the reader to have an epiphany after exploring enough of the narrative
  • But… not necessarily a good way to tell stories…
  • And… no goal, aimless browsing—not a good game
  • A/k/a “Choose your own ending” or “which-way” books
  • Final Fantasy
  • Branching narrative, sometimes rudimentary game system
  • Lots of dead ends (but at least one ‘win state’)
  • Basically the same as hypertext—follow a link to the next bit of text…
solitaire adventures paragraph system boardgames
Solitaire Adventures & Paragraph-System Boardgames
  • Solo Adventures are similar to gamebooks, but use the more complicated rules of a tabletop RPG, thus more potential outcomes
  • Para-System: Boardgame, leading to occasional short gamebook style adventures with resolution. Tales of the Arabian Nights.
    • Considerably more replayable
dragon s lair
Dragon’s Lair
  • Arcade analog to gamebooks
  • Two paths at each decision point, one leads to death.
  • Popular when introduced (1984) because the first game with cinematic-quality visuals…
  • But sequels failed, because this sucks.
text graphic adventures
Text & Graphic Adventures
  • More free-form: Not predetermined paths, but limited game spaces until new ones are opened (beads on a string concept)
  • Free combination of game objects within spaces
  • Not that different from a gamebook, except that the ‘text’ can respond interactively to you—new paths opened/items available
graphic adventures
Graphic Adventures
  • Characters (but limited decision-tree interaction)
  • Cut scenes (but when overused, kill gameplay—e.g., Tex Avery: Overseer)
  • At best, this is a happy compromise: Compelling story, entertaining gameplay (e.g., Grim Fandango)
grapic adventures con t
Grapic Adventures(con’t)
  • All games are structures—but graphic adventures quite constrained—necessary to ensure excellence of story
pc console rpgs
PC/Console RPGs
  • Ultima, Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc.
  • Intimately tied to story, but far more freeform on a moment-to-moment basis.
  • Often multiple ways to overcome obstacles
  • Some choice of spaces to enter
  • Character growth
  • But one (or a handful) of outcomes, story experience not much different from player to player.
pc console rpgs con t
PC/Console RPGs (con’t)
  • PC/Console RPGs still highly dependent on story—but a greater degree of freedom—more “gamelike”
  • Limited repeat playability because tied to an essentially linear story
  • Large-scale environment, thousands of players
  • Sometimes a “story of the game,” but players have no impact on outcome—linear story irrelevant to gameplay.
  • Mini-stories in the form of quests.
  • Since the game goes on forever, and it is hard to allow players to meaningfully impact the world, real story is impossible.
  • To add story, you need to bring the game to a conclusion: A Tale in the Desert…
  • Or allow real changes to the world (but hard to do in a multi-server environment)
  • These are “story settings”—but have almost lost the connection to story in exchange for becoming good social environments as well as good games.
tabletop rpg
Tabletop RPG
  • Game system very similar (sometimes identical) to PC/Console
  • --but vastly more freeform: since there is a GM, players can do anything he deems physically possible.
  • While there are “adventures” (=pre-written stories), most GMs create their own stories for their friends.
tabletop rpgs
Tabletop RPGs
  • True ‘roleplaying’ for the first time—showing off for friends.
    • (“Roleplaying” in MMORPGs is bogus, because no possible impact on game outcomes… )
  • “Stories” are created through play, and for participants, can be if anything more powerful than the ones they receive through interactive media…
tabletop rpgs19
Tabletop RPGs
  • …but are invariably dull as hell if told to non-participants (expedition write-ups suck).
  • Many RPGers don’t give story a second thought: more interested in roleplaying, problem solving, or character advancement (the Blacow player types).
experimental rpgs
Experimental RPGs
  • Sorceror, “Dice Pool” games, My Life With Master (www.the-forge.com)
  • Pushing tabletop away from game & simulation and toward roleplaying & story
  • Minimal rules set
  • A dichotomy between those that emphasize RP (e.g., Sorceror) and those that emphasize story (MLWM).
experimental rpgs21
Experimental RPGs
  • Sorceror: No pre-determined narrative, elaborately developed character…
  • MLWM: Pre-determined story, high level of freedom of action by characters with the constraint of story…
  • But all moving away from “game” to elements of story, either linear narrative or fully realized characters…
the larp
  • Tend toward minimal rules sets.
  • Actions (tagging, ‘touching’ with fake weapon, etc.) rather than die rolls and complex systems
  • For short (<=1 weekend) games, often an overarching plot…
  • But emphasis is on roleplay (and setting)
the freeform
The Freeform
  • Ideal is “there are no rules”
  • Practically, there are many implicit rules (physics, etiquette, etc.)
  • Setting is king
  • Emphasis on roleplay, but often characters invented on the spur of the moment
we ve come out the other side
We’ve Come Out the Other Side…
  • …of the game/story duality into entities that emphasize more the story/roleplay duality—more akin to improvisational theater than, say, Chess.
  • But you can see a continuum: From the story-with-minimal-game (Hopscotch) through the game-with-residual attachment to story (simulationist RPGs)…
  • …And on to roleplays with residual attachment to story and even less to game.
  • Hopscotch is clearly a good story; Dungeons & Dragohs is clearly a good game. But even the best stories here have to compromise with the demands of game (or roleplay) to function as stories, and even the best games have to compromise with the demands of story.
thesis anti thesis synthesis
Thesis, Anti-Thesis, Synthesis
  • You can view the story as almost the antithesis of game: linear vs. open-ended.
  • Thus designing ‘narrative games’ is an exercise in compromise—in finding stories that fruitfully combine both.
  • Precisely because the two things--game and story--stand in opposition, the space that lies between them has produced a ferment of interesting game-story hybrids.
a storytelling medium
A “Storytelling Medium?”
  • To think of games as "a storytelling medium" leads to futile attempts to straightjacket games, to make them more effective stories at the expense of gameplay. Instead, designers should use story elements to strengthen their games when appropriate--but should not be afraid to shy away from story entirely, at times. Because ultimately, what a player takes away from a game is not the story it tells (if it tells one at all), but modes of thought and ways of attacking problems, and a sense of satisfaction at mastery.
story and play are fundamental
Story and Play are Fundamental
  • Story-telling is fundamental to what it is to be human: speech distinguishes us.
  • We make up stories to comprehend the world, and tell each other about it.
  • But play is fundamental to what it is to be a mammal.
  • We play to explore the functioning of the world-system
play comes first
Play Comes First
  • The “story game” is a means of democratizing fiction: No longer the purview of “the author,” but something we all can create interactively.
  • And after you play, you can tell a story of what happened.
  • Play is how we learn; stories are how we integrate what we've learned, and how we teach others the things we've learned ourselves through play. But play comes first.