Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Video: Are you a game designer, or a fiction writer?

 Especially in video games, many "designers" conceive of themselves as fiction writers rather than game designers.

Slides from Are you a game designer, or a fiction writer?
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

Question arises from the ECGC
East Coast Game Conference 2014 featured lots of discussion of story in games
Ken Rolston, keynote, called himself a writer
Mary deMarle talked about integrating story and game
Heather Albano discussed what amounted to same storyline but 3 or 4 quite different results from player’s point of view

Player’s viewpoint: Experience a story written by the game developers, or “write your own” story
Some writers clearly think they should decide how a game works, not the game designers
Which is a manifestation of the notion that all games (or at least, video games) are story
(My view is that there are three kinds of players/games:
Games are all math
Games are about people
Games are stories)

Why do people play?
Do people play a game for the story, or the gameplay?
I’m firmly in the gameplay camp
And the “games are about people camp,” with stories included because stories are about people
Stories don’t last.  Once you know the story, you’ll rarely want to experience it again
The smaller the game, the less room there is for story – unless you get to a few art games that are much more story than game (Journey,  Stanley Parable, etc.)

The Essential Difference
Game designer invites emergence, wants players to create the “narrative”
Game writer sets up a story (perhaps with variations) for players to follow
They’re trying to impose a passive experience on an interactive challenge – quite a challenge in itself
Not quite the same as a desire to “control the players”.  Puzzle designers control players.  Fiction writers often control players but many wish they didn’t have to.

Game designers like emergent behavior, up to a point
I especially like emergent objectives, where the player(s) find their own objectives, other than winning/beating the game, to pursue
They don’t like something that breaks the game
Fiction writers don’t like emergent behavior, their objective is to control the story
Though many are trying to find ways to provide 3 or 4 stories within one game
And sometimes fail, as in Mass Effect 3

Game formats
AAA video games are often about an “experience”, more or less a story
Tabletop games are usually “rules-emergent”, the game gives the players opportunities to write their own narrative or even story
That’s also true for many casual video games
Tabletop RPGs are the bridge between the two, and can be played either way

All kinds of games are moving more toward stories.  GenCon is a story convention as much as game convention.  The question is, what do you want to do, design games, or tell stories?

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