This article was published on: 14/7/2010
Frequently in games design, especially computer games design, we get confused and can’t decide whether we are telling a story or designing a game, pretty silly heh! Often we fall somewhere in between and the two figurative horses pulling in different directions mean we frequently fail as an entertainment medium.
Too often games designers fear story as if it’s a big ugly linearity monster there to ruin their day and their game. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what story can provide and more often than not probably derived from confusion as to what they want to achieve with their game. In games a story provides intellectual or emotional context to player decisions within the game system and has the capacity to lead them to specific conclusions. The game part of the deal on the other hand leads players to open ended conclusions more specific to their own personal narrative. This is the power of games and the skill of a game designer.
Take the image example below; both games are classics, acclaimed and beloved games. Both games also represent polar extremes regarding use of story but both work because no design decisions are superfluous. The emotional or intellectual design goals hit their marks beautifully with intent and without much noise. It is perfectly valid for a game to err to one side or the other regarding use of story as long as they are in balance. It is this act of harmony in concert that is paramount.
Games involve a journey for the player, you can do this with a story or without it just depends on the kind of journey you want to take them on. I define a game as an engagement or deal with yourself or others to take on a challenge and prosper from it. The funny thing is you can equally say this for films and literature. Regardless of medium our end goals are the same; that being enrichment from the experience. Any dispute as to what is the more effective is a redundant and moot debate.
So where does this lead us when thinking about real-life? Well, where would your company or business position itself on that spectrum? Presumably most I would imagine have pretty specific company goals. Most companies in business are probably a lot like Monkey Island. But obviously in real-life each and everyone one of your customers and employees are the protagonists in that story (or Guybrush Threepwood for all you fans out there). If your protagonists are not getting a sense of progression, personal context and path from their experience of your company then they will in time pack up and find a better story. Games and reality alike, people need to be enriched and engaged and they will demand their own character arc.