More on Games and Storytelling

Friday, November 21st, 2008

From Gabe Newell at Edge:

It’s been one of the topics that’s been super interesting to us as a group of developers since the original Half Life. At that time, we looked at the shooter genre, which really had degenerated into a shooting gallery, and we believed there was a lot more room for storytelling. The first person perspective really opens up opportunities for storytelling and so we’ve always been interested in the ways in which games can become a storytelling medium.

What we’re trying to do now is to create a shared story that you and your friends can all be part of rather than just the experience that you go on by yourself.

Going forward, we’re definitely going to use some of the things that we’ve learned – what worked and what didn’t work – with Left4Dead not only in multi-player but also in our single player games in the future.

I’m not skeptical. Just somewhat confused about the basis of what might be the conflation of games and, specifically, storytelling. In a game, an avatar or POV character typically solves a problem with the player steering the action and making decisions. You figure puzzles and learn how to move through a world.

But storytelling is the act of telling a story. Authors tell stories in a variety of forms. A group can tell a story, too, by passing the narrative act to another teller at a given time. There’s a difference between story, however, and storytelling. Story is an abstraction, the description of a pattern, like Ode or Sonnet.

The events are trying to give them [the players] a sense of narrative. We look at sequences of events and try to take what their actions are to generate new sequences.

If they’ve been particularly challenged by one kind of creature then we can use that information to make decisions about how we use that creature in subsequent encounters.

This is what makes procedural narrative more of a story-telling device than, say, a simple difficulty mechanism.

This appears fairly straight forward. John and I have considered such an approach in the “Composition” game, where players encounter an opposing force, a metaphor for the teacher of a college course, and this opposing force must “accumulate” in a realistic sequence to provide a “sense of narrative,” which would amount to a sense of purpose in a larger struggle. But we won’t be telling a story. Story elements will certainly provide a framework. In games, storytelling frameworks are critically important.


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