In Defense of Didacticism

"What Right Have You to Judge Her" (from the New York Public Library Digital Collections)While watching reports and live-tweets come in from the recent East Coast Games Conference, I was intrigued to see a number of speakers independently touch on the same point. Warren Spector advised, during his keynote address, “Don’t judge the player. The player shouldn’t know your answers to the questions you’re posing”; while Steve Jaros, in a panel on “Writing For Mechanics Beyond Combat,” offered a concurring view: “Give your players options without attaching value judgments. Present them all sincerely.” (These quotes may be paraphrased.)

But acting as the player’s judge (and jury, and executioner) is in some respects the primary job of a game’s developers. Moreover, surely all art emerges from the artist’s own experiences and worldview to convey a particular set of ideas. How does all that square with avoiding being judgmental?

I want to dig into that question here, using the notions expressed by Spector and Jaros as a jumping-off point. This isn’t a rebuttal or a reiteration–rather, it’s a different framework for viewing many of the same challenges. We may even come to some of the same conclusions. Continue reading

“Story Engines” and Content Development

How do you deliver narrative to a player in a content-rich, nonlinear game?

This is neither a purely mechanical question (“non-player characters scattered through the open world will offer quests, highlighted by giant floating question marks over their heads”) nor a purely story-driven one (“the player is a one-man army, so he’s always getting orders and advice from military commanders”). It’s a question that needs consideration from the very beginning, and ties into everything from the most basic game mechanics to your choice of intellectual property.

Let’s talk about one particular way of thinking about this problem. Let’s talk about story engines. Continue reading

Empathy and Responsibility in Writing

Generally speaking, I try to focus this blog on “how you might write” rather than “what you should be writing.” We’re about craft here, not art–not because one is more important than the other, but because there are a lot more places to talk about the latter than the former. This entry is an exception.

Let’s talk about empathy and the moral responsibility of the writer. Continue reading

New Short Fiction, “Ten Confessions…” Now Available

Interzone #263Just a brief update: My latest short story, “Ten Confessions of Blue Mercury Addicts, by Anna Spencer” appears in the March / April issue of venerable British SF magazine Interzone. You can purchase the hardcopy edition of Interzone #263 at the TTA Press store and at various retail outlets. For those who prefer an e-reader edition, copies should be available through Amazon and other typical sources (Apple, Weightless Books, Smashwords, etc.)

For folks who haven’t read my original (i.e., creator-owned) work before, “Ten Confessions…” is representative only in the sense that I like to play with form and try new things. It’s a soft science-fiction story about time, obsession, and going very, very fast.

Check out the opening and Jim Burns’s illustration, below: Continue reading

Gameplay, Challenge, and Narrative Integration in Adventure Games

This post isn’t about adventure games. It only reads that way.

For four decades, the adventure game genre has been practically synonymous with “story-driven” video games. In the early 1980s, Infocom was trading in thought-provoking, experimental text-only narratives while pioneering role-playing game series like Ultima and Wizardry were still fumbling with the basics. (We won’t even talk about contemporary narrative in other genres.) By the 1990s, non-adventure games had become more competitive in the storytelling sphere, but companies like Sierra and LucasArts were still where gamers went when they wanted “pure” interactive narrative that eschewed complex combat mechanics or action sequences.

Times have chaGabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathersnged. The adventure game genre is still around, but is no longer a dominant industry force. Now even first-person shooters and other action games are marketed with a strong emphasis on story.

What hasn’t changed is the way story and gameplay are separated in most games. We continue to see games structured as a sequence of story moments broken up by gameplay challenges (or vice-versa), whether those challenges are comprised of elaborate combat systems, exploration and discovery, or object interaction puzzles. Sometimes the line between story and gameplay is perfectly blurred or the transition made seamless; more often, it’s stark. Continue reading