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
We’ve seen it over and over again: Our wife dies in our arms, or our brother is brutally gunned down, or our mother is eaten by monsters. This tragedy provides the impetus for our journey into adventure–an adventure that could last years or, more likely, 20-80 hours (depending on our completionist tendencies). It’s a tragedy that will remain burned in our minds for every one of those hours until we finally confront those responsible.
Or, more likely, not. Continue reading
A well-written comedy can get away with just about anything so long as it’s funny. Paper-thin plots, characters that vacillate between personalities, and a dearth of thematic meat are by no means a requirement of comedy writing, but they’re easily excused when the jokes are genuinely funny and the delivery is strong. For this reason, it’s easy to overlook when a comedy gets its fundamentals right–when its essential narrative building blocks are sturdy and cleverly deployed in ways applicable to any genre.
Image purloined from the official site.
Saints Row IV is clearly comedic, but its narrative also succeeds in ways rarely seen in modern big-budget games. It builds its emotional stakes, Player engagement, and yes, quite a few jokes on a fundamentally joyful core.
Let’s talk about why it works. Continue reading
We’ve touched on player motivation before, but let’s briefly give it our full focus. Boiled down to a simple statement, bridging the gap between player motivation and player character motivation is one of the the most important factors in a game narrative’s success.
(Success, in this case, being shorthand for “ability to elicit the desired audience reaction,” which should be broad enough to cover both “making the player cry” and “increasing the player’s engagement with the game setting and thereby the player’s willingness to spend money on microtransactions.” We’ve got a big tent on this site, with room for everyone.)
In traditional storytelling media, writers are concerned with finding ways to make the audience empathize with the protagonist. And for good reason–even when an audience may not want a given protagonist to succeed at her goals, we should care about her fate and the fate of secondary characters (otherwise, what’s the point?) It’s difficult to care about a character we’re unable to understand or relate to.
In interactive narrative, empathy continues to play a role–but it’s intimately tied to the player’s own motivation. Continue reading