Ernest Adams Talk at Nlab Leicester

22 05 2006

Today I gave an industry lecture along side Ernest Adams and Micahel Powell at the NLab seminar. The narrative lab focuses on digital writing, and today focused on games, the role of the writer, and non linear storytelling.

Ernest gave a talk about his ‘new’ vision for non linear storytelling, and it is well worth catching if you can. It is a version of his talk at GDC 06 with a few variants, and it set my brain on fire. I have seen Ernest talk at many conferences and was expecting another slant on his usual entertaining look at designing games. His new vision unlocked a series of problems I have been facing in my consciousness and now allows me to think in a new light about gamers and game play.

Ernest outlined his thoughts on non linear stories, touching on branching narratives, combinatorial explosions, resource limitations, embedded vs emergent narratives, fold back theory and pure linear experiences, but the ‘new vision’ is one of ownership. After a talk by Ken Perlin Ernest started looking at an economy or value of credibility in storytelling, and has developed the Ken Perlin Law:

“The cost of an event in an interactive story must be directly proportional to its improbability” where the unit of cost is credibility.

So the cost of doing something by a player, attempting to do something, or evening asking to do something must exist with the game played. If you want to break the credibility of the story you will pay a price. Doing things in a game has a value associated with it and each game has a credibility budget. Ok so what: this means in a world in which a player will not agree with the basic function (i.e. play a war-game as a pacifist) then this is the player’s fault. Thus ‘messing around’ will only give a player enjoyment if he/she creates it and it shouldn’t affect any narrative.

He went on to discuss the laws developers must impose upon a player:

* Physical Laws – you cannot fly in non super-hero game etc

* Social Laws – if you screw around (shoot people) you will die/get shot

* Dramatic Laws – bad role playing cause the story to end. a war-game doesn’t let you be a bad general. This is summed up by the balance between narrative and interactivity. The fulcrum in this balance is role playing.Again so what:

What it means to me is players who agree to play agree to take on a role, like acting or role playing. This has huge implications to me about the violent games argument – it is isn’t that I want to kill people, it is a role I play. As i did when I role played, as I did when I played with action man, as I did when I acted, as I do whenever I play.

Readers are passive, cinema viewers are passive, tv viewers are passive – they exist outside the world. Gaming is different, they assume you will interact with them (obviously) but they also assume you have signed up to be a part of the rules they expect.

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