Games Stories Should Remain Simple?

23 08 2007

Coverage of the storytelling panel at Leipzig is on Gamesindustry. The overall outcome seems to be the conclusion that game stories shouldn’t be more complex, because games don’t live up to it:

For Rolston, when asked about whether games should try to be less linear and more complex with their storylines, it was “the worst idea I ever heard,” because “games aren’t any good at it.”

The reason for this is down to “our inability to pay off on all the choices that there should be available. It’s so difficult to make a genuinely complex dramatic choice.”

Bates echoed the sentiment, and compared the problem for videogames to that of a fiction novel.

“As an author of a story you have to push a character into doing things it wouldn’t want to do in order to grow the character. As a game designer it’s not fair to make the player have to do that.”

For Rolston the most effective method comes with the use of ambiguity – a history suggested by non-specific ruins or artefacts, for which the player is able to supply his or her own narrative.

But Bates was sceptical on that point, and was critical of most backstory execution today.

“What passes for story in most games is just revealed backstory, and that is really that. It can provide some context, but fundamentally it’s uninteresting. I want what’s in my mind to poison your mind, and that’s not going to happen with ambiguity.”

All interesting stuff, and perfectly valid criticism of the state of games right now, but what they’re pointing to with the idea more advanced stories seems to be a very different type of game to anything we’ve so far known and loved as “games”. That’s not a bad thing at all, but when you look at just how poor us humans are at evaluating probabilities, as well as our tendency to post-rationalise any kind of bad but costly decisions, it points to a form of game that could be a baffling and introspective experience.

Certainly closer to “art” than “game”, and it’s probably not the kind of entertainment anyone would want to grab hold of for five minutes on the tube, or an hour after the kids have gone to bed.

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