Games:EDU Jonathan Blow

31 07 2008

Jonathan Blow gave the closing keynote for us at Games:EDU on Tuesday. The most interesting point he raised for me was conflict between dynamical meaning and narrative.

Dynamical meaning is the meaning generated by the game rules themselves. The way the game encourages you to play sows values and motives in you as a player, automatically generating meaning around game elements. This can often conflict with story.

One of the examples he gave is the character Kate in Grand Theft Auto IV. Unlike many of the characters, she gives the player no kind of perks or bonuses, so the player is unlikely to care about her more than nearly any of the other characters. However, the story calls for Nico Bellic to care about her a lot, creating a massive dissonance between the feelings of the player and the protagonist.

Another example: Saving Little Sisters in Bioshock grants you less Adam than harvesting them, however, because it’s a game the designers felt the need to balance both choices. Overall, the choice of whether to exploit or assist has little effect on the situation the player ends up in. Many grokked this evenness after a little experimentation, and realised that it negated the narrative importance of choosing to save versus harvest, rendering the drama built up around it meaningless.

Dynamical meaning often seems to trump narrative due to its influence on player actions, Jonathan contended that the dynamical and narrative meaning can be harmonised, but often aren’t.

We’ll be posting more from Games:EDU in the coming week.

(Image of Jonathan Blow by me)

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