Storytelling in video games

Chat and discussion not related to either Marathon or Aleph One. Please keep things at least mildly interesting, though.

Re: Storytelling in video games

Post Apr 7th '13, 21:20

EatThePath wrote:Sure, you can alter or even create small side-narraties within a story arc at best, but you can't change the fundamental outcome.

It just seems like you're ignoring role playing games completely. You can tell different stories with your characters based on what you do in the game, which you cannot do while watching a movie.

Here's a specific example using Skyrim.

Player 1 creates a character, and just goes though the "main quest" of the game. The end result is he saves the world from an evil dragon.

Player 2 creates a character, but doesn't do a single quest built in to the game. Instead, his character is just a simple hunter trying to survive in the world. He starts out by buying a bow with the little money he has, and goes out during the day and hunts deer. At the end of the day, he goes to a hotel, buys some food and sells deer meet or something like that. He does this for a while, and finally gets enough money to buy a house. Eventually he gets married and adopts some children. He continues to go out and hunt every day to support his family. Eventually they make enough money to move into a very large house. They live happily ever after.

In this example, the second player's character does not follow the quests built into the game, and you said in your post "but not doing so will mean you make no progress in said game/story". This is a pretty amusing statement. You're saying he made no progress in the story, but what story are you talking about? That's the whole point of this discussion, really. The fact is, he made a whole NEW story, and made progress with that one. The fact that this character started with nothing, and ended up wealthy with a family counts as progress to me.

Now, let's say someone makes a movie about a hero that kills a dragon. How can I turn this movie into a story about a guy living a simple life? Oh, I can't because it's fundamentally not the same thing.
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Wrkncacnter

Post Apr 7th '13, 23:37

EatThePath wrote:I can actually see where the OP is coming from with regards to this.

Sure, you can alter or even create small side-narraties within a story arc at best, but you can't change the fundamental outcome.

Take the GTA reference for example. Yes, that is creating a form of "mini-story" within the game's world, but where are you ultimately? You're playing with a combination of rules that the stoyteller has already formulated. In Grand Theft Auto, the cars, the characters, the cities, everything is fictional. The playing pieces, already set. So it could be argued that taking a few elements of that fiction and bashing them together isn't so much forming something new as doing what the programmers put in capacity for you to do - much like an alternate story branch, but with a much higher number of combinations than "if you go here, you end up here, but if you go here, you end up here instead". Despite this, where does that all fit in anyway? These side-narratives don't make a jot of difference to the final outcome of the game's story elements which is an underlying straight line that one has to follow to completion (or rather, you don't have to necessarily follow, but not doing so will mean you make no progress in said game/story).

All that said, however... I believe the merit of storytelling in games is the instigation of emotion from a combination of these side-narratives as well as already designed narratives in place, that other "traditional" media cannot do quite as well. Where a film or a book allows you a static view of the world, a rigid interpretation of actions, a videogame allows you a physically and emotionally tactile function within the world that a player can exploit. In other media, the story is designed to make you feel how the main character feels at that moment in time, whether that be courage, trepidation, anger, love, whatever - whereas in a videogame, you're open to feel how you want to feel. Granted, the game may try and coax emotions from you by putting you into a situation that encourages a specific emotion, but ultimately, the story is yours to feel.

Let's go with the opening levels of Marathon - something we're presumably all familiar with. They're dark, hard (in the environmental sense) and quiet (I never played Marathon with music). Now, this is the storyteller's way of trying to coerce you into feeling the effects of these aesthetics. You may feel loneliness, fear, emptiness, isolation from this setting but that choice is up to you. You can either creep around, edging out from corners in fear of what might jump out at you or you can disregard all of that, sprint around guns ablaze and mow down the Pfhor without second thought. In that regard, the main character becomes your own story. An extension of yourself; and it's in this that you begin to create your own internal scripts outside of the game world and inside the reality of your own body and mind. Something that a book restricts in freedom, as it explicitly describes to you what the character is feeling and something a film restricts even more due to you actually watching a character's response to something so that you need not imagine how they're feeling - it's right in front of you. In this respect, videogames are a unique way of instigating emotion and telling a story because you aren't watching someone have an experience externally and empathising with that person - you are that person having the experience.

Yes, the story as an arc is predetermined, the terminals will always say the same thing, the enemies will always be in the same place, where you go and what you do will always be the same, but there's more to "storytelling" than just cold, hard details. It's in the emotional side of things, too. I could write a story that said;

"I went to the car dealership, I saw a car, I got in it, I checked it over for quality, I bought it, I shifted it into gear, I drove it off the lot, I drove back home, I parked it on the drive"

or I could talk about how going to the car lot to buy a new car made me feel, how;

"I saw a car I really liked. THE car I really liked - and instantly fell in love with. It was my dream car that - for years as a child - I pined after, having had a poster of it on my wall. When I slipped into the seat, it felt like I had always wished, I felt the wheel under my hands"... yadda yadda. (Obviously, these are two extremes but it puts what i'm talking about across.)

I guess the nature of this question really is "What is storytelling?" Is it solely in the basic actions, functions and interractions of the character to the ends of the story as a set of actions and reactions in itself? Or in the immersion and feelings generated by what you are reading/watching/playing/listening to (that is a whole 'nother topic. :P)? Is it both?

Edit; Hot diggity Jesus, this was a long, rambling post. I wouldn't blame you for tl:dring it.



You might as well say the same about the universe. The physics are set in stone, so everything you ultimately do is as intended. ¬_¬ I would disagree with that argument.

Sure, there are confines and restraints as to how one can play a game, so what? I see things more as half-and-half. On one hand, video games are similar to other storytelling mediums in how they have the ability to effectively (or ineffectively) convey emotions and give a plotline to follow. Literary devices involved in games are quite similar to that of films. The same tropes are used in all different forms of media. (see TV Tropes for a couple of examples.) I guess that was what was meant by "fundamental simularities." However, games of different types and setups allow for different types of experiences. Some games are a bit more linear than others (with some just being the same each time though others offering alternate paths and extended narratives, and others still offering a more expansive story that is acquired by listening to various people talking, giving it a sort of "sandbox" or "simulated reality" feel.), though each can tell a story, with some having the option of the story being told differently whether set more in stone (with the multiple endings thing, depending on the circumstances of how different endings appear), or allowing for more freedom (where the physics and the built-up world allow you to interact and accomplish various sorts of tasks according to what you desire to do. Like some sandbox games, or alternately some alternate form of open-world gamplay like Adventure RPGs.)

It ultimately depends on the type of game as to whether or not the story is told by entirely predetermined actions (like a linear plot) or if there's more freedom and diversity in how to play a game.

Sure, there may be a limit to the different actions you can take even in an open-world game (whether total sandbox or open-world adventure RPG), however just because there are limitations doesn't mean that there isn't freedom. (The system of "law" is designed to protect some freedoms at the expense of certain actions in order to benefit the society as a whole. Some actions are not permitted. It doesn't mean that they can't be done, but doing so infringes upon the freedoms of others and also places risks onto yourself. Does the law limit your freedom? Yes, somewhat, but you still have an enormous set of options you can choose from as per what else you can do, and it may be challenging to list it all.)

In short, even though a list of options is limited, it doesn't mean that there's no freedom. More options and flexibility in game design allow for more freedom.

So while some say that video games are fundamentally the same as other mediums, this only partly true. "Tropes" (literary elements that appear in mediums ranging from TV shows to novels to poems to video games) appear in each medium, however how they come into play can present vastly different experiences, with some more immersive than others. There are both fundamental similarities and fundamental differences between different types of mediums. As someone said above, each form of media has its own strengths and weaknesses, which is where differences can be shown.
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FlawedIntellect

Post Apr 8th '13, 12:39

Wrkncacnter wrote:It just seems like you're ignoring role playing games completely. You can tell different stories with your characters based on what you do in the game, which you cannot do while watching a movie.


I'll admit I kind of did, yes. As we were talking about plotlines and stories in the linear sense, roleplaying games and their freedoms kind of slipped my mind - but yes, these are an interesting example.

Wrkncacnter wrote:Here's a specific example using Skyrim.

[snip]

In this example, the second player's character does not follow the quests built into the game, and you said in your post "but not doing so will mean you make no progress in said game/story". This is a pretty amusing statement. You're saying he made no progress in the story, but what story are you talking about? That's the whole point of this discussion, really. The fact is, he made a whole NEW story, and made progress with that one. The fact that this character started with nothing, and ended up wealthy with a family counts as progress to me.


This is indeed very true, but I suppose I was talking about "progress in the story" as in terms of the story that has been laid out and designed for a path towards completion. I mean, I could read a book to a point, then put it down, carry on with my life and never read it again - that would in a way be akin to not doing the main quests in a videogame because I never find out the end of the formulated story. Only difference is that in a videogame, choosing to "do the thing" and "not do the thing" are in the same world. Now, this doesn't mean I won't have generated another story by "not doing the thing" but in terms of what the game was built for, no, there is no progress.

RPGs are awkward in the sense of this definition, because what are they built for story-wise (and don't ay "role-playing" :D)? Skyrim was certainly built fundamentally on the principle of a story and number of side-stories being told to the player whereas something like World of Warcraft comes true to your definition - (as far as I know, i've never played it) there is no story, so self-told stories become the game. I suppose in that sense, it becomes a question of what a game is built for. Is "storytelling" a story told by someone else to you or to be defined by yourself?

FlawedIntellect wrote:You might as well say the same about the universe. The physics are set in stone, so everything you ultimately do is as intended. ¬_¬ I would disagree with that argument.


That's another discussion altogether, but the difference is that the universe was not designed (controversial!) to tell or convey a story, videogames (or rather, most videogames) are.

FlawedIntellect wrote:Sure, there are confines and restraints as to how one can play a game, so what? I see things more as half-and-half. On one hand, video games are similar to other storytelling mediums in how they have the ability to effectively (or ineffectively) convey emotions and give a plotline to follow. Literary devices involved in games are quite similar to that of films. The same tropes are used in all different forms of media. (see TV Tropes for a couple of examples.) I guess that was what was meant by "fundamental simularities." However, games of different types and setups allow for different types of experiences. Some games are a bit more linear than others (with some just being the same each time though others offering alternate paths and extended narratives, and others still offering a more expansive story that is acquired by listening to various people talking, giving it a sort of "sandbox" or "simulated reality" feel.), though each can tell a story, with some having the option of the story being told differently whether set more in stone (with the multiple endings thing, depending on the circumstances of how different endings appear), or allowing for more freedom (where the physics and the built-up world allow you to interact and accomplish various sorts of tasks according to what you desire to do. Like some sandbox games, or alternately some alternate form of open-world gamplay like Adventure RPGs.)

It ultimately depends on the type of game as to whether or not the story is told by entirely predetermined actions (like a linear plot) or if there's more freedom and diversity in how to play a game.


Again, very true... Videogames are generally bound to similar storytelling methodology as other media, because that's how we, as humans, tell stories. However, the only thing I woud say is that the "sandbox" of the gameworld is only so big. If you want to follow the story as designed, that story will never change completely dynamically with the player. It either ends up with a single, linear story or - as you say - a "multiple endings" situation. But let's say in GTA I run someone over. The game will never change from there so that the police come find me, arrest me and I go to prison to do a number of years, because the game isn't built that way. It's one of many outcomes that are cut off, because it was not intended by the developer. Yes, there are games that do give you the freedom to run people over, but the game will never give you an infinite number of paths that alter because of that action. Now, running someone over and then taking your player to the in-game prison yard and hanging around the yard in-game for a few years - that is creating a story of your own perogative - but it's difficult to define for reasons previously described above.

FlawedIntellect wrote:Sure, there may be a limit to the different actions you can take even in an open-world game (whether total sandbox or open-world adventure RPG), however just because there are limitations doesn't mean that there isn't freedom. (The system of "law" is designed to protect some freedoms at the expense of certain actions in order to benefit the society as a whole. Some actions are not permitted. It doesn't mean that they can't be done, but doing so infringes upon the freedoms of others and also places risks onto yourself. Does the law limit your freedom? Yes, somewhat, but you still have an enormous set of options you can choose from as per what else you can do, and it may be challenging to list it all.)


This brings up the same problem again. In reality, yes, you can infringe on people's freedoms and suffer the consequences but in a videogame world, not everything is possible. If I wanted to go buy a can of soup, open it, throw it over a police car and dance naked on the roof, I could do... But in GTA, you can't, because the facility's not there to do that. Equally, I would probably suffer the consequences of the soup incident by being arrested and probably doing community service but again, if you commit a crime in GTA, you can't do that because it's not there to be done. Moreso, you could argue it may never be done because in order to do so, you would have to program a game engine so horrendously complex as to simulate every character's reactions, emotions, systems of law and justice as well as every aspect of existance and physics to a molecular level, so that anything could be possible. You'd basically have to build the matrix to get a fully free game experience. That, or you can pretend such things are possible, which is storytelling outside of the gameworld.

FlawedIntellect wrote:So while some say that video games are fundamentally the same as other mediums, this only partly true. "Tropes" (literary elements that appear in mediums ranging from TV shows to novels to poems to video games) appear in each medium, however how they come into play can present vastly different experiences, with some more immersive than others. There are both fundamental similarities and fundamental differences between different types of mediums. As someone said above, each form of media has its own strengths and weaknesses, which is where differences can be shown.


I'll use this bit as a disclaimer; I agree with this. It is only true in part that videogames are the same as other media for storytelling, but I think the discussion here is in which part they differ. I'm not necessarily agreeing with the OP that videogames are the same as other media with regards to storytelling - they are certainly different on the fundamental experience level - but I latched onto the idea that "story" is a linear concept that for any media was intended to be followed. Also, i'm not necessarily "fighting the corner" of "all videogames are the same as books or films", I generally agree that they are not, i'm just exploring the opposite argument for the sake of getting to the answer of the question. [MSmile]

Edit; On review, I think I see what you were getting at, FlawedIntellect. Yes, videogames may not be completely free, but they are more free than a film or a book for storytelling because you can follow your own actions - in some games to a completely different ends - whereas in those other media, it is a single line to never be deviated from. Is that what you were suggesting? (If so, I agree.)
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EatThePath

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