Guidelines On How To Tell A Videogame Narrative Pt. 1

September 3, 2010

I am going to put this here as a reference point to refer back to later on. The worth of this post is not in my pedigree with literature or due to any game design experience on my part. These guidelines are constructed upon the universal rules of narrative and my experience with playing videogames for twenty-five years.

To push a button is to turn a page with purpose

The interface of a game is the gateway that allows the reader control over the action of game and story. We do often call these interfaces “controllers” for a reason. We are controlling some part of what goes on in the visual/audio action.

It is important to understand this difference from turning a page in a book or sitting in a theater seat to watch a film. The writer of a novel cannot account for which page the reader is on and does not pay much attention to the act of page turning in a novel in any way other than to keep the story interesting enough to keep his reader turning the page. The film director is conscience that the viewer is likely sitting when watching his film and taking in the information passively, but I would suggest there is not much needed to account for this way of viewing the story. You understand the reader is watching, so you pay attention to what they are watching. The game designer must account for the way his reader is experiencing the story, because the reader does not just turn the page or watch the visuals but determines the nuances and paths of the story via their input.

What is the difference? Well in the act of page turning, the reader expects something to happen on the next page and though they may have an idea of what to expect, they are at some point in their mind aware they are without the ability to determine what happens. The videogame player as reader of the game does have control over what may happen next and thus assumes some natural responsibility for what happens. There is an born in guilt associated with game narrative and a built in identification with the character/avatar. While many movie heroes are made to be identifiable to an audience and many viewers place themselves in the hero’s shoes inside their head, the videogame reader is actually within the shoes and is at the same time the hero and not fully the hero. They realize they have control but are confined from total freedom by the game design and interface.

In order to maintain this identification the interface must become transparent in action, and natural enough to not remind the player of the true nature of their limits. The true nature of their limits being that this is a game. The designer wants the reader to become immersed enough so that the control and interface becomes an unconscious action. You work to make the reader forget they are stuck in a game for this allows your reader to believe the illusion you present. Once you remind them that they are confined by the limits of the game then you snap that identification factor and suck them back to the real world and out of your story. Essentially, you want to get them lost in the book, forgetting they are turning the page by pushing the buttons.

Before you can create a successful game narrative, you must accomplish this.

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One Response to “Guidelines On How To Tell A Videogame Narrative Pt. 1”

  1. rodi Says:

    Are you talking about metroid? lol


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