The player’s experience

I remember when I took a unit on writing for film, how we were told, “Don’t tell me, show me.”

Well, I think this needs to be expanded upon for the sake of differentiating between films (or tv shows) and games.

Books: Tell me.
Film: Show me.
Games: Let me find out for myself.

It may seem obvious, but when this is properly understood, will we really have any need for epic cut-scenes that do anything more than literally set the scene? I’m not talking about getting rid of all cut-scenes: for example, the intro for Left 4 Dead is highly effective at showing a variety of scenarios and special infected, while hinting at ways of dealing with them. In that sense, “show me” has superceded “tell me,” while remaining short and setting the scene. We do need some sort of introduction, some sort of illustration of how to play, but first and foremost, we should encourage players to feel more involved than watching a film.

Replay Value?

I was thinking about the concept of “replay value” when it comes to games. I was thinking about how there’s an idea that a game only retains replay value if each playthrough is slightly different in some way.

Then I was thinking about how we buy books and dvds, and how the narrative of each of these never changes, and yet we still reexperience them, or at least often hold onto them for the potential to do so. And when we do reexperience them, it’s often with a sense of dramatic irony- and suddenly the writer/director’s skill at foreshadowing comes to light.

I don’t believe that a game has to offer a new version of itself in order to be replayable. I replay adventure games in the same way as I would reread  book. I may get a lot of booing and hissing from some people for this, but what’s the shame in aiming to make games that offer deeper meaning the second playthrough, instead of trying to recreate the initial play experience?

The Myth of the Unnarratable Game

Tonight, I was talking to a friend online, and he said he was having a debate with his housemate over whether or not all games had narratives.

My personal opinion? Yes, all games have narratives. It is important that we do no limit our perception of what constitutes a narrative. Generally speaking, a narrative/plot/story is a sequence of events tied together and recounted in such a way as to create meaning. According to Aristotle, a plot requires action, but not necessarily character. There are good plots, and there are bad or weak plots. There are plots that are simple and some that are complex, and they can be categorised according to their strutural and formal attributes.

There is also the whole aspect of self-narration and identity formation that I’m not even going to touch in this post. That’s huge and I love it, but that isn’t what this is about.

There were arguments put forward about MMOs (grind erases narrative), as well as sandbox and “sim” toys (note: I use the term “toy” because Will Wright does). I was surprised that “puzzle games” didn’t come up.

If you play any of these types of games, here’s an activity to do: think about the best game you played of it. What is going through your mind? Key events and moments, strung together in a sequence. There ma or may not have been character, but there was action. By Aristotle’s definition, your “unnarratable” game just achieved the status, “Plot!” Congratulations. You just narrated the unnarratable.