The Potential of story-based games

Screen_Shot_2014-12-18_at_10.09.57_AM.0I recently said something in class about how narrative- or story-based video games haven’t developed much beyond branching events, and a someone mentioned open world games like Grand Theft Auto were very sophisticated story-driven games. Players could follow the main story-arc and finish the game, or they could focus on side-missions or no missions at all, if they want to.

I couldn’t express the missing potential of story-driven games at the time, but I’ll try now. Basically, interactive stories are still following the storytelling conventions of older media like movies and books. As they evolve, however, the old distinctions between “player,” “author,” and “character” will blur. The player of a game will not just take the role of a character in a predetermined story, but will increasingly be the author or creator of their own story.

For example, if we were to create a game based on a well-known story like Harry Potter, or Lord or the Rings, there are a few possible approaches:

  • Enable players to play the role of an established character (like Harry Potter or Gandalf) who goes through a story described in the books, or through a similar adventure within the narrative structure established by the books.
  • Enable players to create their own characters and go through a series of adventures within the established bounds of the books. This might be a sequel or a set of re-worked plots the player can choose from.
  • Enable players to control an established character or create their own characters and take them on an adventure that goes beyond a preconceived plot unanticipated by the game designers or authors of the original books.

This last item is what I mean by the potential of interactive stories. In a truly interactive game within an “open-world” setting, you might control Harry Potter to drop out of Hogwarts and become a master criminal. Or Hermione might become the first Wizard Queen of England. In a truly open-world framework, narrative choices can be mixed-and-matched the way physical objects in Minecraft can be combined.

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