Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Once Upon A Playtime, Redux

Yesterday, producer Ted Hope (who is also the producer, along with Anne Carey, on our upcoming feature film, HiM), was gracious enough to let me come and stomp around his sandbox with a short post called, “Where Storytelling And Gaming Collide.” There, I said the following:

Traditional storytelling seeks to tell the story of the author, the director, the creator.

But storytelling in games is about empowering the player to experience and tell her own narrative.

I believe this more and more. I believe that games — from the smallest “casual” game to the hardest of the purportedly “hardcore” — are powerful and compelling to us as players because from the experience of playing games we gain narrative, and from that narrative we gain… well, all kinds of things, really. We gain perspective. We gain entertainment. We can be enlightened, amused, disturbed, challenged. And this is true of games even without a traditional narrative. It’s true of a game of checkers, or chess: the two opponents sitting over a board, learning about one another, traversing the peaks and valleys of competition, exploring strategy. You come out of a game of chess, you have a story — and often the way we see and retell it (in our own heads or to others) bears the elements of escalation, climax, and resolution.

(I play a killer round of Angry Birds or Words With Friends, I’ll tell my wife. It’s probably an awful story in terms of what I’m telling her, but in my head? It’s the shit.)

Anyway. Go read that post, if you please, but here, also, consider the question: how can you allow a game to tell a meaningful story? To me, the key word there is “allow.” Emergent gameplay is ultimately about emergent storytelling, and maybe that’s how we need to frame it: games do not need to tell a straightforward narrative as much as they need to leave room for emergent play and emergent narrative.

Emergent narrative.

I like that.

How’s it sit with you? Swish it around your mouth. Bulge your cheeks, get it in between your teeth. Is it minty fresh? Or is it sewery spew? If you dig on it, what can help a game offer greater opportunity for emergent narrative? I could make a case that Minecraft is hella good at this “emergent narrative” thing I just made up two minutes ago, and that I didn’t actually make up at all — turns out wiser minds than mine (which is to say, most) already conceived of it and use it for games like The Sims or Deus Ex, though I’d argue the idea suits games that go beyond the expected roster.

It also occurs to me that sometimes, when I talk about games, I don’t even know if I make any damn sense. But it’s fun, innit? I mean, sure, my extremities have gone numb, and my shirt is missing.

Ultimately, what I’m saying is —

Aren’t the stories born from gameplay just as important — if not more important — than the stories the games purport to tell in the first place? Isn’t that what playtime is all about?

How can game designers and game writers facilitate this?

(Remember, if you’re in NYC, to swing by DIY Days. There I’ll be talking about the collision of gameplay and storytelling with game designer Greg Trefry. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself, of course. More information can be found here: DIY Days.)