The main gist of this post is that we are not using the full narrative capability of video games. I believe we fail to take into account certain aspects that lie at the core of making artistic creations powerful and thus miss out on crucial strengths of the video game medium. To get to the core of these strengths, I will first have a look at other media (specifically film and literature), and then explore what lessons that can be applied to video games. What I end up with is a way of thinking that use basic elements of the film and literature experience, yet is quite different from these.
In Amnesia one of the main goals was for the player to become the protagonist. We wanted the player to think “I am” instead of “Daniel is” and in that way make it a very personal experience. The main motivation for this was of course to make the game scary, but also for the memories that were revealed to feel more personal for the player.
Upon hearing the word story, most people probably think of a chain of connected events. For example: “A princess is kidnapped; a brave knight rides to save her; the knight faces a dragon, the knight slays dragon and saves the princess; finally the knight gets half the kingdom and marries the princess”. Most likely, one also thinks of even smaller details as integrated parts of the story; the way in which the princess is kidnapped, how the knight struggles against the dragon, and so on.
Stories are something that is very important to us humans and also a crucial part of many video games. In some games the player is the author of the story, for example in Civilization where you are given some basic start resources and are then free to decide how your story will play out. In other games the designer has the most control of the story and the game mechanics do their best to guide the payer through the narrative (which may dynamic or linear).
This post aims to be a deeper look at my earlier rant about meaning, narrative (plot) and gameplay. After considering feedback and thinking about it some more I would now like to write a more constructive text. In this post I will outline some steps and ways of thinking that I think are needed in order to achieve deeper and more varied meaning in games. “Deeper meaning” is of course a highly subjective thing, but what I mean is simply games where the core is not just about a gameplay mechanic, showing entertaining gore or similar. Instead, the focus should be on exploring something other than pure “fun”.
In many of the posts here I have been discussing how having “unfun” gameplay can greatly enhance the experience. I have also ranted about how too much “fun” can completely destroy the intended experience. What I want to discuss now is how a game’s most common ingredients might be detracting from certain kinds of experiences and are in some cases best gotten rid of. These ingredients are Gameplay and Narrative. It is my view that these two features can seriously get in the way when trying to take the interactive medium in new directions.