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Classic Games (Games) Games

Storytelling In Games and the Use of Narration 131

MarkN writes "The use of story in video games has come a long way, from being shoehorned into a manual written for a completed game to being told through expensive half-hour cut scenes that put gameplay on hold. To me, the interesting thing about story in games is how it relates the player to the game; in communicating their goals, motivating them to continue, and representing their role as a character in the world. This article talks about some of the storytelling techniques games have employed, and in particular the different styles of narration that have been used to directly communicate information about a story, and how that affects the player's relation to their character and the degree of freedom they're given to shape the story themselves."
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Storytelling In Games and the Use of Narration

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  • by Phizzle ( 1109923 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:16AM (#27872487) Homepage
    I still remember the first games with "cut scenes" - Ultima II the grand finale, Karateka and Questron on Commodore 64. Questron was the most elaborate one - the celebration parade at the end of the game was epic, almost StarWars like. I remember to this day how it blew my mind.

    P.S. Welcome back Slashdot
    Not sure what this was about but it didnt sound healthy:
    Error 503 Service Unavailable

    Service Unavailable
    Guru Meditation:

    XID: 275099066
  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:34AM (#27872603)

    If you want to have a read of something a bit more meaty, try this thesis (title: VIDEO GAME VALUES:

    Not quite the same subject, but it does deal with narrative a tiny bit (e.g. section 5.3.3).

    p.s. this guy managed to score an Xbox and PS2 for "research purposes", which were (and probably still are) enjoyed by many in the graduate lab.

  • "Homeworld" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ralphbecket ( 225429 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:57AM (#27872745)

    That is all.

  • by TuringTest ( 533084 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @02:23AM (#27872907) Journal

    but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

    In the early days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Jumping Jack had a narrative delivered in a non trivial way. You would unfold a poem, line by line after completing each level. This [] is how it was delivered through gameplay, and this [] is the whole poem. (I'd never seen it complete before today! Thanks for making me remember).

    Is a limmerick a non-superficial story? The only thing I know, it did get you wanting to know which was the next line...

  • by davet2001 ( 1550151 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @03:33AM (#27873275)
    Although it was not mentioned in the original article, some games have been very successful by *not* telling the story, and leaving the player-protagonist to work it out. In Half Life 2, the player wakes up on a train, arriving at 'City 17'. There is very little information about what this is or why he is there. All you know in the first stages is that the environment is very hostile, and there are very few people who help you. You explore a town that has clearly been retrofitted with advanced security beyond it's original architecture, but no-one explains why or by whom. Civilians you meet are mostly in despair or injured, and there are clear signs of recent conflict (ruined homes, destroyed buildings). Most of the time, you can see a huge structure towering in the distance, which seems like a focal point but whether and how you'll get there is a mystery. The result is that you feel (or at least I felt) lost, confused, and quite alone at the start of the game, and intrigued to find out more. This builds up a bond with the character you are playing, and makes the arrival of friendlies (Barney, etc) much more significant. Providing the full setting of the story can detract from the realism, as it provides a perspective on the situation that a real person in the equivalent real-life situation would not have. I can only speculate about the armed forces having never served, but I suspect that in a real life battle, a front line soldier will probably not be aware of the full context of the setting, or it's strategic importance. They just carry out their duties such as a patrol, and all of a sudden one day, there's an explosion and someone starts shooting at them. They then have to figure out what's going on, survive a battle, and most likely only later think about why it all happened. I think there exists a balance between telling the story and not. Give too much information, and the story can become boring. Give too little information, and the player does not feel intrigued to play, and interest can only be sustained with gameplay. When done well, game designers will strike this balance well, and provide a good compromise between narrative, confusion, chaos, and action, all of which can be compelling.
  • Oblig... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Argumentator ( 1524195 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @03:53AM (#27873383)

    Famous quote attributed to John Carmack: "The plot in a video game is just like the plot in a porn movie -- merely an excuse to get to the action."

  • Planescape: Torment (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @04:26AM (#27873595)

    for me, this was the best ever "game as narrative", with baldur's gate 2 following a close second. I loved Torment's focus on choices unlocking memories and changing your stats as well as those of others, and it's titanic themes of tragedy and identity.

    I have been looking for a game like it ever since. BG2 was close. I guess the work involved in making these types of games makes them unprofitable. It's a pity but i can't see how to change that. The backstory for nameless was immense, and the romances in BG2 apparently were quite difficult to write (perhaps because the people involved in computer gaming aren't generally romantic, more's the pity (go viconia romance go!)).

    Does anyone know of a contemporary computer game with the focus on personal choices or romance, rather than blatting people real good (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it doesn't appeal to me)

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:59AM (#27874083) Journal

    Like, lets say, Left 4 Dead? Yeah, great story: "Here is your gun, there are zombies, guess what". And it is one of funnier games I've played recently. We should abandon the idea of games being a form of art, and retake them as a funny way to spend time.

    Each time I read something like that... I can't help getting the picture of someone with his head so far up his rear end that he assumes that he's not just a representative sample of 1 for the whole gamer population, and indeed world, but verily _the_ prototype from which all others were moulded. And if, god forbid, they happen to like something else, they must be deluded in some way.

    Guess what? We all play games "as a funny way to spend time." You're not revealing some great wisdom to anyone, you just reveal your own disconnect from the real world. The idea that someone actually tries to play games as some form of art _as_ _opposed_ to actually having fun, and to the exclusion of actually having fun, is a delusion that exists only in the imagination of fanboys. Again: we _all_ play games "as a funny way to spend time."

    We just find different things fun. Some like to read a book, some like to watch a movie, and some like their stories in a more interactive form. And then some others seem to genuinely like mindlessly mowing down gazillions of NPCs just for score/level/whatever. (And who am I to say there's anything wrong with it?) Different things for different people. That's all.

  • Re:Yes, I RTFA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @07:36AM (#27874657) Journal

    You hit the nail on the head. For games like Final Fantasy, Parasite Eve, or Eternal Darkness (gamecube), the story is the reason you play. It's like an interactive movie. But for games like shooters, the story is often so lame and pathetic you just want to get back to the game.

    And oftentimes the game itself is lame too. I miss the 80s and early 90s when games had to be good to hold your attention - graphics were too poor to serve as a substitute, so the play was the thing that mattered the most.

    Basically I'm looking for personality in my games, not shallow T&A.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:09AM (#27874883)

    TFA makes it sound like nobody thought storylines were important initially; but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

    Maybe the more creative out there could enlighten me. Can you make a good storyline for Donkey Kong?

    (Oh no! Kong found more barrels! Again!)

    You really have to make a distinction between simplistic arcade games and what we're able to do now. But as I recall, they did do a Donkey Kong Jr. game with a storyline and there's all the Mario incarnations.

    If we compare it to cinema, Donkey Kong would be the early nickelodeons playing silent, extremely short shorts. NES games would be the equivalent of the silent film era and then we move right in to today. Just as story became more and more important in making a good movie, same goes with games. But we also see movies and games where that is completely ignored. With certain movies, it doesn't seem to hurt. Transformers is probably one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and when factoring in the massive budget involved in making such a shitburger, it's even less excusable. It was an insult to thinking men and women everywhere. But thinking people weren't the intended audience. That sucker did business like crazy. There's a sequel coming out promising to be even worse than the first. It'll do well, I'm sure. Still, it would have been better with a script.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @09:35AM (#27875685)
    What Planescape does is separate the storytelling from the plot - or to put it another way, it's not the destination, it's the ride. Although the major plot events happen anyway, different choices change how events unfold, and what parts of the hero's backstory are related. Almost everyone you meet is woven into the hero's history in some way, or offers you a different insight into the hero's condition. Even if the plot's the same every time, the story that is told is different.
  • Re:Yes, I RTFA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Keill ( 920526 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:22PM (#27882337) Homepage

    RPG's require story?

    Yes and no. What they REALLY require, like many other games, are setting and background. Anything beyond that is simply an opinion, depending on the individual game.

    The problem I have with a lot of games these days, is that some developers seem to forget that the story the player WRITES, is actually more important than the story the game has to TELL.

    Just because a lot of RPG's focus on telling a story, does NOT mean that they have to do so.

    What makes an RPG what it is, is NOT the story being told, but the options and power it gives the player in writing their OWN story. Whether it has a straight-jacket of a story to follow or is completely open for the player makes NO difference to it's genre.

    Games, are about story WRITING, not story TELLING - even RPG's. Just because you can interleave a story being told with one being written doesn't mean it HAS to be that way. Most games, in fact, don't involve a story being told at all - (chess/draughts/tag/hopscotch etc.) - ALL they are concerned about is the player(s) creating his/her/their OWN.

    The problem some people have in the computer games industry atm, is that, coming from the other media companies and industry, (film/tv etc.), which is BUILT around story TELLING, they want to do the same thing in computer games.

    I am NOT saying that using a computer game to tell a story is BAD, though, since, in itself, it's not - it's just different. What DOES make it bad, though, is when the story the players can write gets overshadowed by the story being told. At that moment, it ceases to become a GAME, and moves towards becoming inter-active fiction...

    What I want is the opposite - I want MORE power over the stories I can write, but the industry seems to be moving in the opposite direction atm :(

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"