Monday, November 11, 2013

Narrative not a game mechanic?

I just stumbled upon Raph Koster's "Narrative is not a game mechanic" and located that it consists of some stuff that I do not truly agree with. Now, pondering somebody on the web is wrong occurs all the time, but I believe this write-up brings up some stuff that warrants a reply. Although it has up a handful of great points, it also includes views on a few idea that I believe can be very damaging when trying to expand upon the medium of videogames.

The word game is a really broad and fuzzy one particular. I can refer to boardgames, gambling, politics, drug dealing, sports and whatnot. For far more element of the the write-up, Raph appears to be talking about videogames (offered the black box analogy and that he specifically says "racing videogame"), but then later on slot machines and pick-your-personal-stories are used as examples. Now a single can see this as just utilizing merely producing a point, but I believe the unclarity leads to an essential problem: Videogames are quite distinct from other games like chess, football, and so on even although they are typically lumped collectively.

The major reason why videogames are diverse is simply because they strictly impose guidelines upon the player. It is not truly possible to play a videogame wrong, whereas playing football or chess (the physical versions) the incorrect way are extremely effortless. A videogame is a lot more than a handful of game-rules, it is each and every single rule that you can possibly expertise. Even basic laws of nature like friction and gravity play an essential role in a videogame. Videogames are not about following a distinct rule-set, they are about being present inside a virtual world. The only way to genuinely play a videogame incorrectly is to adjust the extremely fabric of its virtual reality, or to uncover some type of exploitable flaw. (This is not strictly correct, as a single could say playing Mario and only operating back and forth the initial couple of pixels is not the correct way to play it, but I believe I make my point).

In case you want more discussion on this, Chris Deleon goes into the issue a bit deeper right here. My major point here is just that when discussing videogames, it is quite widespread that all other kinds of games get thrown into the mix, and that is exactly what takes place here. This does not mean that we should attempt and learn from other type of games, but when we want to speak about the strength and weaknesses of our medium, we require to be clear what it is we are truly speaking about.

(I know I do say "game" when I really imply "videogame" from time to time. I hope I have grow to be a lot more clear on what I mean in later posts even though. Also note that I often just use "game", right after obtaining just stated "videogame" to make the text significantly less repetitive. With that stated, I hope I do not get as well hammered due to the fact of improper usage :) )

A series of problems
This is something that have annoyed me for some time. It is the idea that videogames must pose some kind of challenge to the player. It leads to all type problems, most importantly the thought that one particular demands to have trial-and-error in videogames. In my mind it is this type of thinking what has been holding back videogames for very some time.

In Raph's write-up, this pondering is best exemplified by:
"Cut the difficulty inside the black box, and you have a slideshow."
After you get into this kind of mindset, I feel that there is so significantly you are missing out on. For instance, Amnesia would not have been achievable to generate if we had not let go of the belief that every single meaningful interaction need to have some type of dilemma and challenge at heart. It is also a statement that makes videogames like Dear Esther not possible to generate. It even dismisses a lot of what tends to make Silent Hill so excellent as undesirable videogame design and style. Needless to say, I believe this is a quite silly statement to make.

My view on the core of videogames is not that must to supply us with difficulties, but to immerse us in engaging virtual worlds. Sometimes troubles are valuable for doing this and occasionally not. But they are by no means what lies at the core of the expertise.

Feedback is for entertaining
The way the write-up talks about feedback (graphics, sound effects, etc) is in a very simplistic manner: They are simply there to improve the underlying mechanics. I believe that feedback, in any sensory type, can be a lot more than that. I believe that visuals, and so forth can lie at the front and the mechanics can be a way of exploring them, hence you tweak the gameplay according to your visuals as an alternative of the other way about.

Rather of seeing feedback as rewards for problem-solving, I feel we ought to see them as a way to improve the feeling of presence in our virtual worlds. It is the capability to "kick back" that tends to make the virtual worlds of videogames so compelling and so various from other media like novels and film. If we see feedback as a tool of immersion, we can also cease seeing all interaction as issues. I consider this brings forward a a lot more inclusive view of what a videogame can be and is also much much better at forming a platform for evolving the medium than the old narrow view.

I think there is a very a confusion with words in the post. Narrative, in film theory, is how the story is told (how characters and plot are put collectively). When Raph talks about narrative in the sense of pick-your-personal-adventure games, he is truly referring to the plot. It is not narrative, but plot (ie some quite particular events), that act has the reward for the player anytime they offer input.

It is much better to say that narrative is the subjective entirety of the session. This also goes along with Chris Bateman's view that all games tell a story and much more interestingly that all art are games of some form. 1 could also take the view (which I do not) that narrative is, like in film, the way in which the story (plot and characters) are told, in which case narrative would be an umbrella term for game mechanics. In any case I do not think Raph's usage of the word is appropriate and a far better title for his post would be "Plot is not a game mechanic". By saying it this way, I think the principal point gets no stranger than "animations/sound/and so forth are not gameplay mechanics".

This may appear like a useless discussion in semantics, but I honestly believe it is quite critical. Appropriate now, story, plot and narrative are mixed up to imply pretty considerably whatever, creating discussions like "need to our game concentrate on story" pointless. Language is our main tool for considering, and if we can't have a proper terminology, we will not be capable to think effectively.

The article's example from Batman: Arkham City is to me a really clear instance of this kind of undesirable pondering. By saying that the "video of the Joker playing on a television set" is a narrative element, but then dismissing the complete climb that came before it as such, 1 is actually missing out on the strengths of the videogame medium. For me I the Joker video is pure plot, a bit of required exposition and not what is fascinating. What is exciting is the climb up the cathedral. Here the player requires on the part of becoming Batman and, whilst performing interactive actions, forming a quite compelling narrative.

As I have written just before, in order to enhance story-telling in games we want to think about stories beyond their plots.

End notes
Most of this post has been about which means of words and of how to method some concepts, but I hope that I nevertheless showed that it is a extremely important issue. Videogame is a medium that have grown from simplistic simulations, arcade machines and boardgames. This legacy has put its mark on a lot of these days thoughts on design, several of which are holding the medium back. The only way to move forward is to reassess this line of considering and remove ingrained preconceptions of what a videogame is and needs to be. Not till we break the bonds of the previous can we freely discover the future.

1 comment:

  1. I think both you and Raph have some valuable perspectives. While you both agree it's not a mechanic, the difference is basically whether it's just a form feedback or more. When I look at it from a gamification perspective, I see the power that a narrative has on helping a player to immerse better in an otherwise mundane and boring exercise, and get at least a fantasy-full meaning and purpose.