Stories are an integral part of the human experience, and have potentially been so for as long as there has been a human experience. They’ve been a way of passing on knowledge and a means to make sense of the world. They’ve been used to teach us, to broaden our horizons, and to open our minds beyond what is lived. They draw us into other worlds, the land of could and the realm of maybe. They were spoken first, written later, and passed through generations, changing some and creating new ones. The way in which stories are told has changed, as have the methods through which people can experience them.
New ways of communicating led to innovation in how stories were told. Songs, Paintings, Writing, Print, Plays, Song, Radio, Film, and now Games.
The same stories are repeated, though their clothes might change or their manner become different. There are still new stories, new for the telling or the experience, and sometimes new because of the format in which they’re told.
Games are a relatively new medium for us. The stories of games had been mostly an afterthought for a long while, but there has been a shift toward them being an important part of many games, and many games are judged as much for the narratives as they are for the gameplay. We want the complete package.
The ability to engage the player of a game directly has changed the way in which stories can be told. They are a participant in the game’s story, and are often the ones making the choices for the character. The attributes of supporting characters, from their relationships and jobs right through to their fate can all be affected by what the player chooses.
Even when there are no choices to be made, the player is engaged in the process, and experiencing it alters the frame of the story. It creates investment in the story, because it’s not Sonic defeating the Dr Robotnik, it’s the player. Finding the treasures, slaying the dragons, and saving the king – all of it happens because of the player’s actions.
They travel through time and mess with George Washington’s teeth. They catch the Mad Bomber’s ever-increasing gifts in buckets of water. Playing is the driving force of the story because nothing happens without it. Sure, anyone could take over from any checkpoint, but it still requires an active participant for the story to be told. They are similar to traditional stories in many ways, but that fundamental difference changes how the stories are related to.
It’s true that the story isn’t the thing itself. There is an experience that comes from games through the act of playing, regardless of paying attention to the story – though their stories can’t be experienced any other way.
There is not one single story that is told within games, but there’s always one key requirement for the narrative to be divulged. It is an unalterable constant across all games that a player must be playing. Just as manifestations of the Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey require the presence of the hero, so too does the storytelling require the player.
It’s this key element that is the hook for this series. A gamer plays and receives a story. It doesn’t drop in their lap with a message congratulating them on receiving One Story Token, or Redeem This For Plot. They’re pushed through the game world and the story is revealed around them as they continue. That’s our journey, and the reason for the name of this series of posts.
The Gamer’s Journey will look at examples of memorable in games, the differences that set this method of storytelling apart from others, and examine other parts of the expression of narratives in this medium. There will be spoilers (which will be warned of at the beginning of each page), and there will also be some games that are continually referred to.
After a stretch of text, each page will present a question, followed by the answers given by those interviewed. The intent of this is not to load the questions, but to examine the premise that will result in the question. All of the text that precedes a question has been written independently of those responses.
Next: The Voices