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Don't Take Away My Story Book


Whenever videogames are discussed as in emerging genre and compared to film and literature, the key difference of videogames as an interactive medium always comes up. Sometimes I get the sense that this claim borders closely to the insinuation that videogames should be completely open-ended, and that the story should be taken out of the developer's hands and given to the player to decide.

Whoa, hold up! Narration is not a bad thing! Sure, videogames need to be interactive (otherwise they'd be little different from a book or movie), but you don't need to rip out the game author's role in all this! I want my (sorta) pre-determined storyline!

Look, we probably do need a few very open-ended RPGs out there that do little more than react to your characters actions in the game. But this does not mean that traditional RPGs which vividly share their story with players are obsolete. In fact, I yearn for these RPGs like I yearn for a good read, or a movie that makes me cry (well, I'm a guy... makes me WANT to cry is more like it).

The thing is, sometimes I want to be told a story. Sometimes I want to be taught a lesson, or I want to be introduced to new ideas that I would never have encountered had I been left to my own devices. I wouldn't be able to come up with these in a purely open-ended RPG. These are experiences you get from a great storyteller, or a great filmmaker, or even a great game maker.

But you can't interrupt a good story to add your own flair; that just ruins the thing. You can't stop and say "I want this to happen," or "you're wrong," or even "I don't like how things are turning out, let me go back to my last save point and do it a different way."

The virtue of a strictly narrated story is that it can expose you to a specific thought or concept that you never noticed before precisely because the narrator was so intent on revealing that idea. Any distraction in the movie, or derailing of the plot would just dilute that effect. In an open-ended RPG I'd be obsessed with whether I was doing "good" or not, but a narrator is not thinking about winning at all. A narrator would be focused on telling the story so that ultimately, in the end, the viewer can get something out of it.

That's why I'm wary of a future of open-ended RPGs. I know how all the stories I'd write would end. I know all the reasons about why my character does things the way he/she does and say the things he/she says. I know all the story's lessons and twists and controversies ahead of time. I'm resigned to the ending even before I begin.

But give me a good book, a good movie, a good narrated story in an RPG, and things will happen which will make me outraged, which will surprise me, which will shock me, which I would've normally gone out of my way to avoid. And at the end I will be able to learn and maybe become a better person for it.

Let me interact with my games, yes, but let interaction be a tool to gain greater immersion. Let games use that immersion to teach me new things, expose new facets of people, shock me with new possibilities. Don't just let games become a mirror in which my only hope is to see a reflection of myself.

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