How can any of us be satisfied with offering players nothing more than the opportunity to leap from cover point to cover point as they kill bad guys? Or give players tools to move blocks around on a screen until they reach some arbitrary end state? How can we allow them to manipulate puppets on a virtual football field in the service of nothing more than having one virtual team beat another virtual team in a virtual sporting event?
How can anyone who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes games, as we all do, not see that games alone among media can allow players to explore the "just and unjust" for themselves instead of simply being told about them?
We have tools at our disposal - experiences and rules and spaces and characters - that allow us to allow players tell stories with us. And that allows each player to become his or her own "moral agent," to decide for himself what's repulsive and what's admirable. At the very least, we have an obligation to offer players stories that have a bit of subtext, stories that are about something. Hard though it may be, we have to do this. We just have to decide that interactive story is a problem worth tackling. We need the will to become the medium we can - we must - be. If we do this, the world of interactive stories will blossom.
As in all things, the reconciliation of story and player experience lies in balance. People who think games have no business telling stories are nuts; people who believe their creativity is more important than the player's creativity are equally crazy.
The key to successful story games is to use narrative to enhance the play experience, to balance the players' need for choice and power with the positive aspects of a well-told story.
What makes us unique is that story in games can be the result of player creativity, expressed through play itself. We can make authors of each and every person who takes keyboard or controller in hand. And that is really something new in human history.
Of course, if that were easy to facilitate, everyone would just do it. It's not easy. It's insanely hard. But that doesn't make it any less essential.
We have the potential to create not just a new medium and not just a new community of authors but a new culture of creators, a participatory, individualized culture in which we all share in the definition of experience, of humanness. Instead of being talked to, we discuss; instead of being lectured, we debate. This new medium is the first democratic narrative force we've ever had. Let's hope, someday, we use it for something more compelling than we have so far.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live"
- Joan Didion, The White Album
Warren Spector is the founder of Junction Point Studios. He worked previously with Origin Systems, Looking Glass Studios, TSR and Steve Jackson Games.