Games and Movies, Apples and Pears

Games and Movies, Apples and Pears

How games engage our emotions with agency rather than storytelling.

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A thought: is this sort of thing doable at all on non-digital mediums? I am pondering how this sort of engaging interaction could be done without a computer, but it seems like a non-starter.

I'll admit, when I play a game and watch a film the emotions I feel are generaly led up to in different ways. So I will certainly agree, its a different way,but, storytelling in its own right. If you buil it up strongly enough, and have enough strength behind it, a real belter can still grab you by the teare ducts.

Good article though, intresting read.

It started out good, talking about games as an interactive experience separate from movies or writing, then it starts to talk about Uncharted 2, the complete opposite of an original experience.

Uncharted 2 is just an action movie from you in control. Nothing about it separates the mediums of movie and game except for those shooting segments that you could find anywhere else, and in the end contribute nothing to the "emotional story" that is going on in the background.

Really, Uncharted 2 is a horrible example. I'll repeat myself a bit: It's a story about saving those you love from death, and the gameplay is an absolute violence porn with some climbing segments. It could easily be a movie, not needing to hold onto its gameplay to keep it the same package.

She starts to talk about video games letting you live out your fantasies through controlling characters. Uncharted 2 does none of that. It give you no control of the story, just control of how many people you kill. The real dream is lived out by Drake in the little movies that play between shooting segments.

I'm called back to a recent feature article, The Stories We Tell Ourselves written by Dietrich Stogner. And just like then, here we are now, getting ready to talk about video game storytelling.

Truth is, I've been thinking hard since that article. I love storytelling and I love video games, so I've been absolutely desperate to define video game storytelling.

Anyway, the way you describe Flower is quite like how Stogner defined his version of game storytelling's ideal. And once again, I find myself disagreeing. Surely there must be a way to tell a linear story that is just as compelling. There must be a way to define the story and motivations, instead of requiring the player to bring their own to the table. There must be.

Indeed. Movies and Games are different. Thats why they're called different things..

Captain Obvious AWAY!

FungTheDestroy:
It started out good, talking about games as an interactive experience separate from movies or writing, then it starts to talk about Uncharted 2, the complete opposite of an original experience.

As I understand it, the author brings up Uncharted 2 as an example of a video game that plays like a mvoie. The author likes Uncharted 2 and I see that you don't, but the author cites Uncharted 2 as a game that doesn't give narrative control to the players while telling the story.

She starts to talk about video games letting you live out your fantasies through controlling characters. Uncharted 2 does none of that. It give you no control of the story, just control of how many people you kill. The real dream is lived out by Drake in the little movies that play between shooting segments.

Again, I think you misunderstand. The author cites Flowers as a game that puts you in total control, and Uncharted 2 as one that doesn't. Uncharted 2 tells the story like a movie, Flowers has you tell the story.

comadorcrack:
Indeed. Movies and Games are different. Thats why they're called different things..

Captain Obvious AWAY!

Hollywood isn't listening, nor are many game designers. The siren song of rupees has blinded them to the rocks of reality upon which they crash so many movies and games. Yell louder, Captain!

Newbiespud:
I'm called back to a recent feature article, The Stories We Tell Ourselves written by Dietrich Stogner. And just like then, here we are now, getting ready to talk about video game storytelling.

Truth is, I've been thinking hard since that article. I love storytelling and I love video games, so I've been absolutely desperate to define video game storytelling.

Anyway, the way you describe Flower is quite like how Stogner defined his version of game storytelling's ideal. And once again, I find myself disagreeing. Surely there must be a way to tell a linear story that is just as compelling. There must be a way to define the story and motivations, instead of requiring the player to bring their own to the table. There must be.

Another great article on a similar subject is Gordon Freeman, Private Eye. The player is allowed to discover the story, rather than having it delivered to him.

Now, having read all three articles now linked here, I say that to define story and motivations, you just do what books have been doing for centuries, and say it. It works for RPGs. The story of Chrono Trigger could have been done as a manga, and it would have worked (not to say that the game didn't work, because CHRONO TRIGGER AW YEAH BABY!). The player still has to act it out, and the player still feels triumph as they win battles and solve mysteries, but the story would translate well to less interactive media.

Some games, however, put all the story in your hands. Craig Owens mentions Portal, and Portal could only work as a video game, because all of the triumphs would feel hollow if you had to watch them being done rather than do them yourself.

lodo_bear:

FungTheDestroy:
It started out good, talking about games as an interactive experience separate from movies or writing, then it starts to talk about Uncharted 2, the complete opposite of an original experience.

As I understand it, the author brings up Uncharted 2 as an example of a video game that plays like a mvoie. The author likes Uncharted 2 and I see that you don't, but the author cites Uncharted 2 as a game that doesn't give narrative control to the players while telling the story.

FungTheDestroy:
She starts to talk about video games letting you live out your fantasies through controlling characters. Uncharted 2 does none of that. It give you no control of the story, just control of how many people you kill. The real dream is lived out by Drake in the little movies that play between shooting segments.

Again, I think you misunderstand. The author cites Flowers as a game that puts you in total control, and Uncharted 2 as one that doesn't. Uncharted 2 tells the story like a movie, Flowers has you tell the story.

Thanks for your insight on a different interpretation of the article. It would have made more sense if what you said was more obvious in the actual article.

As I read it, though, I saw her building up to games being separate from movies, and then completely destroys that argument, seemingly just to bring up Uncharted. It should never have been mentioned. It contradicts and destroys any strong point of the article. Instead it stuck in an odd middle zone, trying to please everyone. Like trying to eat and apple and a pear in one bite.

I don't hate Uncharted 2, I just don't think it's a good example of art in any way. It's a FUN game, and should only be talked about as such. All the other good bits are stuck in the movie that plays in the background. Even pointing out these flaws would have strengthened her argument, but Gods forbid anyone has anything bad to say about Uncharted 2.

Wii Sports Resort would have fit better into her article, as it puts you in COMPLETE control of every situation, and can only be played as a game. The experience can not be translated to a book or movie.

Whatever the "truth" about storytelling, games and film is, the earliest films were not immediately giving audience stories: The first moving pictures were short and amusing visuals designed to delight (say, like a round of Pong), or shock its audience. L'Arrivee d'un train a La Ciotat (1895) held absolutely no intended story-telling.

The film camera doesn't automatically create a story when you turn it on. It certainly didn't do so in 1895. The earliest story-driven films were largely driven by stageplay. Watching a an uncut televised stageplay is second-rate cinematic story-telling experience, theatre is vastly better experienced live in the audience.

I think it is possible that IT can deliver a sort of an artifical intelligence story-telling interaction (I hesitate to label this as "game", since while stories play a lot on binary values, you don't see a "wrong" ending in a film, in the manner you see a "game over, load most recent?" in a game.)

I believe that the reason why games as a story-telling media are stuck roughly at the same point as early film is, bearing the baggage of another medium of story, is because the field of game design hasn't embraced yet its Sergei Eisensteins, Fritz Langs and Alfred Hitchcocks. Designers haven't discovered enough about the qualities of interaction and how to employ it in meaningful, emotion-evoking story-telling. These designers should have a strong vision on narration and story-telling with an equal love for games.

I think this article was weak because there are quite a number of articles and blog posts on narration vs. ludology. Instead of once more pitting up story against interaction (where one "must" be better or more important than the other), I'd rather read articles about their equal marriage, which is something I believe there's very little written of. I don't believe I have to take a side for one or the other to see a game incorporating heart-warming storytelling in the future.

Stories live in other mediums too, and the best films, plays and books are the ones where the story incorporates itself with its medium.

And I'm not saying story is an absolute must-have in every medium of art. There are a number of beautiful poems, abstract video arts and even games that don't carry a story over, and they are fine as they are.

britterly:
I think this article was weak because there are quite a number of articles and blog posts on narration vs. ludology. Instead of once more pitting up story against interaction (where one "must" be better or more important than the other), I'd rather read articles about their equal marriage, which is something I believe there's very little written of. I don't believe I have to take a side for one or the other to see a game incorporating heart-warming storytelling in the future.

Well spoken, thank you. It's a discussion that happens a lot around here; I suppose it's our way of being literate.

Anyhow, many games do not try for narration, but just let you play around and experience the thrill of success at a difficult but engaging task. Chess is like this, and Pac-Man is like this (yes, I just compared Pac-Man to Chess). It has no narrative apart from the thrill of the fight. By contrast, many games lay out your storyline for you, with a strictly defined narrative, and your job is to provide the skill necessary to act out the storyline (most JRPGs fit this to a T). Halo is an amusing amalgam of the two, where you can either play out a story someone else has written or you can do combat with no story at all (Halo is a well-known example of this, but the number of games that do this is past mention).

Amidst so many games that either give you a contest of skills or a part in a script, it's amusing to see that the middle ground between the two hasn't made many inroads. By middle ground, I mean the collaborative story, as embodied by that other staple of nerd-dom, the tabletop RPG. Tabletops do all kinds of fun things with collaborative storytelling, active world-creating, and so on. These hardly exist in computer games.

War games have translated well to video games, as have Monopoly-style games (get land, get resources, use resources to get land, use land to get resources, crush enemies to get their land and resources...another productive day playing Alpha Centauri). Many games exist which allow you to discover the story at your own pace (Portal has a story, but it hardly thrusts it upon you; it lets you unravel it). However, that dialogue between storyteller and audience (where there are not only multiple endings but multiple beginnings, and where there is never one way to win) does not seem to have arrived in the world of video games. Does someone have an example to prove me wrong?

I'm getting very close to "blue in the face" status on this little pet squawk, but "Story-based games are not games I want to play!" I don't want to see characters develop (at least not in the traditional sense---my Rome: Total War general with the string of history-book-worthy military accomplishments is a different animal entirely, as are my Sims), I want to see gameplay mechanics used in concert to advance the game either toward a goal (in games you can "beat") or toward a large, thriving, player-built world (in a SimCity-type game or a trade simulator/tycoon game).

All this talk about art and story and interaction takes games further away from the ones I want to play. And this makes me sad panda.

Newbiespud:

Anyway, the way you describe Flower is quite like how Stogner defined his version of game storytelling's ideal. And once again, I find myself disagreeing. Surely there must be a way to tell a linear story that is just as compelling. There must be a way to define the story and motivations, instead of requiring the player to bring their own to the table. There must be.

There are. The difference is that in video games you have to treat the player as a character that needs to learn his motivations through the world. IE if the player character needs to like a certain character, you need to give the player reasons to. If you need the PC to be greedy, tweak the mechanics until the support that style of play. Do so and you still have a fairly linear story, but the player still feels as though they are in control.

britterly:
Whatever the "truth" about storytelling, games and film is, the earliest films were not immediately giving audience stories: The first moving pictures were short and amusing visuals designed to delight (say, like a round of Pong), or shock its audience. L'Arrivee d'un train a La Ciotat (1895) held absolutely no intended story-telling.

The film camera doesn't automatically create a story when you turn it on. It certainly didn't do so in 1895. The earliest story-driven films were largely driven by stageplay. Watching a an uncut televised stageplay is second-rate cinematic story-telling experience, theatre is vastly better experienced live in the audience.

*snip*

I believe that the reason why games as a story-telling media are stuck roughly at the same point as early film is, bearing the baggage of another medium of story, is because the field of game design hasn't embraced yet its Sergei Eisensteins, Fritz Langs and Alfred Hitchcocks. Designers haven't discovered enough about the qualities of interaction and how to employ it in meaningful, emotion-evoking story-telling. These designers should have a strong vision on narration and story-telling with an equal love for games.

This is probably the best description I've ever read of the current state of video games. I do think that we're slowly getting our own Langs and Hitchcocks, though they haven't been recognized as such yet.

SimuLord:
I'm getting very close to "blue in the face" status on this little pet squawk, but "Story-based games are not games I want to play!" I don't want to see characters develop (at least not in the traditional sense---my Rome: Total War general with the string of history-book-worthy military accomplishments is a different animal entirely, as are my Sims), I want to see gameplay mechanics used in concert to advance the game either toward a goal (in games you can "beat") or toward a large, thriving, player-built world (in a SimCity-type game or a trade simulator/tycoon game).

All this talk about art and story and interaction takes games further away from the ones I want to play. And this makes me sad panda.

I don't think that games need "player-driven" stories so much as they just need to stop misusing film and literary techniques in this medium.

britterly:
I think it is possible that IT can deliver a sort of an artifical intelligence story-telling interaction (I hesitate to label this as "game", since while stories play a lot on binary values, you don't see a "wrong" ending in a film, in the manner you see a "game over, load most recent?" in a game.)

The entire Star Wars movie starts with a "wrong" ending. In most video games, failing to outrun Vader's ship would be a straight-up game over. The thing that movies do is they keep their characters alive through a series of victories and defeats to provide an entertaining experience. The potential of story-based videogames is to have an alternate storyline for ALL of those what-if moments... good or bad...

"Anakin Skywalker? Nice kid but we're totally not training him as a Jedi."

"Darth Vader chased us pretty good but we hyperspaced into a nebula so he would lose our trail. Here are the plans to the Death Star."

"Luke? LUKE! LUUUUUUKE!!!"

Instead, what we play right now is a game that presents us with chapters from a movie-like storyline as reward for winning at a game stage. Any in-character deviation from the proper story (like falling off of one of the hundreds of cliff edges and dying, or losing in one of the thousands of battles you're forced to fight and dying) is an instant kick in the teeth with Game Over. It doesn't need to be, and it definitely shouldn't be "oh, that mistake never happened" like in all of the games that are trying to kill you all over the place and then just hand-wave it when you actually die.

boholikeu:
The difference is that in video games you have to treat the player as a character that needs to learn his motivations through the world. IE if the player character needs to like a certain character, you need to give the player reasons to. If you need the PC to be greedy, tweak the mechanics until the support that style of play. Do so and you still have a fairly linear story, but the player still feels as though they are in control.

You know... I've been thinking along the same lines, and hearing it from someone else puts the final nail in the coffin for me.

Games have a remarkable ability to let the player be a separate person or entity. There's no barrier between viewer and protagonist that films, plays, and books have, because the player has the ability to be the protagonist instead of just empathize. Thus, a video game story can be built around that dimension. As you said, instead of building motivations around a unique protagonist, inspiring motivations and desires within the player. Instead of making the player want what the protagonist wants, making the character want what the player wants. The protagonist can still have their own personality, so long as their basic desires match the player's.

On the most basic level, I think good game design revolves around the player. That is, it is validated by 1) the player's desires and 2) the tools the player is given to fulfill those desires. Desires can be simple and player-defined, like in The Sims, or they can be inspired through a game's storytelling.

That's why I don't think the "story machine," games that rely on the player telling their own story in an unguided world, is where video game storytelling should end. Frankly, if such a thing genuinely happens for a player, I find that it means the current experience is engaging, but there's still something left to be desired. Literally.

SimuLord:
All this talk about art and story and interaction takes games further away from the ones I want to play. And this makes me sad panda.

People talking about the balance of story and interaction in games is what makes possible the development of player-centric experiences like Rome: Total War and The Sims. The article is advocating exactly what you are wishing for: games that places the experience in the player's hands rather than the auteurs.

Game People:
Flower got to me on a much deeper level. Although it abandoned much we have learnt from books and films, there were moments when the interactions faded away and I felt a real emotional connection to what was happening in front of me.

The game's light hand on events granted me ownership of the story, and I was all the more engaged with it.

I wouldn't say the interaction left as much as it became transparent. A great gaming experience is one where the mechanics of interaction become fluid enough to develop a conduit between the player and the digital realm. This is where games will find their identity and find their own unique ways of affecting our emotions.

Although it wasn't made explicitly clear that Uncharted 2 was considered a poor example by the author (although I understood this the way it was written) I think the people who are calling this article weak are evidence of how misunderstood this topic is among players (and developers, apparently). Please don't understand this argument as a polarity, as stories versus interaction. In the future video games will feature a seamless integration of the two that takes on its own code and forms separate from what it's currently borrowing from literature and film.

lodo_bear:

FungTheDestroy:
It started out good, talking about games as an interactive experience separate from movies or writing, then it starts to talk about Uncharted 2, the complete opposite of an original experience.

As I understand it, the author brings up Uncharted 2 as an example of a video game that plays like a mvoie. The author likes Uncharted 2 and I see that you don't, but the author cites Uncharted 2 as a game that doesn't give narrative control to the players while telling the story.

She starts to talk about video games letting you live out your fantasies through controlling characters. Uncharted 2 does none of that. It give you no control of the story, just control of how many people you kill. The real dream is lived out by Drake in the little movies that play between shooting segments.

Again, I think you misunderstand. The author cites Flowers as a game that puts you in total control, and Uncharted 2 as one that doesn't. Uncharted 2 tells the story like a movie, Flowers has you tell the story.

comadorcrack:
Indeed. Movies and Games are different. Thats why they're called different things..

Captain Obvious AWAY!

Hollywood isn't listening, nor are many game designers. The siren song of rupees has blinded them to the rocks of reality upon which they crash so many movies and games. Yell louder, Captain!

Newbiespud:
I'm called back to a recent feature article, The Stories We Tell Ourselves written by Dietrich Stogner. And just like then, here we are now, getting ready to talk about video game storytelling.

Truth is, I've been thinking hard since that article. I love storytelling and I love video games, so I've been absolutely desperate to define video game storytelling.

Anyway, the way you describe Flower is quite like how Stogner defined his version of game storytelling's ideal. And once again, I find myself disagreeing. Surely there must be a way to tell a linear story that is just as compelling. There must be a way to define the story and motivations, instead of requiring the player to bring their own to the table. There must be.

Another great article on a similar subject is Gordon Freeman, Private Eye. The player is allowed to discover the story, rather than having it delivered to him.

Now, having read all three articles now linked here, I say that to define story and motivations, you just do what books have been doing for centuries, and say it. It works for RPGs. The story of Chrono Trigger could have been done as a manga, and it would have worked (not to say that the game didn't work, because CHRONO TRIGGER AW YEAH BABY!). The player still has to act it out, and the player still feels triumph as they win battles and solve mysteries, but the story would translate well to less interactive media.

Some games, however, put all the story in your hands. Craig Owens mentions Portal, and Portal could only work as a video game, because all of the triumphs would feel hollow if you had to watch them being done rather than do them yourself.

Not true! I didn't want to buy portal so I watched a you-tube video of someone else playing it instead, seriously.

feather240:

lodo_bear:

Some games, however, put all the story in your hands. Craig Owens mentions Portal, and Portal could only work as a video game, because all of the triumphs would feel hollow if you had to watch them being done rather than do them yourself.

Not true! I didn't want to buy portal so I watched a you-tube video of someone else playing it instead, seriously.

Question: if you hadn't known that you were watching a video game, would it have been as exciting? In other words, when you were watching the video, were you imagining yourself as the character in the game, or the player of the game?

Really interested in the debate again. My aim in the article was to sidestep the either-or of Story vs Interaction and instead consider how games can become an entirely new emotionally engaging experience.

lodo_bear:
As I understand it, the author brings up Uncharted 2 as an example of a video game that plays like a mvoie. The author likes Uncharted 2 and I see that you don't, but the author cites Uncharted 2 as a game that doesn't give narrative control to the players while telling the story.

That's right, I enjoyed both Uncharted 2 and Flower but for very different reasons. Uncharted 2 offered me a thrilling story driven experience, where as Flower offered me a game driven by interaction.

300lb. Samoan:
I wouldn't say the interaction left as much as it became transparent. A great gaming experience is one where the mechanics of interaction become fluid enough to develop a conduit between the player and the digital realm. This is where games will find their identity and find their own unique ways of affecting our emotions.

I agree, for me it's experiences like Flower that show promise of creating something entirely new and unique - drawing on storytelling, film making and script writing but not defined by them.

Newbiespud:

That's why I don't think the "story machine," games that rely on the player telling their own story in an unguided world, is where video game storytelling should end. Frankly, if such a thing genuinely happens for a player, I find that it means the current experience is engaging, but there's still something left to be desired. Literally.

Actually I definitely agree with you. Though, would you be surprised to learn that some "story machine" games actually do have a bit of focus amid all their open-endedness? Spore, for example, had a very specific theme to it despite all the emphasis on customization.

boholikeu:
Though, would you be surprised to learn that some "story machine" games actually do have a bit of focus amid all their open-endedness? Spore, for example, had a very specific theme to it despite all the emphasis on customization.

That doesn't surprise me per se, but... Hmm. So could the successful "story machine" game be one that still inspires desires into the player... but leaves out the context for those desires? And a linear story-driven game is one that creates specific motivations?

It all sounds good to me, but I don't want to leap to conclusions. This appears to be a delicate subject.

Newbiespud:

boholikeu:
Though, would you be surprised to learn that some "story machine" games actually do have a bit of focus amid all their open-endedness? Spore, for example, had a very specific theme to it despite all the emphasis on customization.

That doesn't surprise me per se, but... Hmm. So could the successful "story machine" game be one that still inspires desires into the player... but leaves out the context for those desires? And a linear story-driven game is one that creates specific motivations?

It all sounds good to me, but I don't want to leap to conclusions. This appears to be a delicate subject.

That's pretty much it, in my experience. "Story-machine" games seem to work solely through general game mechanics (IE supporting a greedy playstyle over an altruistic one), whereas more linear games develop player motivations based on specific interactions with certain npcs, etc.

Sorry if this all sounds pretty general, but I'm really having trouble putting this into words since there's no vocabulary for these aspects of design yet (at least none I know of).

lodo_bear:

feather240:

lodo_bear:

Some games, however, put all the story in your hands. Craig Owens mentions Portal, and Portal could only work as a video game, because all of the triumphs would feel hollow if you had to watch them being done rather than do them yourself.

Not true! I didn't want to buy portal so I watched a you-tube video of someone else playing it instead, seriously.

Question: if you hadn't known that you were watching a video game, would it have been as exciting? In other words, when you were watching the video, were you imagining yourself as the character in the game, or the player of the game?

You know how some games have a spectator mode? It was like that. I saw myself as an observer, so neither the character or the player.

Game People:
As the game switches between the controlled and watched segments the chance of that magical moment of immersion is diminished. Of course it is, Uncharted 2 is built around interaction rather than narrative. An emotional story wasn't the priority here it was engaging compelling game play.

Not sure I agree. There were lots of minature cut scenes in Uncharted 2 that temporarily removed control from the player, but only very temporarily - like when the train carriage rocks in the opening and you're thrown back against the wall. I actually think this sudden, v brief removal of control can be quite powerful, and a good way of providing drama and immersion within a linear story-driven video game while keeping a stranglehold on direction. Unfortunately, Uncharted 2 overused it a bit - there's only so many times I'm going to believe that a guy can slip up on a platform edge. But I think, in terms of citing a story-driven linear game that keeps interaction away from the story, Uncharted 2 is not as good a choice as it may seem. I also don't think linearity or cinematic influence preclude a player from feeling like they're in control, nor do I think they mean a game cannot take advantage of the interactive strengths of the medium.

 

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