Quirks of Computer-Mediated Storytelling | Sunday, April 30th, 2006

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Computer Mediated Storytelling does not equal gaming, though gaming is the largest piece of this particular pie. Nor are blogging, videoblogging, or podcasting specifically describable as computer mediated storytelling - they are old communication methods which merely employ the medium of computers and their networks to propagate.

Storytelling is in itself an art. The ability to capture and keep your audiences' attention while you convey your story is the rarest of skills, whether we're talking about the written/ spoken / sung word, painting, photography, music or moving images. We've all put down a great book, walked out of a movie theater, or listened to a haunting song that left us feeling embedded in the experiences and ideas of it. A good story leaves us with specific memories of its peculiarities - a great ones leaves us unable (or unwilling) to distinguish the peculiarities of its world with those of our own. In other words, our mind remembers not only the story's world, but our place in it.

Perhaps, like me, you've found yourself unable to tear yourself away from a world so vividly created by an entire video game studio, carefully crafted to meta-art - music, art, animation, storytelling, ergonomics all combined to keep your senses unable to pull away from it. Gaming is the next logical step in storytelling medium, but also one that allows for exponential manipulation of the story-world. A writer never had to worry about how his story would play out, because it couldn't play out any differently than he had written it. Games, on the other hand, are become more and more open-ended to allow for more freedom for the player to live the story how he or she so chooses. This open-endedness has led some designers to feel obligated to relinquish control of their story and simply allow the player to go anywhere / do anything.

As mentioned in my previous post, this is seldom the best solution, because it removes the story from the game. The player's mind disconnects from the world he or she is immersed in when it ceases to have a purpose. Games like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto allow the player a huge amount of freedom while carefully restricting what the player can and can't do, and making sure that the player is shouldering their own part of the plot so that the story doesn't fall apart - that's also a reason to not make the player the central character or protagonist anymore. Massively Multiplayer Online games take this to an extreme by making all players equal and anonymous, without anyone feeling like they have any real impact on the game world.

How can we build a fair and democratic game world, while keeping the players engrossed in a story where they can have a very real effect on the outcome?

Immersive Fallacy - What are games? | Wednesday, April 26th, 2006


(from GamesAreArt.Com)

(emphasis mine):

"Why does the phrase ‘the player will be able to go anywhere and do anything’ sound like nails on a chalkboard to me? It’s based on a very naïve and unsophisticated understanding of how simulation, how representation works. You have a thing, a part of the world, and you have a simulation of that. There’s a gap in between, the gap is made up by all the differences, the way that this is not this.. the immersive fallacy is this idea that computer simulation allows us to close this gap and makes these things identical. But this gap is an essential part of how this representation works, this gap is where the magic happens.

Let’s say a bear is attacking a friend of yours and is about to kill him. The word ‘bear’ will warn your friend. The word ‘bear’ would not be better if it had teeth and could kill you! The same thing is true of the bear mask that the tribal priest puts on, or the bears on the wall of the cave, and of the game ‘Bear’. Statues wouldn’t be better if they could move. Model airplanes would not be better if they were the same size as airplanes! By the same token, if you think about it, the incredible sense of freedom created by GTA is created by carefully limiting the actions of the player.


Even if you could by some magic create this impossible perfect simulation world, where would you be? You’d need to stick a game in there. You’d need to make chess out of the simulation rocks in your world. It’s like going back to square one. I don’t wanna play chess again. I wanna play a game that has the dense simulation and chess combined. This requires a light touch. This requires respect for the gap. The gap is part of your toolset."

This is where, in my opinion, games like "Second Life" fall flat. Second Life never took the time to create a gap - you can go anywhere and do anything. It tries to be everything that everyone could possibly want, and ends up being a poorly scripted, open-ended third-person action/adventure RPG, with a bunch of minigames stuck in there.

There is no "game", because it's a toy rather than a game. So was SimCity, The Sims and all the other similar building games. But SimCity had you working against economic, social and environmental challenges. The Sims had you working to satisfy the needs of your, well, Sims. You made your own game out of the toy, but then you had to beat the game. In Second Life, there is no game. There is no rush from winning one of the billions of poorly written scripted little minigames, and I don't get any rush from "exploring" the low-polygon-count world and climbing its hills. Getting to the top of a hill the real-world is a much more satisfying experience, but I've already done it and can do it again right here, in real-world, to much greater effect. Like Frank said, "I don't wanna play chess again".