In the beginning, there was the system.

And someone told a story about it.

Stories are essentially patterns of behaviour to explain abstract systems. Alright, that sounded a little pretentious and nerdy at the same time, but what I’m trying to get at is that stories are a way for people to relate to ideas, and to other people. It’s a basic human need. Here, I’ll let Joss Whedon explain it wittily first.

“We’re talking about story-telling, the most basic human need. Food? That’s an animal need. Shelter? That’s a luxury item that leads to social grouping, which leads directly to fancy scarves. But human awareness is all about story-telling. The selective narrative of your memory. The story of why the Sky Bully throws lightning at you. From the first, stories, even unspoken, separated us from the other, cooler beasts.” – Joss Whedon

Games are built on systems. What to do, when to do it and how to do it. These systems, like the physical world around us, have rules. Often, story in games are a matter of applying a narrative to fit the rules. You’re a God of War, that’s why you go around beating demons up with the intricate combat system. You’re a martial arts tournament, there’s a giant baddie out to destroy the world, etc, etc. Early game stories tended to be practical, needing only to get a good narrative flow going to cover up the structure and system of the game. Once the system hooks the player in, the story needs only smooth over the rough edges.

But it can be so much more.

There are games where the system themselves tell the story. They provide the narrative tools for the player to construct his own narrative. There are games where the story and system meshes so well that it essentially is a unique experience. Of course, there are games that tell stories well, even if the game kinda sucks, or games that are great, but with terrible stories.

Games are unique medium of narrative. They are systems first yes, but so was the world, and we found a way to tell stories about them. As we matured, as civilization gained enlightenment, we told different stories, providing insight, connecting one another, and sometimes segregating one another, but essentially, we communicated. As a narrative medium, games are still fairly nascent.

So there are ways to tell really cool stories with games, we just have to take a look at the vocabulary games provide us to tell those stories, and I guess with this blog, I’m going to spend some time cataloging, thinking and wondering what those are, and maybe figure out a way to tell some cool stories.

 

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