Games as Story Machines

hawkeyefan

Legend
I recently came across this video in a couple of gaming blogs that I read. I found it interesting, well-produced, and insightful, so I figured I'd share it here.

Story Machines Vol. 1

I'm curious what people think. The relationship of RPGs and stories has always been the subject for debate. This video looks at the relationship between games and stories, not RPGs specifically, but I think that helps bring a clarity to the topic that is often absent.
 

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niklinna

satisfied?
I really enjoyed that video, and plan to watch it again. The idea that it's all some form of story really resonates with me, and clarifies why I've liked or not liked particular games and game mechanics, and gives me a new angle to view GNS and other such theories by. In particular I'm thinking of how much I enjoyed Torchbearer 2 gameplay, which managed to blend more typical ideas of story with more typical ideas of gamism in ways that have been claimed not to be possible. (If only they'd had a decent editor for the books!)
 

pemerton

Legend
@hawkeyefan Thanks for the link - I watched the video.

For anyone else reading the thread who hasn't watched the video, it has three key claims.

(1) Plot works by manipulating the relationship between time and satisfaction. The author instils a desire into the audience - by way of (say) empathy with a character, or some other concern for what will happen in a situation - and then defers the satisfaction of that desire (by way of rising action prior to the climax).

(2) Games work by establishing a desire - say, to beat the other player or to achieve some outcome - and then placing obstacles, structured by the rules of the game, in the way of the satisfaction of that desire. Playing the game means being drawn into the game (via the desire) and then encountering the obstacles as things to be overcome (by engaging in game play) such that the desire might be realised.

(3) Hence, to play a game is, in fact, to experience a plot. Which is why we - humans - find playing games a source of satisfaction and meaning. (A corollary is that there is no ludic/narrative contrast - the ludic is a special case of the narrrative.)


I think it's pretty interesting. In the context of discussions of RPG design, it reminded me of this:

A Small Thing About Suspense​

I have no criticism cred to back this up. Just amatuer observations. So kick my butt if you gotta.

Suspense doesn't come from uncertain outcomes.

I have no doubt, not one shred of measly doubt, that Babe the pig is going to wow the sheepdog trial audience. Neither do you. But we're on the edge of our seats! What's up with that?

Suspense comes from putting off the inevitable.

What's up with that is, we know that Babe is going to win, but we don't know what it will cost.

Everybody with me still? If you're not, give it a try: watch a movie. Notice how the movie builds suspense: by putting complications between the protagonist and what we all know is coming. The protagonist has to buy victory, it's as straightforward as that. That's why the payoff at the end of the suspense is satisfying, after all, too: we're like ah, finally.

What about RPGs?

Yes, it can be suspenseful to not know whether your character will succeed or fail. I'm not going to dispute that. But what I absolutely do dispute is that that's the only or best way to get suspense in your gaming. In fact, and check this out, when GMs fudge die rolls in order to preserve or create suspense, it shows that suspense and uncertain outcomes are, in those circumstances, incompatible.

So here's a better way to get suspense in gaming: put off the inevitable.

Acknowledge up front that the PCs are going to win, and never sweat it. Then use the dice to escalate, escalate, escalate. We all know the PCs are going to win. What will it cost them?​
 
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The fact we experience everything as a sequence of events does not make everything that generates a sequence of events narratively meaningful. The fact games set out to generate at least very similar sequences of events in play does not mean they are generating stories. The presenter seems unable or perhaps unwilling to see a distinction between something that's meant to generate an experience and something that's meant to generate a meaningful narrative. The presenter seems to be staring over the brink of "everything is a story" into the abyss of "story isn't different from everything else."
 


@hawkeyefan Thanks for the link - I watched the video.

For anyone else reading the thread who hasn't watched the video, it has three key claims.

(1) Plot works by manipulating the relationship between time and satisfaction. The author instils a desire into the audience - by way of (say) empathy with a character, or some other concern for what will happen in a situation - and then defers the satisfaction of that desire (by way of rising action prior to the climax).

(2) Games work by establishing a desire - say, to beat the other player or to achieve some outcome - and then placing obstacles, structured by the rules of the game, in the way of the satisfaction of that desire. Playing the game means being drawn into the game (via the desire) and then encountering the obstacles as things to be overcome (by engaging in game play) such that the desire might be realised.

(3) Hence, to play a game is, in fact, to experience a plot. Which is why we - humans - find playing games a source of satisfaction and meaning. (A corollary is that there is on ludic/narrative contrast - the lucid is a special case of the narrrative.)

In the past, and recently if you recall, I've made the observation that I consider climbing (and obstacle course navigation generally) a satisfying analogue to the dynamics of most play in the sphere of TTRPGing and its precisely because the arc of plot/story tend toward an array of structured obstacles with rising action, climax, and deferred satisfaction and discovery around how the whole of it will resolve.

Whether I'm running a scenario/dungeon of my own devising or I'm placing protagonists in situations to provoke them to some sort of action, the process and the results incline themselves toward the above.
 

pemerton

Legend
The fact we experience everything as a sequence of events does not make everything that generates a sequence of events narratively meaningful. The fact games set out to generate at least very similar sequences of events in play does not mean they are generating stories. The presenter seems unable or perhaps unwilling to see a distinction between something that's meant to generate an experience and something that's meant to generate a meaningful narrative. The presenter seems to be staring over the brink of "everything is a story" into the abyss of "story isn't different from everything else."
I don't think this is correct. The video doesn't just make the (banal) claim that a game involves a sequence of events. It makes the much more interesting claim that a game uses its rules to draw the players in yet defer the satisfaction of their desire vis-a-vis the outcome of the game.

It's the deliberate and structured deferral of desire which culminates in resolution that is the focus of the discussion.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think it’s more that he thinks what gives an experience meaning comes from the narrative involved. The two seem inextricably linked according to the video.
I think the claim is more precise than how you've expressed it - meaning on the view in the video comes from being drawn in, in virtue of a desire for resolution; and narrative or plot (the author treats these as more-or-less synonymous, I think) results from the deferral of the satisfaction of desire, but in a structured fashion that maintains the investment of the participant in the unfolding situation. (The example of the maze is a key way he sets out this idea - his exposition is a little metaphorical, but I think he intends maze-as-narrative quite literally.)

I think it's a very interesting claim!
 


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