Games as Story Machines

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.
It's conflation of narrative tension with competitive tension among other things.
 

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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.
His video seems to me to take the position that every sequence of events has meaning which is only true looking back. Most sequences of events are meaningless in their moments.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Are games really meaningless in their moments? I would be very surprised if moment to moment play isn’t very meaningful for any game worth playing. Whether it’s having to figure out how to defeat a boss that just appeared in the adventure board game you are playing or how to reunite the stupid korok with its friend, you’re getting something out of it once you’re past the obstacle. Otherwise, why even bother to play?
 

Are games really meaningless in their moments? I would be very surprised if moment to moment play isn’t very meaningful for any game worth playing. Whether it’s having to figure out how to defeat a boss that just appeared in the adventure board game you are playing or how to reunite the stupid korok with its friend, you’re getting something out of it once you’re past the obstacle.
A moment can be engaging if there's some tactical or strategic puzzle to figure out or some way to manage actions and assets to succeed at goals. That seems like a different thing to me than narrative or narrative meaning.
Otherwise, why even bother to play?
To see how good I am. Or in the case of co-op games to see how good we are.
 



kenada

Legend
Supporter
A moment can be engaging if there's some tactical or strategic puzzle to figure out or some way to manage actions and assets to succeed at goals. That seems like a different thing to me than narrative or narrative meaning.
Well, what is “narrative” and “narrative meaning”?

I think this is where the video does something a bit unusual with Freytag’s pyramid. It’s not actually talking about the stories themselves but how we experience them. It makes the case that what the audience experiences follows a particular structure, and then it shows how the arc of play follows a similar structure. If we accept the former as a “narrative”, then it suggests the latter should also be consider a form of “narrative”.

Obviously, games don’t necessarily have the same exact structure. Some can. It uses The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as an example of this where the game has a “story”, but the game also has a number of other “plots”. It shows a brief montage of various bits it would later go on to call “story machines”. Are those other plots less meaningful than the main one? I don’t think so. They seem to be what are giving people the most meaningful experiences in that game.

To see how good I am. Or in the case of co-op games to see how good we are.
You’d play a meaningless game to see how good you are at it?
 

Well, what is “narrative” and “narrative meaning”?
Narrative is how we remember and/or retell a sequence of events. Narrative meaning is the meaning we attach to or derive from those memories/retellings.
I think this is where the video does something a bit unusual with Freytag’s pyramid. It’s not actually talking about the stories themselves but how we experience them. It makes the case that what the audience experiences follows a particular structure, and then it shows how the arc of play follows a similar structure. If we accept the former as a “narrative”, then it suggests the latter should also be consider a form of “narrative”.
The arc of most gameplay does not in fact follow a plot pyramid. Most games are designed to keep people engaged not by structuring events to fit any variant of Freytag's pyramid but by keeping people convinced they can win. I do not believe that the rules of a game necessarily make a sequence of events that people will find memorable let alone attach or derive meaning.
Obviously, games don’t necessarily have the same exact structure. Some can. It uses The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as an example of this where the game has a “story”, but the game also has a number of other “plots”. It shows a brief montage of various bits it would later go on to call “story machines”. Are those other plots less meaningful than the main one? I don’t think so. They seem to be what are giving people the most meaningful experiences in that game.
I don't have any particular expertise in or even much experience of video games but I'd tell you that the creators of any Zelda game are at least writing pieces of stories separately from the gameplay bits. Seems from your phrasing that you tend to see it that way too. Unless a cutscene is literally part of game play which I have been given to understand is not the case.
You’d play a meaningless game to see how good you are at it?
I'd play a game with no intended or expected narrative meaning as a test of skill. I wouldn't impute any sort of meaning to bowling or bridge other than "how good am I?"
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Narrative is how we remember and/or retell a sequence of events. Narrative meaning is the meaning we attach to or derive from those memories/retellings.
When relating those events, does it have to be done in a particular medium or structure? Can the relationship between characters in a scene create a narrative (as used in the example at the start of the segment on story machines)?

The arc of most gameplay does not in fact follow a plot pyramid. Most games are designed to keep people engaged not by structuring events to fit any variant of Freytag's pyramid but by keeping people convinced they can win. I do not believe that the rules of a game necessarily make a sequence of events that people will find memorable let alone attach or derive meaning.
Does it not? You have an initial condition and a goal. As you work towards that goal and compete with the other players, the tension in the game increases. Someone eventually reach that goal, and the tension abates. That seems to describe a structure that is approximately pyramidally shaped. The video also has examples of smaller “plots” that happen. You’re out in the field, and you get ambushed. The goal is to survive the ambush. The conflict is obvious, and the tension comes from whether you’ll win or not. The fun of Soulsborne games is predicated on this kind of loop.

I don't have any particular expertise in or even much experience of video games but I'd tell you that the creators of any Zelda game are at least writing pieces of stories separately from the gameplay bits. Seems from your phrasing that you tend to see it that way too. Unless a cutscene is literally part of game play which I have been given to understand is not the case.
There are some parts that are about farming cutscenes or story bits (finding the Dragon’s Tears and Messages from an Ancient Era quest lines), but that’s not what the video shows. It shows four scenes from the game: Link in flight, Link manipulating a spiked ball with Rewind, Link traveling up through a ledge using Ascend, and shot of Hyrule Castle. At least three of these are happening outside of any particular story moment. The spiked ball in particular is a good example of a “story engine” because all it’s done is set up a dynamic situation, and it’s up to the player to respond how.

I'd play a game with no intended or expected narrative meaning as a test of skill. I wouldn't impute any sort of meaning to bowling or bridge other than "how good am I?"
In the context of games, I’m deploying “meaning” to refer to what I get out of it. When I play a game, I want to win, but I also want to make interesting moves or have a good time. Sometimes there’s a problem I need to optimize. I love those types of games. Even executing well in a game like bowling can be meaningful. I can remember growing up how my dad kept getting close to bowling a 300 but could never quite get there. Until he finally did like thirty years later.

When I think about meaningless game experiences, I think of ones that make you step back and question what the hell I was doing with my time. For example, I started playing Priconne last year, but I stopped because there wasn’t really anything to play, and I wasn’t even doing the story missions. I was just fast-forwarding through the stages to farm items. That’s a big problem with gacha games, though they’re not all bad (especially if you can be prudent with spending).
 

When relating those events, does it have to be done in a particular medium or structure? Can the relationship between characters in a scene create a narrative (as used in the example at the start of the segment on story machines)?
I see no reason for the medium to matter for this and I don't see much reason for structure to matter. I don't think the existence of a relationship is sufficient to make a narrative but it could absolutely be a part of one.
Does it not? You have an initial condition and a goal. As you work towards that goal and compete with the other players, the tension in the game increases. Someone eventually reach that goal, and the tension abates.
That's competitive tension and it has nothing to do with story.
The video also has examples of smaller “plots” that happen. You’re out in the field, and you get ambushed. The goal is to survive the ambush. The conflict is obvious, and the tension comes from whether you’ll win or not. The fun of Soulsborne games is predicated on this kind of loop.
The tension there seems comes from whether you're good enough to survive. I wouldn't expect there to be any sort of narrative tension if you know exactly what's coming.
There are some parts that are about farming cutscenes or story bits (finding the Dragon’s Tears and Messages from an Ancient Era quest lines), but that’s not what the video shows. It shows four scenes from the game: Link in flight, Link manipulating a spiked ball with Rewind, Link traveling up through a ledge using Ascend, and shot of Hyrule Castle. At least three of these are happening outside of any particular story moment. The spiked ball in particular is a good example of a “story engine” because all it’s done is set up a dynamic situation, and it’s up to the player to respond how.
Are those moments things the players can directly control? Can the player control Link while he's flying or while he's using Rewind or Ascend? Can the player control anything about Link's interactions with Hyrule Castle?
In the context of games, I’m deploying “meaning” to refer to what I get out of it. When I play a game, I want to win, but I also want to make interesting moves or have a good time. Sometimes there’s a problem I need to optimize. I love those types of games. Even executing well in a game like bowling can be meaningful. I can remember growing up how my dad kept getting close to bowling a 300 but could never quite get there. Until he finally did like thirty years later.
Most of what you're describing getting out of games here seems like finding out how good you are or how the game works. "Making interesting moves" especially seems like playing around in the game to see how it works more than executing it well. I wouldn't imply that you or anyone can't derive those sorts of meanings from games or derive meaning from games the way you are. When I refer to games as not having narrative meaning I mean only that there often isn't any emotional resonance to the moment of play. What was important about the games of Scrabble I played with my grandparents was that they were with my grandparents. There wasn't any meaning to the games themselves as far as who won. My grandma always won.
 

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