Games as Story Machines

kenada

Legend
Supporter
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.
Well, then why not a “story machine” as a source of a narrative?

That's competitive tension and it has nothing to do with story.
Isn’t it creating one based on the events it generates?

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.
You still have to execute. You can know what’s coming —in fact, that’s how those games can be so difficult without feeling unfair; but you still have to execute. Whether you’re able to do it this time would be the source of tension (and if one accepts the video’s argument that “story machines” create plots, a source of narrative tension).

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?
Pretty much. The player has control over Link when using the glider, and the other two things are powers you can use freely. The game sometimes set up puzzles for you to use them in a certain way, but you can often ignore that and find a different solution. There is some story stuff there, but you can go to Hyrule Castle any time you want. My wife started going there regularly after learning it had some nice weapons that were easy (low risk) to get.

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.
Hmm. “Emotional resonance” is a new element. Previously, the definition of “narrative meaning” suggested was just “the meaning we attach to or derive from those memories/retellings.” That seems sufficient. “Emotional resonance” seems like an unnecessary addition. Otherwise, stories that are educational or informative but not necessarily emotionally resonant would be excluded.
 

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Well, then why not a “story machine” as a source of a narrative?
Because the game is generating nothing more than the sequence of events. The people might make the narrative looking back on that.
Isn’t it creating one based on the events it generates?
No because the narrative is made by the people looking back on the events they think will or should or do have meaning.
You still have to execute. You can know what’s coming —in fact, that’s how those games can be so difficult without feeling unfair; but you still have to execute. Whether you’re able to do it this time would be the source of tension (and if one accepts the video’s argument that “story machines” create plots, a source of narrative tension).
And the thing is that I don't accept that argument. Not even a little bit. The tension you're describing is entirely a competitive tension and not at all about any sort of story. This is I think the core of our disagreement. People playing Monopoly or Mousetrap or Magic The Gathering and engaged with the play aren't engaged with the play out of any narrative or story. They're engaged because they think they can win. Magic The Gathering is specifically designed with comeback mechanics to keep victory plausble as long as possible. It's been a while since I played Mousetrap but there may be similar aspects to play there. The primary reason everyone justly slags on Monopoly as a designed game is that victory becomes implausible for players long before they are actually eliminated.
Pretty much. The player has control over Link when using the glider, and the other two things are powers you can use freely. The game sometimes set up puzzles for you to use them in a certain way, but you can often ignore that and find a different solution. There is some story stuff there, but you can go to Hyrule Castle any time you want. My wife started going there regularly after learning it had some nice weapons that were easy (low risk) to get.
So those seem to be almost entirely gameplay elements to me. They'll happen in some sequence of course because that's the way time works and sometimes those sequences will make for fulfilling narratives and look back upon and turn into stories. It is of course plausible that there's something inherent to video games that changes that.
Hmm. “Emotional resonance” is a new element. Previously, the definition of “narrative meaning” suggested was just “the meaning we attach to or derive from those memories/retellings.” That seems sufficient. “Emotional resonance” seems like an unnecessary addition. Otherwise, stories that are educational or informative but not necessarily emotionally resonant would be excluded.
That's fair. Those games of Scrabble had no meaning as games other than the gameplay. What makes them experiences I look back on with any fondness is that they were things I did with my grandparents. And with my mom.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
And the thing is that I don't accept that argument. Not even a little bit. The tension you're describing is entirely a competitive tension and not at all about any sort of story. This is I think the core of our disagreement.
I think the core disagreement is over whether it’s sufficient to be structurally sufficient. I think the idea is interesting, but I’m not sure. There are certainly some interesting things that would follow if it were. You seem to be in the no camp. The experience of a story, and the experience of playing a game may have similarities, but they’re not the same thing. In particular, we tend to be passive members of an audience and active players of a game. Someone may recount these events, but that doesn’t make the experiencing of them into a story.

To try to sum things up: my effort to overcome a boss may involve tension, but you would call that competitive tension. It’s based on my ability to overcome the obstacles and achieve the thing I desire (victory). Narrative tension would be experienced by someone engaged with a story through its conflict as it makes its way to the conclusion. These are both types of tensions, but they’re not the same. However, what if that story is the game I’m playing? Is there simultaneously both kinds of tension depending on whether you are the participant or the audience? 🤔
 

I think focusing on "narrative" might be a bit of a detour that is a little too zoomed out to capture the thrust of things here. What we're really concerned about is the following superstructure:

* A goal with interposing situation/obstacle which must be overcome.

* The above relationship creates a deferred state of satisfaction while engendering discovery contingent upon the resolution of the above.

* From these dynamics a natural scheme of rising action > climax > conclusion arises.

* Whether its climbing a route, playing (or witnessing) a football game, participating (or witnessing) a boxing match, running/playing a dungeon/hexcrawl, running/playing a series of islands in Agon...string enough of these sequences together and an arrangement of story tends to emerge.




Now, the variables of nature of the goal, nature of situations/obstacles, what satisfaction we're deferring to post-resolution, what discovery we're deriving upon resolution, and the integration of all of these things via a novel set of procedures and scheme will create a unique experience. Whether that experience entails a compelling "narrative" or not is likely autobiographical.

But the superstructure for games yielding story (or at least our brains cataloguing it and experiencing it as such; there is evolutionary theory here and some evidence...but I'll leave that be) tends to hold.

Now...

Here is something controversial that I've said elsewhere. I think what constitutes "a game" vs "performance art" is interesting (and intersects with this thread). Much like choregraphed combat (performance art) doesn't defer satisfaction and entail discovery around the questions of "who exhibits the most prowess" or "do you have the courage to stand up and fight for x (your beliefs, your beloved, yourself, etc)", obstacles/situation and their resolution as performance art rather than crucible (illusionism approaches to play) also doesn't defer satisfaction and entail discovery around questions of prowess and ethos.

While it doesn't bear exactly on this thread, I think the question of "game or performance art" is an interesting one. Is the crucible component the pivot point of a game and that is why the arc/pyramid above inevitably emerges? And while performance art not done poorly definitely lends itself toward being a "story machine," the low stakes, choregraphed nature of it robs the crucible component so great care must be rendered in the choreography lest the deferred satisfaction and legitimacy of discovery will fail to launch. Going back to games now, I think you can see the same paradigm emerge when there is virtually no agency in the play due to the dynamics fo the game. For instance, if a game is "solved/resolved" after we simply answer the question "who goes first," then I think that game's claim to crucible, to deferred satisfaction, to legitimate discovery also fails to launch.
 

I really want to engage on this but darm, why why why can’t people just enjoy playing dnd.
The video never mentions D&D or any other TRPG and I never understood it to be talking about them other than as included in the very broad and general "games." I have mostly been talking about the sorts of board games the video discusses. Frosthaven flashes past in one of the montages so it's not as though the video completely ignores co-op games' existence.
 

I think the core disagreement is over whether it’s sufficient to be structurally sufficient. I think the idea is interesting, but I’m not sure. There are certainly some interesting things that would follow if it were. You seem to be in the no camp. The experience of a story, and the experience of playing a game may have similarities, but they’re not the same thing. In particular, we tend to be passive members of an audience and active players of a game. Someone may recount these events, but that doesn’t make the experiencing of them into a story.

To try to sum things up: my effort to overcome a boss may involve tension, but you would call that competitive tension. It’s based on my ability to overcome the obstacles and achieve the thing I desire (victory). Narrative tension would be experienced by someone engaged with a story through its conflict as it makes its way to the conclusion. These are both types of tensions, but they’re not the same. However, what if that story is the game I’m playing? Is there simultaneously both kinds of tension depending on whether you are the participant or the audience? 🤔
I don't want to be moving any goalposts but having slept on it I think my thinking has shifted or changed at least a little bit. I think I still strongly disagree with the video's assertion that game mechanics will inherently and/or automatically generate narratives or even stories. But I think it might be possible to design a game that tended to generate specific sequences of events that the participants might tend to look back upon and turn into narratives. Such a game I think would need to be intentionally designed with particular attention paid to those sequences of events and how people would look back on them.
 

I think focusing on "narrative" might be a bit of a detour that is a little too zoomed out to capture the thrust of things here. What we're really concerned about is the following superstructure:

* A goal with interposing situation/obstacle which must be overcome.

* The above relationship creates a deferred state of satisfaction while engendering discovery contingent upon the resolution of the above.

* From these dynamics a natural scheme of rising action > climax > conclusion arises.

* Whether its climbing a route, playing (or witnessing) a football game, participating (or witnessing) a boxing match, running/playing a dungeon/hexcrawl, running/playing a series of islands in Agon...string enough of these sequences together and an arrangement of story tends to emerge.




Now, the variables of nature of the goal, nature of situations/obstacles, what satisfaction we're deferring to post-resolution, what discovery we're deriving upon resolution, and the integration of all of these things via a novel set of procedures and scheme will create a unique experience. Whether that experience entails a compelling "narrative" or not is likely autobiographical.

But the superstructure for games yielding story (or at least our brains cataloguing it and experiencing it as such; there is evolutionary theory here and some evidence...but I'll leave that be) tends to hold.

Now...

Here is something controversial that I've said elsewhere. I think what constitutes "a game" vs "performance art" is interesting (and intersects with this thread). Much like choregraphed combat (performance art) doesn't defer satisfaction and entail discovery around the questions of "who exhibits the most prowess" or "do you have the courage to stand up and fight for x (your beliefs, your beloved, yourself, etc)", obstacles/situation and their resolution as performance art rather than crucible (illusionism approaches to play) also doesn't defer satisfaction and entail discovery around questions of prowess and ethos.

While it doesn't bear exactly on this thread, I think the question of "game or performance art" is an interesting one. Is the crucible component the pivot point of a game and that is why the arc/pyramid above inevitably emerges? And while performance art not done poorly definitely lends itself toward being a "story machine," the low stakes, choregraphed nature of it robs the crucible component so great care must be rendered in the choreography lest the deferred satisfaction and legitimacy of discovery will fail to launch. Going back to games now, I think you can see the same paradigm emerge when there is virtually no agency in the play due to the dynamics fo the game. For instance, if a game is "solved/resolved" after we simply answer the question "who goes first," then I think that game's claim to crucible, to deferred satisfaction, to legitimate discovery also fails to launch.
I think in many competitive endeavors past events will matter to present events even if that is mainly in the sense of imparting some sort of dis/advantage to one or another of the participants. Learning someone's tells will be helpful as a competition in which they matter continues. I think people tend to look back at things either as competitor or spectator and assemble narratives and meanings and I think sometimes those narratives and meanings can themselves be assembled into stories.

I have found it useful for my own thinking to distinguish between "sequences of events" and "narratives" and "stories" but I recognize not everyone thinks like me and not everyone else will find that distinction meaningful or useful. I think I agree that whether a sequence of events is satisfying enough or meaningful enough to look back on and make a narrative of is likely to vary between and among people. This probably applies to games and related endeavors.

Your discussion of games being unsatisfying when the outcome is clear from the first move seems mostly reasonable. All it took was one instance of Forbidden Island where we lost the game in setup and I lost all interest in the game. There wasn't any story issue though. It just seemed like the same sort of failure as Monopoly but kinda backward. Kept us thinking we could win when we couldn't.
 
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niklinna

učim hrvatski
For what it's worth, here are the books mentioned in the bibliography:
  • Rules of Play – Salen & Zimmerman
  • The Game Design Reader – Salen & Zimmerman
  • Avatars of Story – Marie–Laure Ryan
  • Persuasive Games – Ian Bogost
  • Cybertext – Espen Aarseth
  • Game Design as Narrative Architecture – Henry Jenkins
  • Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics – Marc LeBlanc
  • Reading for the Plot – Peter Brooks
  • Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock – Clint Hocking
 


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