video games

Gaming the narrative

“How do you role play role playing games?”

That was a question asked by Michael Abbott on the latest episode of The Brainy Gamer podcast. At the time, he was discussing Dragon Age: Origins and was inquiring about how Denis Farr created his characters. Did he have a set number of personas that he used while in a game world or did he view all in-game actions as if they had happened to himself?

“You’re making him…dance. He’s dancing. Why is he dancing?”

That was my response to watching a friend of mine play Dead Space yesterday. The player controlled character of Issac moves suspiciously as if he is in some way dancing and my friend used that observation during a scene in which the other characters were trying to feed exposition to the player. While there was talk of switching the polarity of the shields and powering the flux capacitor (or whatever they were saying), he was moving the character in a profoundly silly way.

“I read manga. I don’t really read books. I get — the stories I like — from, like, games and manga.”

It was as both of these memories were floating in my head today that I heard this last quote. It came from the girl that was sitting in front of me in my creative writing class. The teacher went person by person and asked them to talk about what they like to read or are currently reading. This girl responded with “games and manga.”

It was this last quote that managed to cement all these thoughts together for me. What part of a game is the story? Is it the written words, the dialogue? Is it what the player is supposed to do? Or is it, as I believe it may very well be, more that single thing. It is narrative. It is experience.

How I play a game is going to be different than how you play. While you may take the right road, I may take the left. And as we both settle into our own paths, we create a unique experience for ourselves. But it goes even further than that. All the little things you do: jumping up and down during a cutscene, making your character walk off a cliff, running in cycles, even making them dance add toward the story that is created as part of the experience you had when playing a game.