Blog Post

Digital Storytelling, pt I: the Death of the Narrative


Last spring, I wrote a paper about the future of video games.  Without reciting the entire thing, the basic gist of the paper is that stories in video games are on their way out.  The reasoning behind this?  Well, if one looks at all of the open-ended, MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games) that have plagued video games in the last 5 years (World of Warcraft, BioWare, Star Wars: KOTOR, etc.), you'll see that these games don't really have much of a story.  Now, I'm not saying that these games don't have <strong>any</strong> story, they have small individual missions for the player to complete; however, they don't have a cohesive over-arching storyline.

Each of these games above simply drops the player into some sort of fantasy world, with millions of other players.  The user gets to customize his/her abilities, physical appearance, weapons, etc.  They are then encouraged to explore freely until they decide to start looking for missions.  The entire goal of all of this is to deliver the perfect, customized experience to the user.

In the end though, as you give more and more power to the user, there comes a tipping point where the role of the writer/author/story creator is eventually diminished to nearly nothing.  Well, maybe not "nothing."  The role of the video gram story creator will probably be something more like Descartes' idea of God: a supreme being that creates the universe, lays down the rules that govern the universe, and then steps away for things to unfold as they may.  The future of video game writing lies in being able to set the stage properly for a catholic story that can be used by everyone.   

I was recently thinking about turning this into a blog post, and wouldn't you know it, I read a column on MediaPost about the exact same thing.  Well, sort of.  The article (which can be read here) discusses how many video games are migrating to what I just discussed above, but it came at it from the angle of "if everyone has their own story, how do we create that 'water-cooler effect' of people discussing their common experiences within the game with other players?"

A possible answer came in the form of a journal in one particular game (Dragon Age) that allows (encourages) players to record their specific journey through the game and share it with others.  This seems like an interesting concept; I just hope they made the interface easy enough to use (or else it probably won't get used).  However, it's really not my place to say whether or not this will be the solution, all we can do is sit back and wait.

In part II of this two-part blog-o-series, I'll discuss my current research (which is somewhat related to this topic), whereby video game users, when given minimal established narrative are still finding ways to dramatize the situation.  

Stay tuned...



1 comment

I think you're generally right about this...I feel a cultural need to return to longer form narratives.  People like to just be told a story sometimes...they don't always need to participate with more than their imaginations.

Have your thoughts changed any since you originally posted?