How does storytelling work in video games? In her talk and Twine workshop "Narrative Design: Nonlinear Stories and Iterative Design" scifi writer E. Lily Yu guided us through the basic narrative structures in video games as part of the Let's Play Digital Games Speaker Series I organized for Hans Bethe House at Cornell.
E. Lily Yu is a science fiction writer whose accolades include the John W. Campbell award for best new scifi writer as well as nominations for the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards. She has also worked as a writer for digital games, both on the AAA side (Bungie's Destiny) and the indie side (Tale of Tales).
I've put together a Storify of my livetweets here.
(Apologies for the poor quality of my photo)
A few major points I took away from her talk:
- The three basic narrative structures in digital games are linear, environmental, and branched
- Linear: the most traditional and cost-effective; like a movie; examples such as classic Mario
- Environmental: powerful free-form world-building; can be adjusted to budget; sense of a living world beyond the game; example: Gone Home
- Branched: player choice and interactions dictate endings; expensive to do; example: The Path
- Considerations of expense and player agency dictate the choice of narrative structure, which can include hybrids
- Writing for a game is a collaborative, iterative process, often with other writers, artists, and engineers, that can vary greatly between companies.
After the body of her talk, E. Lily Yu guided us through the process of making our own Twine game. Twine is an open-source tool for non-linear, interactive storytelling -- an example of the branched model. Since a few of the students had never been exposed to Twine before, as a group we played a few notable games (Depression Quest by Zoe Quinn and Player 2 by Lydia Neon).