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Storyplay: Games As Artful Storytelling?
Posted on Sunday, July 29 2007 @ 05:33:41 PST

The definition of story is evolving - as games cannot be confined to the definitions of traditional storytelling, in which the differences between event (spectatorship) and experience (authorship) are distinct. Since games offer the player the ability of co-authorship, a new concept called "storyplay" has been established by the game industry to encapsulate the intersection of story and gameplay elements. Game content is actually becoming more story-driven - but not as we now know it. Instead, the "story" is becoming one in which the players (audience) are becoming more invested through their participation of the own personal adventures.

Sheldon Brown, Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California San Diego, reveals how video games need to be treated as a medium:

"Games will evolve our general ideas of narrative. Game narrative in the future won't converge to a narrative form such as cinema or literary narratives; rather, it will develop forms unique and probably indescribably by current critical vocabularies. While it is important for us to look to these antecedent narrative forms, we should also look at other areas of play, storytelling, and social interaction to understand how games can evolve into more revelatory cultural forms."

Traditional storytelling is an extremely tailored linear form. The author controls the pace, the emotional arcs, and the timing of those emotional arcs. In games, those emotional peaks and valleys can come at any variable amount of time depending on the skill of the player. This difference in timing presents unique challenges that game writers and designers face when forming an interactive narrative - and any solutions to this cannot be found completely through the storytelling mechanisms of other mediums. The art in game narratives, thus, can only be found by developing vocabularies and concepts that are centered around video games themselves.

Many say that the difference between a game and a film is that one is passive and one is active or interactive, but that distinction can be misleading. When an author delivers art through a novel, film, paintings, or the spoken word, the listeners and watchers can be said to be active participants as well. As the story is told, we create visions and images in our minds, and control how and when we receive or channel the story. On the other hand, games are centered around "doing" - taking action and seeing consequences - and the craft of how best to design a story for this highly active setting is still in its infancy.

It is not that games are not art, but that we have yet to develop the necessary foundations to show that games are art as a storytelling medium - at least to the same extent that games are art as a vehicle of game mechanics and rulesets (game theory) that create a desired set of aesthetics. Perhaps the most important things to note are that game-specific stories are not primarily told through the dialogue or editing, but through gameplay - and that powerful examples of storyplay are frequently out of reach, but there are glimmers of them playing in full force. In God of War, Kratos has to sacrifice a terrified soldier up a hill while battling enemies to proceed into the next room. Not only is this justified in terms of game mechanics and progression, but also shows the extent of Kratos' willingness to perform brutal acts to relieve him of his curse. It is moments like this, which cannot be fully described by traditional storytelling, that shows just how artful games can be as a medium all their own.

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