Interaction as Narrative

by tncastleman

As games progressed in technology they were eager to show of their new found abilities, in the mid nineties when games transitioned from 2d to 3d they used the form of cinema to “show off.” As a result the medium was slow to learn that the equivalent to the film adage of “show don’t tell” is “do don’t show,” in game design the goal is to create an immersive experience a major aspect of which is keeping the player in their role for as long as possible breaking continuity of control is the greatest enemy to immersion. Allowing for players to move around and interact with a cut scene solved the problem of the “info dump” and allowing for character (in the narrative sense) to happen with the player as a participant rather then a watcher. But because of the reality of videos game most of the stories they tell are action based and end in a large climax, a space crashes and the main character jumps from it only to land safely, or a sword fight in which characters are bouncing around a room in a way that the player could never do, while these things are cool and fun but they are no different than a big budget action movie you can see at the theater to separate themselves from this games learned that their strength was making the player feel like they had some kind of influence over what was happening even when they did not.

The first solution that designers came up with was to not remove cut scenes but at layers of button prompts and simple fail states so the player seems to have control even when they do not, think of a character in a cut scene throwing a punch and somewhere on screen is a picture of the X button on the controller indicating the player needs to hit X and if they fail to they the character on screens punch does not connect. It is a simple idea that does not require much in terms of what both what the designer and player expect and what they need to understand.

The other and much more difficult thing to do in removing cut scenes from the game and thus removing control from players is to use controls in new context. For years science fiction games have had guns in space being used as artillery, an idea shown in cut normally but in the game Gears of War the player was given a weapon that when fired showed a laser pointer and a circle getting smaller until a beam of little hit whatever the player had been pointing at, rather than the player watching this in a cut scene the player is active in the action letting him feel a sense of accomplishment.