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Default Gamasutra - Ignore The Debate On Story Just Make Better Ones

May 13th, 2013, 01:56
I posted a similar article from Gamasutra earlier, but this time the director of UC Santa Cruz's Center for Games Michael Mateas has a different message. It's quite simple ignore the debate and just make better stories. RPG developers should take notes.
The End of the Debate

He spent time recounting the debates academics and designers have — on whether games should have stories at all — with a certain wry humor borne of the fact that he clearly finds the debate tiring, and a distraction from actually doing work.

"We all know that there's this often-discussed fundamental tension between gameplay and story. That story seems the opposite of what games are supposed to do. These quite heated religious battles have haunted the game design community for decades — around if and whether games should have stories in them," Mateas said.

"Yet against this grim background we're seeing a Renaissance of work in interactive storytelling," Mateas said. "We've seen creators create a lot of interactive stories that work, in the sense that people are playing them."

He took a very broad view of what work is being done (Among other games, he alluded to The Walking Dead, Cart Life, Howling Dogs, and Spec Ops: The Line.)

"Indie and mainstream games are happily and visibly exploring many solutions to interactive storytelling," Rather than continue the debate, look at a game, he said, and evaluate it: "is it functioning as an interesting aesthetic object? Yes, it is! Let's move on."

It's Important to Take What Works

Mateas argued that you must put that debate to the side and accept that "maybe there's this bigger space of playable experiences — things that you can play with, that afford play, that aren't strictly games, and there's a bigger space outside of that that are interactive experiences."

There's a good reason for this: Even if you argue these narratives aren't strictly games themselves, the "tropes and techniques are being brought into the inner circle of games."

"Wherever boundaries blur you have people wanting to defend the boundaries," he noted. "I'm saying, 'Let it blur!' This is how interesting innovation happens."

This is how you reconcile the "grim philosophical debate" with the "lots of interesting work people are doing."

The problem, he suggested, is that many designers have been trying to come up with One True Definition of what an interactive story is — "a single definition of what is story, and the magic approach and theoretical framework that would allow us to interactivize that story," Mateas said. "The debate around storytelling has stalled because frankly I don't think this theory exists. There is no such thing as 'what is story and how do you solve it,'" which he described as "a very engineering mindset."

Rather, he said, "What people who are working in interactive story are doing is to turn to specific historically grounded storytelling traditions" that come from other media, and are rich enough to build on.
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Last edited by Couchpotato; May 13th, 2013 at 08:20.
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May 13th, 2013, 01:56
RPG developers should take notes.

Based on the apparent complete lack of interest here in this gentleman's opinions, maybe it's people at "UC Santa Cruz's Center for Games" (whatever the hell that is) who should be taking notes? His argument seems to be that developers should do whatever makes the most money. That's what game developers have been trying for 20 years now. We don't need anyone at "UC Santa Cruz's Center for Games" to offer an expert opinion that developers should continue doing what they've already been doing for two decades. That's not contributing anything to the discussion. And maybe that's his whole point, but if so what the hell does anyone need him for?
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May 13th, 2013, 08:19
On the spot so far as the debate about stories in games is purely academical as long as there's a market that wants story in their games, and I don't see that market fading away anytime soon.

As an aside, I just realized that when I see someone play a game I don't know my first question still is "what's this about?" rather than "how's the gameplay?". And I wouldn't even say I particularly care about story.

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May 13th, 2013, 08:59
Is it what it takes? a single definition of story? Now what is story is not know. I wonder where this is going to stop.

Been some time since what a story is is know. The question is not what a story is, but how to deliver one through the video game medium.

You dont need to interactivize with a story to get a story. Millions of existing stories to show that.

Yet already on that first point, designers struggle to deliver properly a non interactive story.

A new layer was added by the video game industry: the promise of interacting with the storytelling.
Somehow, just as you had a storyteller in the flesh who would interact with his audience.
The industry is far from being able to deliver on that promise. Rather than wishing for new definitions that could give the illusion of success, this guy must take it as it is: at this point, the industry does not know how to use video games to deliver scripted stories and being told a story by an AI storyteller is a pipe dream.


The Walking Dead is not an interactive storytelling. It is an active storytelling session.
It is always the same story being told as the player navigates through different versions of the storytelling. Interactivity is a two direction street.
Actually, TWD is an interesting game as it is so close to a movie. Gaming phases are very short and easy. Most of the times, they are completed on the first try. And you simply advance in the story by choosing what version of it you want to watch/hear.
It is very similar to attending a playwright rehearsal. Is the story delivered properly? Yes. Thanks to being so close to the movie format. In other words, it is no value for gaming as TWD is just a skeleton of a game.
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