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Gamasutra - Ignore The Debate On Story Just Make Better Ones

by Couchpotato, 2013-05-11 10:36:22

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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