Is Bioware’s Dragon Age the last of its kind? A solo-player game absent an integrated online component? Or is it actually the next step in what Spore designer Will Wright calls the “massively single player” experience?
Mike Laidlaw, the lead designer on the game (justly well-known for his writing chops) offers up some interesting and nuanced thoughts. He leads with the observation (boldface mine) that
I think the glory of stories–and I think this is something computers are only now starting to be able to participate in–is that stories are shared experiences. It’s the shaman telling the tale of whatever around the campfire, the boy scouts with the flashlight under their faces. All these things are primal ways that we as a people communicate, share experiences, and quite often, share wisdom and growth. Before written communication, before the printing press, and before computers certainly. Lore and legends were often wrapped up as fables and parables, for the purposes of sharing experiences.
So to my mind, the most valid story is one that can be experienced but also shared…
I couldn’t agree more with this premise! I think the interviewer oversimplified my position on single-player games somewhat, narrowing my point down to “games in which only one person [is] making decisions,” which isn’t quite what I meant. Mike’s response, however (and there’s more of it, go read) adds back in the subtleties. That stories, and narrative experiences, aren’t going away — but that quite a lot of social interaction will be built back into them, bringing them closer to the communal experience they originated with. In fact, Mike mentions they are
…developing something for Dragon Age called the Social Engine that allows you to share the experiences and growth of your characters…
This sort of trend is, of course, the default mode for the burgeoning titles on Facebook (most recent crazy example, Zynga’s Cafe World, which has reached over 8m users in one week). You cannot separate this success from the fact that your gaming is public gaming.
It doesn’t preclude stories, not at all — at least, no more than games already do — but it does change their nature, perhaps bringing them closer to their campfire roots.
Edit: typoed Mike’s name as Marc throughout — because of course, there’s Marc Laidlaw from Valve, too! Oops.