Jan 262012

When I said that narrative was not a game mechanic, but rather a form of feedback, I was getting at the core point that chunks of story are generally doled out as a reward for accomplishing a particular task. And games fundamentally, are about completing tasks — reaching for goals, be they self-imposed (as in all the forms of free-form play or paideia, as Caillois put it in Man, Play and Games) or authorially imposed (or ludus). They are about problem-solving in the sense that hey are about cognitively mastering models of varying complexity.

Some replies used the word “content” to describe the role that narrative plays. But I wouldn’t use the word content to describe varying feedback.

In other words, perverse as it may sound, I wouldn’t generally call chunks of story “game content.” But I would sometimes, and I’ll even offer up a game design here that does so.

The usual definition of “content” is “everything that isn’t code or rules,” meaning all the art and voiceovers and quests and whatnot. But that’s not what it means in this context, because we’re embarking on another one of thse annoyingly formalistic exercises here. 🙂

I have previously described the basic model I use for analyzing games formally as “a game grammar.” This was mostly a conceit for a presentation title, but in point of fact it fits the formal definition of “grammar” moderately well. You see, this model, which I have also termed an atomic model of game design, is concerned exactly with the morphology of games: the structure and form they take. It builds on the seminal work of Chris Crawford, who defined interaction as

a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.

 — Chris Crawford in The Art of Interactive Design

The game grammar model works the same way as all interaction does. The chief difference with game interaction is that one of those actors may actually be algorithmic: a computer, or a set of rules and processes. At core, a game is about figuring out the rules and processes that an opponent is using; said opponent might be a computer or a real person, or even the laws of physics and the physical constraints of your own body. Your job is to identify a goal (which might be handed to you by a designer, or might be one you set for yourself) and attempt to arrive at a way of interacting with this system that results in the outcome you want.

When we speak of a game system, that collection of rules is what we mean. Usually a system will be composed of multiple mechanics, each of which is made of up a variety of rules. A system like this has also been termed a “fun molecule,” an “atom” or a “ludeme” by various authors.

A system, though, is sort of like an algorithm, or a printing press. It repeatably performs a process, but given different stuff to work with, you can get a pretty different experience out of it. The term for the “stuff to work with” is content, and most of the time it is effectively “statistical variation.” An enemy with different stats, a level with different placement of platforms.

There is a class of games that focuses on user-generated narratives rather than on authorially imposed ones — you can read about the distinction in a very old talk called “Two Models for Narrative Worlds” I gave at the Annenberg Center at USC. In that talk I made the point that

These worlds can still tell stories. What we surrender is not narrative, but authorial control.

I coined the terms “impositional space” and “expressive space” to define the ends of this spectrum for myself.

Now, that talk long predates any of the game grammar sort of work. But effectively, my critique of quick-time-events and excess feedback used in narrative-driven games is primarily about impositional spaces, narrative imposed by the author(s) of the game; and it is essentially in a “ludic” context. And several folks took me to task for ignoring the expressive spaces and the spaces that are intended to serve as narrative generators in that critique.

Story, as it happens, has some rules too, largely based on how the brain works. For example, in The Art of Fiction John Gardner has a wonderful example of the ways in which repeated mention of physical objects causes them to become associated with emotions — in effect to become symbols. And then mention of objects associated with those objects does the same. In a sense, thematic freight becomes transitive.

That particular trick is used very very widely in all sorts of media. For example, Ravel’s Bolero has become thoroughly associated with sex thanks to the film 10, and now at this point you can conjure up that association by just playing that music.

Expressive spaces in games rely on this trick extensively. In fact, all forms of post facto storytelling by players do. They ascribe meaning to moments, and then the player builds a narrative arc through their selective memory of events. I often call this mythmaking, and we do it pretty much all the time, without even thinking about it.

In games designed to cause the player to put together stories, such as Sleep is Death, Facade, or Dear Esther, there is a system there, an algorithm — and then there is the statistical variation that is fed into it. And that statistical variation, the content, is actually little symbols and narrative moments, ones that are often impressionistic or disconnected. The “problem” the player faces is that of arranging them into a coherent whole.

The fact that symbols and moments and memories are profoundly intangible things does not mean that they can’t be manipulated in this way; fiction does so readily, as we have seen. From a mechanical point of view, though, they have much in common with the particular hand of cards you have been dealt, or the set of Scrabble tiles on your rack. You end your interaction with the system by making sense of them, which is different from finding a word in the tiles only by a matter of degree. Dear Esther‘s mechanics could be replicated with a different setting and group of symbols — to radically different emotional effect. When analyzed by the game grammar, we’d find two very different experiences to be the same game.

* * *

Let’s consider a thought experiment.

I was once in a discussion with some fellow designers and one of them was playing with the idea of a game about memories. I offered up a design idea whereby there was a map of a house, and there was a deck of cards, each card labelled things like “comfy armchair” and “deep closet” and “empty bookshelf.” The deck was shuffled, and some cards were laid in each room.

Players would then take turns tapping a card and telling a “memory” about that card and its place in that house. That this was the armchair where you remember curling up to read, a memory of safety and comfort; and another player says it was where they found great-grandmother when she finally passed away. All memories must be “true” — meaning, they cannot contradict anything anyone has said. After all stories were told, all the players decide which way they want to remember the armchair from among the stories told, by voting.

The person whose memory was selected keeps the card. At the end of the game, whoever has the most cards wins.

For greater emotional impact, you play this with real family, a real house layout, and real objects from your childhood.

Here we have both emergent consensus narrative and a game system. The memories are actually tokens in the game space — intangible ones, with a lot of emotional weight to them. You can approach the game mechanistically, and strategize. But you can also approach it experientially. It is mostly an expressive space. And ultimately, the real game lies in making sense of your family, its history. It is still pattern-matching, grokking each other and the complex web of relationships and half-truths and biased recollections that make up a family history.

In this game,

  • narrative is input — the affordance given to a player, the “move they can make”
  • narrative is a resource — accumulated and managed towards a victory condition
  • narrative is actually content, user-generated even, providing statistical variation into the system
  • narrative is feedback — its accumulation, in the form of individual symbols, is representing the gestalt “game state”

But it’s still not a mechanic. You could in fact replace the memories with differently colored poker chips, and everything would proceed in the same manner. The experience would be substantially different, and the emotional impact far less.

You could also de-game this. Don’t negotiate whose memories win out. Don’t have the rule about non-contradiction. You’d end up with the experience of looking through a photo scrapbook — and likely, you would not tackle the challenge of understanding that the rules push you towards.

This game has never been played. If anyone ever does, let me know what happens.

* * *

In the post title I said that narrative isn’t usually content. This game is an exception, as are the other ones I have cited. Ironically, games where narrative is content actually tend to have very very complex and robust rule systems. Chris Crawford’s Storytron has years of development in it, almost all in the systems design. Facade is an AI wonderment. And even this little non-digital game has as “imported” rules a host of psychology and past family history, rules that are deeply perilous to transgress. (The mere addition of other players always imports complex social rules into a game; in this case, the deeply personal nature of the interaction brings in yet more. “We never talk about her drinking problem” and the like).

Because of this, I have no issue reconciling formalism in examining the “ludology” of games with the “narratological” approach of examining games-as-stories. My issues with small-system-big-feedback games described in the other post have to do with the lack of substantive pattern-learning, the lack of player agency, and thus the lack of the fundamental qualities that games bring to the table. And in that, I include emergent-narrative games and expressive spaces, which I certainly consider games — more complex games, in point of fact, than most games are. So for those who felt I was bashing the entire genre of emergent narrative games, I apologize for the lack of clarity there; that was not at all where I was going with that post.

So where does this all leave authorially imposed story? Primarily in the realm of interactive experience design. Which is a different discipline from “game design” though they have tremendous overlap. I am biased towards our getting game design right, but that does not mean that interactive experience design isn’t a fascinating and deep area in its own right — or that it is unimportant to games. In fact, it’s incredibly important. But that’s a subject for another post someday.

  43 Responses to “Narrative isn’t usually content either”

  1. […] EDITED TO ADD Koster’s followup post, Narrative Isn’t Usually Content Either […]

  2. Raph — I’ve been enjoying this series quite a bit. One point, though…

    Your post, above, is about how to factor narrative (story) into a game grammar, As you point out, many writers/teachers have delved into the grammar of stories (not that of sentences/language). Some have developed games (like your memory game) that use explicit narrative elements as game pieces, parts, rules, etc. I created a storytelling game (TaleWeaver; basically a card-generated create-your-own-story) to help get people over their fears of storytelling/creativity. My son had blocks as a wee kid that did a similar thing; put a noun piece down, then a verb, then a place or thing and you get a story. Bear + river + kite = story. It’s not a complex narrative, but game functions (randomization, assignment of roles) can help put a story together.

    The reason that works, though, is, I think, because any game, no matter how simple, can serve as a narrative. The “story of the game” is always there, even if it’s as simple as a sentence: “We flipped the coin like ten times, and it was heads nine times in a row… that was really weird.” Sports networks are, essentially, vast enterprises built around telling the stories of games; sometimes as they’re happening, often as interesting histories, sometimes to help try to predict future games. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if more time is spent on telling the stories of sports games than on the games themselves.

    Games are a kind of story, a “narrative of play,” if you will. Fitting narratives into games changes the depth, texture or meaning of the stories involved… but the game is always about “I did X in order to accomplish Y, defeat Z and gain Q.” The “X” can be as simple as “flipped a coin” and the “Q” as easy as “pay for lunch.” Or it can be “I went to war with the Trojans in order to win back the honor of Greece, defeat Paris and win back Helen.”

    Game grammar is story grammar, is the short version of my point.

  3. What about using Narrative as neutral feedback, but not exactly positive reward? I mean: When you press the jump button, you get different jump heights. That is neutral feedback, because higher is not better. But in most games, the narrative just ends when you fail at something, and to me, that degrades narrative to pure passivity. Either you win, or you redo it and win.

    Example: When I play pen&paper RPGs (which are arguably extremely focused on narrative and interaction), I frequently make “bad” choices for my characters, because I think it is in their nature to fail, and often times, failure results in the more compelling narrative (Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t be the play it is, if it ended with a marriage). At that point, narrative becomes more than feedback, but rather a mechanic, right?

  4. I have heard of that thought experiment somewhere. I think someone on a website I used to post on was talking about actually playing it. Sadly I cannot recall when or where. Its such an interesting idea though.

    Ooh, it reminds me of Apples to Apples also. Although much more complex than matching the word cards.

  5. If you’ve heard about it somewhere, it’s convergent evolution. 🙂

  6. Kdansky, interesting question. I think that in the example you describe you’re basically inventing your own metagame and goal that uses the narrative bits for you own purposes… and yes, in that metagame, they are a mechanic.

  7. Andy, it is certainly true that you can build a narrative out of any ordered series of events. That’s what I was getting at regarding post facto storytelling. It’s worth pointing out that few theorists consider “ordered events” sufficient to make a true story, though. It takes considerable shaping after the fact to turn it into more than just a log.

    That’s a far cry from saying game grammar is story grammar, to my mind. Game grammar is about the morphology of the events a game generates.

  8. Raph, I sent you an email just a bit ago about social interaction but forgot to include my email. My bad.

    On topic:
    I think Andy is defining story too broadly. You can write a narrative about anything that happens, but that doesn’t mean the goal was to create an interesting story. I may play bejeweled for 10 hours and write about it. But that is a description more than a story.

  9. There’s also improvisational theatre games as a narrative game form. Scoring is usually informal — you’re cooperating/competing for laughs, audience engagement, and respect from your fellow performers — but it’s undeniably there.

    Make me a virtual world AI that I can riff with, that stimulates and reinforces and learns from and builds upon my creativity. There are elements here and there, hints and beginnings of what could be. I just hope they come together into something wonderful before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

  10. @Andy, Raph, Matt,

    I’d suspect it’s just an issue of formalism, really. Considering the phrases:

    Games are narratives
    Games have narratives
    Games contain narratives
    Games generate narratives

    …there’s a tendency to use the first to mean any or all of the latter in casual discussion. It doesn’t sound like there’s a disagreement so much as just a little vagueness.

  11. Peter I suspect that its a matter of semantics yes. Arguments involving definitions usually are. We just had a huge blowup on mmorpg.com about what a persistent world really is and whether modern MMOs even have them with all the instances and phasing and static worlds where nothing ever changes. And in the end some people just think it means one subjective thing and some another.

  12. I will note that Ravel’s Bolero SHOULD be associated with weird cartoon animals evolving as they march along. Sorry, Bruno Bozetto! You’re still a genius!

  13. First of all just want to acknowledge that I have now read this post 🙂

    I’d say I agree with most of what you bring up here, especially that it takes an effort for the audience to understand all story-telling art. This pretty much leads to what Chris Bateman argues, that all art are sort of games (http://blog.ihobo.com/2011/11/stories-and-games-1-art.html), which I support. Do you also agree with this notion?

    I am also a bit interested if you view mechanics as a completely separate entity that is simply get fed content (some of what you have written above slightly seem to suggest this), or if you think content and mechanics are linked beyond that?

    When developing Amnesia we found that much of the mechanics were impossible to evaluate without the proper content (some levels went from being failures to success based on the content). There has also been a mutual feedback between the two, with systems shaping content, and the content changing how the systems work. So for me, I find it very hard to really separate the two and argue that in some cases (this of course varies a lot depending on videogame) one cannot simply just look at the mechanics as abstract systems alone.

  14. Clarification regarding content and mechanics:
    I get what you say that the content will of course change the reactions in the player, and that as such it is obvious that content matter (eg shooting balloons vs people). But what I am saying is that in some cases the mechanics are meaningless without the content and cannot really be thought about in anything but an extremely abstract sense (which for the end experience says nothing).
    Quick example: You can have a mechanic that slows the player down when close to an object. This mechanics does not become properly meaningful until you have put it in a context. For example, if the player has been fed a story of being in danger from certain objects and if you then accompany the closing in on the object with some unnerving music, you build up an experience of the player being afraid of closing in on the object.
    Whereas, if the object is a treasure and has a force field around it, the experience the player has coming close to it is very different.
    Thus, not taking content into account with this mechanic is not really meaningful and one could say narrative becomes an intricate part of the mechanic itself.

  15. Thomas, the way I would put it is that it’s basically just this:


    where f() is the mechanic and x is the content. You can pass in bad x, or x that gives nonsensical results or is out of bounds. So sure, the content matters. But it is independent of the algorithm expressed by f().

    In the case of that “slow down when getting close” example, that’s basically different forms of feedback that assist in building different mental models. Of course the context affects the mental model the player builds. Consider games about photography like Pokemon Snap and Beyond Good 7 Evil, vs first person shooters and rail shooters. Same mechanic, radically different context, different mental model.

    The key thing though is that you could “unskin” all those games and turn them into “click on this moving square with this crosshairs”… the model remains intact. The context is now abstract. The player still learns the same lessons around trajectory anticipation, target leading, spatial awareness, target prioritization, motor control, etc. And really, that sort of heuristic building is what games tend to do best — even in cases where the model is about psychology rather than physics.

  16. @Matt,

    Oof, shame I can’t get there from work, and probably for the best.

    I can’t help saying that my own opinion is, going back to the days before video games would or could be persistent, if the game purports itself as some sort of world, and keeps going (persists) even after you’ve hit your power button, then it’s a persistent world, defined specifically in contrast with those games that turn off when your console or computer does.

    (It might not contain any persistent elements, like persistent characters, but that’s up to the creator to populate their persistent -world- with persistent -stuff-. It also might not be a particularly convincing or interesting world, but again, that’s a matter of quality not class.)

  17. This pretty much leads to what Chris Bateman argues, that all art are sort of games

    I wouldn’t go this far, no.

    Music is the art form where the patterns to recognize are ordered sounds and silence.
    Visual arts are the ones here the patterns to recognize are in the arrangement of shapes, colors, and negative space.
    All the forms of literary arts involve the arrangement of language into patterns.

    Games are the art form where your medium is mathematical models. IMHO.

  18. Ravel’s Bolero SHOULD be associated with weird cartoon animals evolving as they march along. Sorry, Bruno Bozetto!

    Allegro Non Troppo!

  19. Final thing regarding mechanics:
    I am not really convinced that this sort of unskinning works for all mechanics. For instance, lets say you have a mechanic that only checks whether the player is make gentle or harsh mouse strokes and increase a counter as harsh ones are made. One could turn this stroke-system in a kitty-patting experience, by having a digital kitten pur if you stroke gentle, or get angry and eventually run off. Or it could be a scrubbing experience, where harsh movement eventually makes wall clean. Two very different kinds of experiences.
    If the content is removed, then what we have is just something teaching you very basic motor movements and not reflect either experience (pat or scrub) really.

    Heavy rain is a quite nice direct example of this in works. Without any context the systems mean nothing.

    I might be discussing in vain here, since we might already agree 🙂 Just only want to get to the point that I think you do not always want to see mechanics in a content-less vacuum. Many games seem to first build mechanics and then window dress with story, themes and whatnot, and I think this is a reason why game storytelling has not progressed as it should have.

  20. Having the kitty run off in anger vs having the wall clean are already different systems. One tracks an emotional state counter on the kitty, the other tracks clean and dirty areas on a plane. That’s the gap between a system and a mechanic — they are both using the mouse stroke mechanic, but in different systems.

    Heavy Rain is a great example. I agree that without the context it is revealed as a very simple game in terms of depth (not much atom recursion), albeit one with enormous breadth (many verbs and atoms existing in parallel). I think that is correct — it actually is a simple game. Its achievement is heavily on the feedback side.

    I believe you can start with mechanics or start with experience. I regularly start games from either side of it all the time. I also believe the best games have high correspondence between mechanics and experience.

    But I disagree with you that this is why game storytelling has no progressed. I actually think it is because designers aim at an experience, and conclude the easiest way to make it is to authorially impose it. That’s how we get nothing but cutscenes and QTE’s… I think that’s actually from NOT thinking about mechanics.

  21. […] Koster continues by saying that Narrative usually isn’t content either: “Some replies used the word “content” to describe the role that narrative plays. But I […]

  22. Fantastic article. Thank You.

    “At core, a game is about figuring out the rules and processes that an opponent is using”. That sounds like a description of one instance or round of a game. A game of chess for example.

    Modern computer games have lowered my expectations to “figuring out the rules and process of the game”, and how to manage the outcome based on that understanding…. then I quit the game and move on as there is nothing left to figure out. “Games are … mathematical models” indeed. Sounds self-limiting.

    More and more I dislike the word “Game”. Too much baggage. Instead, try build our meta mental models using the terms “Play”, “Story”, and “Social Exchange”. As we learn by doing, modeling, and have a deep instinct for reciprocity (fair exchange, barter, revenge etc).

    The description of Narrative above sounds like game session as story, which helps a third party (new player) understand the game as a whole? How would the scope of your “Game Grammar” change if you replace the word “Game” with “Play”??

    So story creation here could be characterized as the ultimate meta-game process of playfully creating stories. Maybe it always comes down to Math? 😉

  23. Raph,
    I got a bit stuck with the term “post-facto storytelling”. Do you say with that that a story cannot be constructed until the telling is over? What exactly is a player busy with during the telling of the story then? Does he make not sense of what happened until the story is finished?

  24. Altugi,

    The difference that I was referring to was between a story that was built in advance for you to experience; and a story that you construct OUT OF experiences. One is a story that exists a priori; the other is after the fact — post facto.

    Often in games, I think players are not in fact actively constructing the story until afterwards, at a moment of rest. Consider the experience when playing an FPS — you just don’t have time to reflect on the narrative while playing a deathmatch. But after, it becomes a story when you tell other people what happened.

    This relates, to me, to the “socialization requires downtime” thoughts around activity peaks and troughs. https://www.raphkoster.com/2009/01/28/ways-to-make-your-virtual-space-more-social and https://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/socialization.shtml

    In practice, these aren’t absolutes, of course… it’s a spectrum. People can start the process of mythologizing as they go.

  25. […] few days later, he addressed similar concerns with a follow-up essay: Narrative isn’t usually content, either. This one’s a bit harder for me to over-simplify, but essentially: he acknowledges that there […]

  26. Thanks a lot for elaborating.

    Do you draw a distinction between the complete picture of a story (probably something that only the designer knows), and the way we are gradually allowed to build ourselves that complete picture (the player’s experience of the designed, also calculated by the designer)? I think that would allow to focus more on the process of mythologizing and how design enables it.

  27. In the case of mythologizing or after-the-fact story, the designer does not know the complete story, actually. It is emergent dirven by the player actions.

    In the case of imposed story, well, I guess Idon’t see the quality of “gradually buildin ourselves a complete picture” to be any different than what we do with a book.

  28. Oh ok, you use the term “mythologizing” solely as a post-game re-construction of the story events.

    What I try to understand is this: In order to be able to re-construct that post-game story, do we not need already to be provided with bits of that story as it is in progress? Or does the narrative just pop-up in our minds after the game is finished? For example in an FPS, do we not already need to understand right from the start concepts like protagonist (us), antagonist (them), conflict (capture their flag before they capture yours) etc, so that we can form ourselves an idea about the goal that we try to reach? If so, then I wonder how mythologizing works during a game.

    Imagine each game state also as a narrative state. There is definitely something in every game state that allows for some mythologizing: The story-so-far, constructed out of what one has been through so far. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be difficult for a player to understand where he’s coming from, and what next step he should take?

  29. Though, keep in mind the player’s story will often be more about the -player-, even in stories where the character has a strong narrative. The character of Drake (or Kratos, or Maya) might have such-and-such motives or driving forces, but -I- lept between burning buildings just before they crumbled.

    They’ll be stories about where the player has agency and the cool, unusual, or impressive things they did with it.

  30. Yes I see, Peter, but that doesn’t really answer my question: The particular moment in which I make Drake leap (or Drake leaps, or -I- leap, doesn’t really matter), between burning buildings that are about to crumble… isn’t that already story? Or is that just game system/math that I can recount as (part of) a story when I’m finished with play? Is narrative comprehension only something that settles in after I’m done playing, or is it already happening during actual gameplay? Because I wonder whether without actual narrative comprehension, that is, an understanding of the story as it unfolds, I would even recognize that I’m making Drake/me leaping between burning buildings that are about to crumble.

  31. I can see where “See Drake run! Run, Drake, run!” is, in the simplest sense, a story. But there’s also the story the player constructs -about his/her experiencing of Drake’s story-, at that higher level, and that’s what I was/am thinking we’re truly after. (I could pretentiously add some topical and poignant “observing the observer” reference to Zen Buddhism, I suppose, but that sounds like work. 😛 )

    I agree that tends to happen after more than during. And it’s often a classic fish tale also, in that a videotape of the event itself is unlikely to be nearly as dramatic as the recount, growing more and more spectacular with each retelling.

    That awesome dragon fight you barely lived through (or almost lived through) in Skyrim would be another example: only rarely are you considering the retelling -as its happening-, but or minds are super-good at annealing alloys of narratonium… *ahem* at linking events through imagined narration given even the briefest moment to recover.

  32. Er, what I mean is: yes, that moment is a story, but it’s not the story we’re after. (I think! I could be wrong!)

  33. Would you agree with the idea that comprehending a narrative has two aspects that work simultaneously? One aspect being the experience of going through the events in the way they are presented to us (or in the order we create them). The other aspect being the mental image of the whole that we can reconstruct based on how we’ve been put through (or have created) the events.

    Would you agree that mythmaking is a living process, starting in the first minute of the game, regardless of whether the unfolding events are imposed or created? A process that is the constant measureing of one aspect against the other? That it is the source of emotions you experience during the telling/creation of the story? That it lasts until the game is over, and you can finally construct the picture that is the ultimately complete picture?

  34. Altugi, I would answer yes yes no no. No, it is not the sole source of emotions, as has been documented by researchers like Nicole Lazzaro. And no, it isn’t completed after… Given how memory works we often keep going revising it for years. 🙂

  35. Late to reply here, but just want to clarify about the kitty vs wall cleaning mechanic.

    What I mean was a system like:

    if(harsh_mouse_movement) {
    if(soft_mouse_movement) {

    So I meant both examples used the same underlying system, that simply looks for certain input and then displays content based on that. content for kitty would be:
    a = annoyed kitty + harsh handling
    b = pleased kitty + soft patting
    c = kitty walks away

    for wall cleaning:
    a = dirt falls off + aggressive scrubbing
    b = no dirt falling + weak scrub
    c = wall is very clean!

    Now this might not be the most fun of activities, but I meant to show that depending on the content, even desired states can change for a player. Yes, it still involves the basic motor exercises, and one cannot leave those out of the design thinking. However, the content is also very important, and if left out the system cannot be evaluated or even be said to make sense.

    I understand this varies with system, and this is a very extreme example. But I still (obviously) think it is valid and hope to show that content and setup can be very much involved with shaping the mechanics.

  36. It sounds more like you are varying the feedback. In kitty petting, A and C indicate you’ve done wrong, while in wall cleaning B indicates lack of progress. As Raph starts this post, “I wouldn’t use the word content to describe varying feedback.” Content seems like it would be a different distribution of dirt, or kitty comfort thresholds, corresponding exactly with “An enemy with different stats, a level with different placement of platforms.”

  37. While your supposition is strong in theory it is inherently biased. I can see you coming from your own experience how you might view games as a “system” or collection of rules but they are far more than that because of the human element involved.

    Firstly I can think of a couple examples where narrative is a “mechanic” based on your definition and I’m sure there are more. Mass Effect 2 gives the player certain choices wherein the characters narratives plays a part in mission consequence and it is up to player to make their choices based on these narratives. The other is Deus Ex: HR and the narrative driven boss battles. In these circumstances you’r not just trying to win but to create the right narrative

    Going on more we van assume narrative is more than just the written and verbal but also the context; its cues and symbols. As you said, when playing a game the player attempts to build a narrative arc or a coherent story based on the narrative but this can be constructed in various ways due to player experience. My point is that this constructed narrative arc drives player choice ( in games where there is a modicum of choice) and what other systems, actions, and consequences they will encounter or can occur.
    In a sense narrative + rule = game mechanic
    Putting this into an example a rule would be how the protagonist is to assault a building. The constructed character story and the contextual cues influence which methods nay or may not be used as well as the end user experience.
    In more open ended games where your character starts as a kind of blank slate such as sitting the narrative and your experience can influence far more such class, the quests you partake in and how you achieve them. One experience of my own was talking to a minstrel than deciding I wanted to join their guild and then experiencing the related quests and narrative. A seemingly by chance encounter but not one in which some would not experience.
    Of course with the state of was games being produced and their mostly “on rails” it is easy to dismiss the effects of narrative out of hand but the narrative driven aspect to the player experience is what makes games far more than a mere collection of rules.

    On narrative not being considered content; I think by definition content is variable based on who is consuming. Many play the same game for different reasons and it is these reasons that define what content is

  38. @j3w3l,

    This might help to frame discussing games as systems a little better:


  39. My experience developing games that use narrative as content has taught me that moving away from the strictures of a math-based rulesystem is quite liberating. Making subjective decisions on user-generated narrative elements, decisions that alter the gamespace in meaningful ways, at first causes players to hesitate, but not for long. Soon enough they embrace the freedom of making decisions based on their understanding of stories and reality, rather than an arbitrary rulesystem.

    I believe that players, humans, have a built in understanding of Story, which means that making the question “Does this situation make a good story?”, a useful game mechanic. I’m developing games that incorporate situations that do make a good story, eliminate the ones that don’t, and explore the ones that fall into the maybe category in between.

    I’ve been working on games that use narrative as content. The main one called Thief is a card game that allows players to create item cards that they will pit against security cards during a break in. Success or failure is determined by consensus. Another one called Dog Eared Superhero has everyone creating a small detail of a character’s life on each turn, then voting on the most successful/appropriate. At the end of the game, the character is fleshed out fully with four stages of their life: past, present, conflict, and future.

  40. […] In fact, it’s incredibly important. But that’s a subject for another post someday.(Source:raphkoster) 分享到: QQ空间 新浪微博 开心网 […]

  41. […] In movies, books, and TV, stories are told to us and practically at us, wherein we have no authorial control. As a result it’s easy and appropriate to analyze these stories as is: we can look more closely […]

  42. […] The fact that symbols and moments and memories are profoundly intangible things does not mean that they can’t be manipulated in this way; fiction does so readily, as we have seen. From a mechanical point of view, though, they have much in common with the particular hand of cards you have been dealt, or the set of Scrabble tiles on your rack. You end your interaction with the system by making sense of them, which is different from finding a word in the tiles only by a matter of degree. Dear Esther‘s mechanics could be replicated with a different setting and group of symbols — to radically different emotional effect. When analyzed by the game grammar, we’d find two very different experiences to be the same game… […]

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