Posted on September 9, 2012 AT 05:00pm
The first panel I got to see was about something that I’m really excited to see more of in games, storytelling. The panelist team was described as both a Justice League of talent and of Voltron of great writers and designers, including Minecraft’s Notch, DayZ’s Dean “Rocket” Hall, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead’s Sean Vanaman. The panel started with a simple state, “Graphics in games aren’t everything, they have come a long way but so has story and that’s what we’re here to talk about.”
The first question that was presented to the panelists was “Do you see yourself as a storyteller?” and without missing a beat, Notch blurted out “No.” which gave the audience a laugh, but the discussion developed on the idea that many great games aren’t telling a story to the player, but setting up the backdrop to allow the player to create their own internal narrative. This group wants to focus on letting each player explore and experience different emotions in their own way.
The answers I heard to the next question I found a bit shocking, “What emotion is the hardest to trigger in players?” with an opening comment of “Making player’s feeling any emotion at all is a really challenging problem, let alone the emotion you want them to feel.” It was added jokingly that frustration and confusion are probably the easiest emotions to get from player and often come when the developers don’t want them to. The panelists added that the best way to invoke emotion from the player is to force them to do things that push them towards the desired emotion. Additionally, the goal is to get the game to be in the player’s head and not just a game in their hands, showing them that what they do actually matters and can changing the world they are playing in.
The third question was “What trends are you fond or not fond of in current storytelling in games?” A quick reply of “Excitement is overrated” was agreed on by everyone, stating that games know how to do excitement really well and writers should try to focus on something else. Another agreed upon comment was that games should stop “Dumbing down their content for the player,” that player’s can’t get emotionally attach when the game assumes that they know nothing. Notch felt that tacked-on multiple ends was usually a bad thing because many games use it as a way to lie to the player and tell them that their decisions matter. Another comment was that the common trope of the Good-Bad scale and actions is often taken to a level that shuts a lot of doors that the game could have otherwise explored. This led the panelists to point out that cliches and tropes exist for a reason, but that doesn’t give writers and designers free reign to use them without understanding them. It can be a good thing to take the player’s predefined ideas and use that information to help with the story you want to tell with the player.
Another great and surprising question was “What are things that prevent good stories in games?” I was astounded to hear “the player” as the commonly accepted answer. The panelists elaborated with the notion that players often try to break game mechanics or look for exploits and break the immersion for themselves. Additionally, there are certain emotions that designers and writers can map game mechanics directly to, like the feeling of love. And lastly, the panelists felt that the game industries inertia of making what works and sells well over and over again is something that often prevents developers from taking risks to tell a good story.
The final question was “What human experience do we need to try to explore more?” It was commonly felt that the generic “Power-fantasy” thing has been drastically over-explored and that game makers should try and focus of the reverse of that, Vulnerability. True loss is another emotion that hasn’t been touch on by games (probably because it’s nearly impossible to have players feel loss over something they know isn’t real.) In closing, it was said that even though many players use games to escape from the negative emotions in their lives, players still need a full spectrum of emotion to fully gain something real from their gaming experience.
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