Monday, 22 August 2005

What Every Game Developer Needs to Know about Story

by John Sutherland

As educator wants to leverage on game's ability to engage players, the game designers are learning to use story and movie script to advance their craft. This article, based on classic story structure put forward by McKee points out that Story is conflict. John continues to dissect a three-act classical story:

  • First, there's a protagonist, a hero.

  • His or her world is thrown out of order by an inciting incident. (Look at the sabotaged dope deal in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for a good example of this.)

  • A gap opens up between the hero and an orderly life.

  • The hero tries the normal, conservative action to overcome the gap. It fails. The world pushes back too hard.

  • The hero then has to take a risk to overcome the obstacles that are pushing back.

  • Then there is a reversal. Something new happens, or the hero learns something she didn't know before, and the world is out of whack again. A second gap has opened up.

  • The hero has to take a greater risk to overcome the second gap.

  • After overcoming the second gap, there is another reversal, opening a third gap.

  • The hero has to take the greatest risk of all to overcome this gap and get to that object of desire, which is usually an orderly life.

Pulling this story structure back to a learning design for a one person simulation, the hero is naturally the learner. In the opening of the simulation, hence, according to this structure, it is important to have an inciting incident which I have been calling it a compelling reason to act. It is also necessary to establish the gap as expressed in the game goal which is the final object of desire. To bridge the game goal and the initial position, the learner needs to engage in various exploration, investigation and "risk-taking" behaviour. This is the learning we try to embed in the simulation. For dramatic story, there is reversal, for learning simulation, the "reversal" is the result of the mastery of the knowledge and skills that is required to reach the game goal.

Simulators, by themselves, are not interesting nor engaging. A flight simulation is just a flight simulator. We may be interested in it initially due to the novelty factor. Once this has been wear off, there is nothing interesting nor engaging about it. However, by adding elements such as engine failure, bad weather conditions and other inciting incidents, the simulator has become part of a game, an engaging game in which you try to overcome the difficulties of landing with only a single engine or in bad weather. During this process, you learn how to fly the plane with a single engine, how to approach the runway in bad weather and so on.

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