Over the last several posts on storytelling in gaming I’ve written (1, 2, <a href="3, 4), I’ve discussed some ways that players might find narrative meaning in games. Sometimes this is only possible when we go looking for it; sometimes it’s possible because of the way the game was designed; and sometimes we can see how narrative engagement might be possible, but might work better if the game were designed more for it.
This post explores the last of these scenarios. I believe games can be designed in such a way that they preserve a player’s feeling of agencyâ€”allowing for emotional reactions other than what we could get purely as spectatorsâ€”but also allow preserve engagement with a story by recognizing the distinction (suggested in my last post) between what games encourage players to do for narrative purposes and what games reward players for doing in the form of distinct assets or benefits in gameplay terms. Designers can and should sometimes make players want to do things for story-based reasons, not just for gameplay-based reasons.
Why make this distinction? Quite simply, the tension between these elements can lead to some fascinating and meaningful scenarios when handled well, and can completely break our sense of immersion and engagement when handled poorly. Let me give some examples.