Mass Effect 2Over on, there’s a rather lengthy (and somewhat dense, truth be told) article about Storytelling  games.  The author, Gian Mancuso, makes some interesting points about how storytelling occurs within games.  It’s more cerebral that what you find in most articles, so its a pretty interesting read.

Mancuso starts out by establishing his media theory of choice, in this case Narratology.  Not being horribly familiar with the theory itself and a somewhat lacking definition within the article left me a little unclear, other than it’s a concept pioneered by Russians, and we got the concept of a “Plot Device” from it.

Narratology refers to both the theory and the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect our perception (Wikipedia).

One of the most compelling pieces is the author’s differentiation between story and plot.  According to the author, even with multiple playthroughs of a game, Story remains the same (a series of linear events) while the Plot can never be experienced the same way twice (how the story is expressed).  My favorite line from this article can be found on page 2, “Games dynamically produce plot as an emergent experience.”  This is where the meat of the article is, at least in my opinion.

This is a profound statement — no other medium can claim to do anything dynamically.  All other media, be it books, movies, comic books are by their very nature static.  The claim to dynamically produce plot (plot as in the author’s definition) highlights one of the major breaking points of games from traditional media. The idea that the plot changes based on playthroughs is something that while intrinsic in nature, is difficult to grasp.  Ultimately, most people equate “Plot” with “Story” which is no doubt why the author spent the first part of the article defining and justifying his separation of the two concepts.

Even reflecting back on something as simple as Super Mario Brothers on the NES, we have Story and Plot as two discrete concepts.  The Story is “Save the Princess,” and the Plot is “In saving the princess, I died four times trying to get to the princess.”  Another piece of the ‘Story’ is defined by game play rules — you get touched by a baddie, you die.  While the story as defined by the game play remains the same, how the game play is expressed, that is to say the plot of that given instance of the story, changes with each individual experience of the story and various interacting parts.

Muscano goes on to describe the role of the player (or perceived role of the player) and agency within his dynamic, and finishes up with a section about the importance of cohesion between the story and plot, and how poor execution of either negatively affects the other.

Muscano does a good job of splitting up Story and Plot, and explains and supports his arguments well for the small space he has.  While he takes a more holistic approach, he makes some very profound points that would be great to expound upon in the future.

Via: A Common Framework for Storytelling in Games