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Links 1 through 10 of 32 by Shaun Green tagged narrative

Spoiler alert, RPGs are kinda ridiculous. Most games are, of course. While the Mythbusters may have shown that carrying Doomguy’s loadout into battle isn’t as bad as it might sound, there’s a reason they’ve never done a follow-up about doing it after taking a few rockets to the face. Likewise, we can’t know the effect of glugging down fifty health potions a day, but it must mean a lot of pauses for the heroic knight to hurriedly get his armour off for a quick pee-break. Like a lot of things, there’s a line here – on one side, things that are interesting to see a game justify, and on the other, things that are probably best handwaved. Where does that line lie?

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A lot of great storytelling relies on the intricacies and weaknesses of human character – a villain lies to further their own ends, an eyewitness misremembers a crucial detail, a fairytale hero forgets the one thing they were told not to do. Of course, all of these weaknesses are exactly the things software is designed to avoid – computers are reliable, accurate, and always follow orders. It makes for great word processing software, but it doesn’t always make for interesting games – so why don’t we try and model these weird human idiosyncracies and see where it leads?

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Great podcast interview with Chris Avellone looking back over his background and how he got into game design.

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In Kentucky Route Zero Act II Shannon asks Conway, "Are we inside or outside?" Shannon's line is a reference to Gaston Bachelard's "The Poetics of Space" written in 1958. Earlier in the game the character Lula Chamberlain opens a rejection letter from the "Gaston Trust for Imaginary Architecture" which is a direct reference to the French philosopher's work. Bachelard's "Poetics of Space" is probably the most important book that most game designers have never read; it explicitly connects architecture to how people will experience it, rather than the trend in 1958, which was to treat architecture like spectacle. Bluntly speaking, Bachelard said back in 1958 that games are not just graphics. They are architecture that create an experience. He would have made an excellent level designer.

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Satirical script for RDR. Overlong but makes a few salient points.

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Most videogames are power fantasies. Tomb Raider is no exception. Lara Croft has always been an action heroine, and this latest Tomb Raider is an origin story to get her to that point. However, the template this time is a horror movie instead of an action movie. It’s a bit like Far Cry 3, but without being embarrassingly bad. Far Cry 3 clumsily resembles something by Eli Roth, something about how foreigners are bad, and learning to stab them with a machete is as much a rite of passage as getting a tribal tattoo on your forearm. So what sets Tomb Raider apart? For starters, it knows better than to mistake Eli Roth for a good horror director.

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So what am I saying here? That improving narrative elements in games is impossible and we shouldn’t try? No. But it is time to abandon the quest for the narrative equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone (or the Sorceror’s Stone, if you read Harry Potter in the US) that will magically transform all it touches. Stop using the reductio ad absurdum announcements about GAME NARRATIVE (singular) that are really just lame clickbait. Instead, revel in the variety, and find ways to improve the narrative elements in the types of games you’re working on.

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What I find strange, in light of our supposed anti-irony cultural moment, is a kind of old-fashioned ironic conceit behind a number of recent critical darlings in the commercial videogame space. 2007's Bioshock and this year’s Bioshock: Infinite are both about the irony of expecting ‘meaningful choice’ to live in an artificial dome of technological and commercial constraints. Last year’s Spec Ops: The Line offers a grim alchemy of self-deprecation and preemptive disdain for its audience. The Grand Theft Auto series has always maintained a cool, dismissive cynicism beneath its gleefully absurd mayhem. These games frame choice as illusory and experience as artificial. They are expensive, explosive parodies of free will.

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The thing with SR3 is that it’s about the unconditional power and impunity of celebrity. It’s a distillation of the fantasy, made ever more visible and possible by the substantial financial successes of YouTube posters and tweeters-turned-screenwriters, that one’s “personality” and “special uniqueness” alone can build six figure incomes (never mind the diligence that went into those successes). It’s our generation’s American dream, the logical conclusion to the morphing of that dream from “the pursuit of financial security through diligence” to “the pursuit of instant and massive wealth”. Celebrity has become the most readily monetizable product of the day.

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Discussion about Dishonored tends to focus on the game's morality. Should Corvo kill his opponents, or neutralize them by nonlethal means? Is it right to assist a suitor in abducting Lady Boyle? Should we poison the elixir still for our own gain? While a lot of writers have addressed these questions, not many have considered the question of whether Corvo's actions are honorable in the context of 18th and 19th century thought - which is odd, considering the game's title. Perhaps this is because we read Dishonored as a modern revenge tale, when its roots lay in a class system and social structure that's antiquated and unfamiliar to a modern audience. In the eyes of British honor culture, Corvo is a villain. His conduct is not that of a gentleman: he allows himself to be subjugated, he takes unfair advantage, and his vicious methods speak to his foreign origins. Interestingly, when we look at Dishonored from this perspective of honor culture, its themes appear very different.

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