Friday, 28 September 2012

Mechanics and Narrative

Yesterday I looked at how video game genres are defined, and how those genres tend to depend on the game's mechanics first and foremost. But game mechanics aren't just tied up in genre - they're also related to the narrative itself.

Video games are often used as an interactive storytelling medium. Granted, they don't have to be - see Tetris, Solitaire, etc - but the vast majority of games that are being produced now are intended to tell a story that the player is a part of in some way.

Given that storytelling is a major or even primary focus of modern games, it's important to have the game's mechanics - how it plays - reflect the story or themes of the narrative. If you link mechanics to narrative, you can tell a much stronger story by amplifying the content.

If that's a little abstract for you, here's a more concrete example. When you watch a horror movie, much of the story takes place in the dark. There are exceptions, of course, but the point is that just about every human being has been afraid of the dark at some point in life. Even if darkness isn't directly important to the story, it's still used to make you feel claustrophobic and nervous, reinforcing the scary elements of the plot by trying to make you feel what the characters feel.

A good video game plays the way a movie looks, if that makes any sense. A game about choices should offer the player a lot of choice: character customization, branching dialogues, and alternate endings. A game that explores themes of morality should include a way to track the player's actions and alter the story accordingly. A horror game should include systems that make the player feel vulnerable, claustrophobic, or isolated.

For this segment of Industry In Review, I'll have a few articles on a selection of game genres, discussing if and how they integrate storytelling with their mechanics. First up will be horror!

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