Games, Toys, and Stories

Quite some time ago, I’d picked up a copy of Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. It’s an interesting book with a lot of nice tidbits in it if you’ve any interest in game design and the thoughts behind it. One of the statements that Raph made in the book that stuck with me is “Games are not Stories, Stories are not Games”.

He goes on to detail that out a bit and categorize games as active learning environments and stories as passive learning environments. Having spent a huge amount of time playing role playing games from high-school on forward, I had to wonder if that wasn’t instead a spectrum instead of a binary either/or thing. In particular, I recall some really wonderful evenings going by that you might best describe as communal story-telling rather than your typical RPG. I know that technically you don’t need to make that distinction – but so many folks think of RPG’s with a very limited amount of creative input from the player’s point of view. That is still fairly true for computer RPG’s – you just don’t get the incredible ad-hoc flexibility you can with a monkey (that would normally have been me) to help guide and focus the story.

Enter a post on Penny Arcade’s site today from BioWare – they’re looking for writers for a multiplayer online game, and they’re having a hard time finding anything that can write in the style that an online RPG needs – mostly dialog, and with an understanding that the whole setup can split into a thousand different directions depending on what the player does. This kind of post-to-the-wild job position technique makes me think that indeed there’s a spectrum of games vs story to be had in computer RPG’s. I don’t think anyone has quite nailed a procedural mechanism for generating reasonable storylines or responses – but you’ve got to imagine that its going to be a topic that at least some folks are thinking about. Game designer/programmers done the same with art – it was getting damned expensive to create a gazillion 3D models and textures, so here’s a possible response. We’re probably not there technically, but I’ve got to imagine the same is probably possible for story-arcs.