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解析电子游戏的叙事特点及其艺术性

发布时间:2013-01-28 13:56:00 Tags:,,,,

作者:Patrick Holleman

如果电子游戏是一种艺术,那么我们又该如何看待这些作为艺术的游戏?游戏产业中也有许多像《俄罗斯方块》这样并不是以艺术为目的的游戏创造,我们可以将其当成是围绕着游戏设计理念与编程机制而呈现出娱乐性的游戏。但也有其它游戏是拥有精细的脚本,有声角色以及戏剧化的音乐,而这些元素则都是我们在电影或戏剧等艺术形式中能够看到的。那些对电子游戏设计感兴趣的人是否应该使用其它艺术形式中的方法?这是在讨论电子游戏时常出现的一个问题:是该基于“游戏学”还是“叙述学”去研究游戏?但不管是哪种原则都是不够的。不管电子游戏是否属于艺术,它们都必须拥有属于自己的判定形式,能够评估自己到底是什么,而不是自己长得像什么。

背景:游戏学是将游戏当成是游戏而进行研究。游戏学研究的是游戏中常见的规则,理论和实践,如象棋,红桃,双陆棋,“大富翁”等等。叙述学则是对于叙述的研究,如小说,诗歌,电影,游戏和电视剧等。显然,现代的电子游戏包含了来自传统游戏与传统叙述形式中的各种元素。现代电子游戏是更像传统的桌上游戏还是电影?它们是否与之前的游戏形式完全不同,如果真的是这样我们又该如何研究并评定现代电子游戏?首先,让我们将这些大问题分解成一些特定的小问题;如此我们将能发现电子游戏与传统游戏的区别。

游戏中的最大区别——AI

第一个问题是:我们是否能够使用像研究传统游戏那样的方法去研究电子游戏,而不管它们所带有的叙述元素?传统游戏的研究会使用传统游戏设计中一些常见的理念,如机会的使用,玩家间的替换,以及玩家如何推动游戏行动而获胜。与传统游戏一样,电子游戏也具有许多常见的规则和策略。例如游戏中的“爆头”等行动便因为太过普遍而形成了专有术语。另一方面,电子游戏中并未过分突出机会元素;可以说在电子游戏中随机性算是一种阻碍技能,并且将有可能抵消掉乐趣。但是传统游戏与电子游戏的最大区别还是在于人工智能——这是只有电子游戏才具有的元素。

在电子游戏中,人工智能的含义不只停留在表面。最显著的AI便是任何游戏中受计算机控制的对手,我们可以称其为连续AI。除此之外,还有另外一种基于程序的AI。例如,在受程序控制(不需要玩家输入任何内容)的游戏环境中的独立移动部件和动态环境条件(如突然刮来一阵风)。这种程序总是知道该做些什么,并不需要受玩家的推动或随机启动,但对于游戏背景元素却难以发挥有效作用。我们可以将这种有限的AI称为独立的AI。许多电子游戏只拥有一些连续的AI,但绝大多数电子游戏都拥有大量独立AI。

在传统游戏/桌面游戏中,玩家和机会是推动游戏进行的关键元素;但是在大多数电子游戏中却不是这样。在传统游戏中,即使玩家扮演着引导者或地下城城主的角色,他也仍需要基于不同角色而执行着相同的游戏行动。即玩家,或者机会元素则是引起所有游戏行动的关键。而在电子游戏中却并非如此;电子游戏拥有一个独立的游戏世界,即不是由任何玩家所创造或操纵的。这也是区别电子游戏与传统游戏的主要设计功能。

总之,传统游戏与电子游戏的区别在于,后者拥有一个完全关于游戏的世界,并且这个世界是由连续和独立AI所创造,控制并(有时)操纵着。玩家只是这个世界的客人,是其机制的核心参与者。就算是现在,这个世界也仍不受玩家控制;这是设计师的世界,是值得我们研究的重要对象。

narrative(from storenvy)

narrative(from storenvy)

三大元素:背景,角色和挑战

背景

判断如何研究电子游戏的第二个问题是,电子游戏与传统叙述是否相似,我们是否应该使用相同的研究方法?首先,我们必须承认电子游戏叙述中的某些部分与书籍非常相似;玩家在阅读这些内容时并不需要任何互动。电子游戏中的某些故事片段很像电影;除了暂停与开始,玩家在观看时并不需要做任何事。但是没有一款电子游戏与电影或书籍是完全相似的。电影为我们创造了一个能够看到并听到的虚构世界,但是观影者却会被局限在制作人所创造的导览中,难以挣脱。相反地,在电子游戏中,玩家可以按照自己的想法在游戏世界中随意穿梭。如果电子游戏像电影中的导览那样线性化,便会遭到评论者和玩家的谴责。

电子游戏中的一些自由元素表明了,这一精心构建的游戏世界不仅突出了电子游戏的与众不同,同时也赋予了其乐趣所在。从根本上来看,游戏世界的呈现受到了其叙述元素——背景的影响。游戏中的背景是以一种独特的方式进行表达,所以我们可以肯定地说,电子游戏的叙述是不同于其它艺术形式中的叙述。设置游戏世界所发生的场景便是对于游戏设计与游戏叙述基本原则的整合。随后我们将列举一些有效结合了叙述与游戏元素,并创造出独特且包含艺术体验的出色游戏。

《寂静岭》系列便是围绕着这一理念展开,即游戏世界的设置便是游戏的最佳叙述资源;意识到这一点后,设计师便将背景作为影响游戏玩法和叙述的主要元素而设计游戏。与游戏同名的小镇“寂静岭”是一个充满怪物(游戏邦注:代表着人类的失败与恐惧)的可怕世界。特别是在《寂静岭2》中,游戏所突出的并不是战斗,而是探索与逃亡;的确,基于传统意义,游戏中的某些怪物是杀不死的。而环境本身经常能够杀死玩家角色。有时候,玩家幸存下来的最佳方法便是逃跑。但是成功逃跑的唯一方法则是密切关注着环境中所有可怕的事物,并做出最明智的战斗选择。从叙述角度来看,这么做将带给玩家巨大的压力。从这方面看来,游戏玩法其实非常相似;这是关于有限的玩家资源,逃避,掌握脱险路线,并在局势变得极端糟糕时意识到环境线索。

也许让除电子游戏外的其它媒体去传达《寂静岭》中所体现出的无助感,孤立感与恐惧感是件非常困难的事。但是像书籍,电影和音乐却每次都能在很短的时间内传达出这种情感,即使所描述的场景是无止尽的,这便是作者所使用的艺术技巧。在《寂静岭》中,游戏能够将玩家困在一个可怕的环境中,并且玩家根本不知道如何走出去。在玩家找出自救方法前,他们只会被时间所困住。这便是针对于电子游戏而整合叙述与游戏玩法的结果。

《魔兽世界》的另外一款基于世界深度与可信度的游戏;它同时还拥有一个不断扩展的世界。从叙述角度来看,第一次进入游戏应该是最佳体验。引导着游戏玩法的任务结构(伴随着完成奖励)主要注重于探索,但却缺乏多样性,如反复收集10种任务道具。而这些任务和地下城之所以如此吸引人(至少从第一次进入游戏中来看)便是受到强大且有趣的背景所推动。《巫妖王之怒》的一个任务链便是让玩家坐在龙身上飞到一个无法想像其高度的高塔上。其游戏玩法并不是多有创意;它只是拥有一系列标准的一对一打斗模式。实际上,这些打斗是围绕着一群神秘的生物在空中展开,而最终玩家能够戴上王冠坐上宝座,从而让游戏变得更加有趣。玩家所出现的每个场景都暗示着不同的故事情节:从古老的战场到受损的神庙,每次都揭示着黑暗故事中的不同转变。大多数情况下,任务只是关于杀死X个敌人并收集Y种道具,但是背景却能让它们变得更加有趣。

甚至在《魔兽世界》里迷路也是一种乐趣;可以说,在游戏中迷路也是最棒的乐趣之一。在一个人烟稀少的领域中感受背景,寻找模糊的任务,成就以及各种传说等都是其它叙述形式所不能给予的乐趣。之所以可以实现这种探索是因为《魔兽世界》拥有一个巨大的游戏世界;一个巨大且复杂的游戏世界能够呈现出稀有的艺术乐趣。这也是读者和观众在书籍和电影中所感受不到的,即使他们面对的是同样的内容。不管是在书籍还是电影中,我们都不可能进入一个秘密区域去寻找其它读者或观众(他们也同时在阅读或观看同样的书籍或电影)从未看过的事物。

角色

我们总是认为电子游戏拥有其它叙述形式所没有的优势:叙述都是围绕着玩家所控制的角色展开。不管是《侠盗猎车手》中逃离警察的紧张和兴奋感还是《使命召唤:现代战争》中,当玩家因为辐射中毒时其对角色的控制变得虚弱,我们都可以感受到玩家与模拟替身间的紧密联系。有人可能会说,如果作家或导演足够有才定也能够传达出这种体验。或许没错,但是电子游戏主要采取两种方法将角色变成是游戏中重要的叙述元素。

第一种方法便是角色定制。实际上,随着游戏技术的发展,角色设计越来越接近玩家的想象——不只是关于角色外貌,还包括角色行为。像《辐射》,《生化奇兵》,《质量效应》等游戏都让玩家可以按照自己的想法去决定角色的前进方向。这显然具有巨大的叙述潜能。如果角色是任何叙述中必不可缺的元素,并且是由玩家所创造的,那就说明玩家控制着游戏的艺术体验。当玩家选择了角色的创造方式时,他们同样也做出了叙述选择;叙述深度通常总是与玩家创造一个角色所投入的努力维系在一起。

但是角色定制和多种角色创造方式都不能自动创造出一种独特且完善的游戏叙述。有时候角色定制只是针对于外观;而通常情况下,角色的外观对叙述不具有任何影响。除此之外,选择角色创造方式也只是在众多传统选择中选出一个传统的叙述方式;而这些叙述都是作者预先设定好的。真正独特的电子游戏叙述应该是完全由玩家所创造,并发生在游戏世界中的故事。而这种类型的叙述对游戏设计的创造性具有较大的要求。不管是由AI去应对动态故事还是需要在线背景下的人类地下城城主,游戏中都拥有一个大工具包能够为玩家快速定制故事。

比起定制,电子游戏中的角色还拥有更重要的叙述优势,即能够映射现实:他们非常有用。出于游戏原因,玩家总是对他们的角色有所需求,特别是当他们在控制多个角色时。这便会引起一系列让人熟悉的叙述情境,即使是对于那些不玩电子游戏的人来说。假设玩家面对的是一个充满才华的角色;虽然他的性格非常恶劣,但是玩家总会因为他有利用价值而默默忍受。不存在完美的伙伴——虽然很讨人喜欢,但却非常没用;虽然在游戏中控制着这样的角色很有压力,但伴随着他们的却是非常有趣的故事。除此之外还有一种角色是拥有非常强大的能力与个性,但是玩家却不想看到他们身上所发生的一切。这种虚构的角色与玩家拥有一种实际关系;但是在其它艺术形式中是否能够实现这种关系?

电子游戏中的角色死亡能够复制现实世界,所以这里对死亡效果的传达总是比任何形式的叙述来得逼真。在书籍,电影或舞台剧中,我们总是与角色紧密维系在一起,所以他们的死总是会对我们带来强烈的情感影响。而在电子游戏中,如果玩家因为游戏情节而失去角色,他们便能感受到真实般的刺痛感:因为从实际意义上看,玩家需要这个角色。在现实世界中,人们总是会因为失去好友或商业合作伙伴而难过,但是他们也仍需要承受着独自一人奋斗的压力。而玩家想念角色便不只是因为她的讨喜,还因为她是有用的;如此看来他们之前为角色所付出的都功亏一篑了。除此之外,玩家还会对杀死自己角色的敌人感到愤怒;敌人不仅杀死了玩家所喜欢的角色,同时还让玩家在面对游戏挑战时更加吃力。

挑战

质量效应2(from gametronic.net)

质量效应2(from gametronic.net)

挑战是最特殊的一个元素,也是电子游戏所使用的独特叙述工具。就像在《质量效应2》中,当玩家遭遇故事中的主要对手(外星收集者)时,游戏难度便会随之上升。但是在其它媒体中却很难传达出这种挑战,因为观众和作者都知道所有的角色最终都会因为表演者的合约而继续存活下去。(在电视中亦是如此。)但即使是在“必须存活着”的场景中,电子游戏也能够传达难度。就像《质量效应》便在玩家任务失败时杀死了主角。当玩家多次重返游戏后,角色便能够继续存活着,但是这时候的玩家已经很难忘记强大的敌人所带来的恐惧感。当游戏到达一种严峻的流状态,即敌人的能量不是由炮弹所构成,而是精心设计的难度(并且玩家也做好了应对这种挑战的准备)时,这便是电子游戏艺术性的最高境界,并且玩家在经过不断挑战后便能获得应有的情节奖励。

电子游戏叙述中最棒的艺术性

学习电子游戏的目的便是为了丰富电子游戏设计。电子游戏本身就具有多种目的,包括娱乐,乐趣,艺术性等等;但是学习电子游戏的目的则是为了创造出更棒的电子游戏。因此我将在本篇文章的最后阐述一些能够创造出最有效的游戏叙述的方法。

首先,我们必须清楚,设置过多直线型内容是非常糟糕的理念。游戏世界的自由度是说服玩家游戏的关键元素;所以即使游戏中拥有线性叙述或线性游戏玩法,设计师也必须添加一些“分支路线”,额外内容或秘密领域。这并不是说将所有游戏都变成沙盒游戏,而是赋予游戏一定的自由度是一种非常有效的方法。

其次,尽管电子游戏中的角色定制非常有趣,但同时我们也需要强调游戏中一些无用的角色。角色定制和分支情节便非常棒;许多高质量游戏便是采用一些独特且有趣的方法去利用这些设计理念。但当我们拥有高级的AI或专职的游戏内部地下城城主时,这种定制便很难再有所突破了。角色的有用性与叙述整合在一起便能创造出非常棒的效果。不管什么时候,友好的AI角色都是无能的(经常发生),他们会失去自己作为角色的吸引力。如果这些角色永远都死不了,或者总是会在每个关卡的最后复苏,那么玩家便会在这些角色阻碍了自己的前进时希望他们死掉。但是如果友好的AI角色拥有如下特性,他们便有益于游戏叙述:

1.至少有一定的用处;必须让玩家注意到这些角色在游戏过程中的不同

2.他们也会在游戏中被杀死或受伤,并且当玩家不留意时,这些角色会让玩家的挑战变得更加复杂

3.拥有显著的个性,讨喜或让人厌恶

这些条件并不适用于每款游戏。的确,有些游戏在尝试着遵守这些规则时反而取得了更糟的结果。但似乎大多数游戏在使用了这些规则后都能取得正面的作用,能够创造出更强大且更特别的游戏叙述。

我们最后需要关注的设计元素便是挑战,因为它能帮助设计师在电子游戏中直接传达出紧张感与戏剧化情境。在这种情况下,难度曲线并不能平稳地向上发展。游戏叙述并不能只是随着时间的发展而变得更困难,而是叙述和游戏玩法必须整合在一起,从而让叙述中最危险的敌人同时也是游戏玩法中最具挑战性的敌人。对此还有三大要求:

1.游戏中的挑战水平必须随着叙述的发展而同步上下变化。这会导致之后的阶段比之前阶段更加简单,但却不影响整体游戏。这么做将会带给玩家深深的紧张感,并同时引进新的游戏技能。

2.难度的激增并不是源自敌人堆积出现的。新的挑战必须具有组织性,并且仍保持一定的熟悉感,即使这是突然出现的挑战。

3.使用检查点和自动保存;如果游戏突然变得复杂,玩家也不会因为不得不回到较简单的阶段而遭遇惩罚。

虽然这些建议未能明确说出每个阶段能够加强叙述的挑战元素,但这仍是设计师们需要明确的基本设计指南。

结语

尽管今天的电子游戏是结合了传统游戏中的设计元素与传统艺术品中的叙述元素,但它们还是区别于早前的那些游戏。当然了,在远古时期并不存在任何对于电子游戏的预测,所以使用希腊与拉丁文的组合术语,即“游戏学”和“叙述学”去传达对于电子游戏的研究其实很荒谬。我们的目标是研究电子游戏,但是任何尝试着通过死语言(游戏邦注:即没有人用来交谈的语言)去添加或减去其对象价值的做法都是无意义的。我们的原则仍是活在当下。

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Narrative in Videogames

by Patrick Holleman

If videogames can be art, how should we study those games which are artistic? There are games, like Tetris that are not intended to be art in the usual sense, and they can be studied simply as games, focusing on what game design ideas and programming mechanics make them entertaining. Other games, however, have elaborate scripts, voiced characters, and dramatic music; these are elements common to other forms of art like films or plays. Should people interested in studying videogame design use methods from these other forms of art, then? This is an old question that has been rattling around in discussions of videogames: should games be studied ludologically or narratologically? (Both are defined below.) Neither discipline is adequate. Whether or not videogames can be art, they must nevertheless have their own form of criticism that assesses them for what they are, not what other thing they are like.

Some background: ludology is the study of games as games. Ludology studies the rules, theories and practices common to games like chess, hearts, backgammon, Monopoly, and so forth. Narratology is the study of narratives, like novels, poems, movies, plays, and television shows. Modern videogames, obviously, contain elements derived from both traditional games and traditional forms of narrative. Are modern videogames more like traditional tabletop games than they are like movies? Are they something entirely different from anything that has come before and if so how should we study and assess them? First let us break down these very large questions into a few smaller and more specific ones; in doing so we will find how videogames are different from traditional games.

AI, the Big Difference in Games

The first question to answer is: are videogames enough like traditional games that they can be studied the same way, despite the narratives they possess? The study of traditional gamesudologys studies the common ideas in traditional game design, like the use of chance, how players take turns, and how the players drive the action of the game to win. Like traditional games, videogames do have a number of common rules and strategies. Consider how common  eadshots and the erg rush are outside the games that coined their terms. On the other hand, videogames don’t really owe as much to chance; in fact randomness in videogames can be perceived as thwarting skill and cancelling out fun. But the biggest difference between traditional games and videogames is artificial intelligence, which only videogames have.

Artificial intelligence means more, in the case of videogames, than one might ordinarily think. The most obvious kind of AI is the computer-controlled opponents (bots) in any given game. For the purposes of this essay we can call these computer opponents, that tend to be imitations of human players, continuous AI. But there is another kind of artificial intelligence; this is the programming that works in the background. For example, independent moving parts and dynamic ambient conditions (like a wind that blows in irregular gusts) in a game environment are controlled by a piece of programming that requires no input from a player. This programming knows what to do and requires no player-prompting or random initiation, but it is limited in its role to being a background factor in the game. This kind of much more limited AI can be called discrete artificial intelligence. Many videogames have some amount of continuous artificial intelligence, but nearly all of them have abundant use of discrete artificial intelligence.

(Note that I do not intend to make any comment on the computer science of artificial intelligence, a subject about which I know nothing. These terms only refer to game design elements that operate without the player input.)

In a traditional/tabletop game, the players and chance are responsible for everything that goes on in the game; but this is not so in most videogames. Even if one of the players of a traditional game is a guide or dungeon master, they are still engaged in the same play action, just in a different role. But still, the players, or chance-based pieces they use, are responsible for causing all the game action. This is simply not true in videogames; videogames have a discrete game world, not created or operated by any player. This is the primary design feature that separates videogames from their traditional counterparts.

In short, the difference between traditional games and videogames is that videogames have a world in which everything about the game, except for controller input, takes place. This world is created, controlled, and sometimes populated by continuous and discrete artificial intelligence. The player is a guest in that world, the central participant in its mechanics. Even still, the world is usually not driven by the player; it is the designer world, and should be studied as such.

The Big Three: Setting, Character, and Challenge

Setting

The second question in assessing how videogames should be studied is whether or not videogames are similar enough to traditional narratives that we should study them the same way. To begin, it makes sense to admit that some portions of videogame narratives are exactly like books; the player reads them without interacting except to turn the age. Some narrative segments in videogames are exactly like movies; the player watches them without doing anything except pausing and unpausing. No decent videogame is entirely like movies or books. A movie creates a fictional world that one can see and hear, but viewers are locked into a guided tour that the filmmakers have scheduled for the viewer, and viewers can never deviate from that tour. In a videogame, on the other hand, the player is presented with a world that can be accessed largely at their own discretion. Videogames that are too linear too much like the guided tours of movies are often deprecated by critics and gamers.

The desire for some amount of freedom within the videogame shows that it is specifically this elaborately constructed world which makes videogames not just unique, but also enjoyable. And ultimately, the world of the game is also imply by its nature  narrative element: setting. Setting in games is so uniquely expressed that we can say with certainty that narrative in videogames is at least different from other art forms. And setting the world in which a game takes place is where the fundamental principles of game design and game narrative come together. It stands to reason, then, that there should be some excellent videogames which show how the narrative and gameplay elements can work together to create a unique artistic experience.

The Silent Hill series is built around the notion that setting the world which videogames create is their best narrative resource; recognizing this, the designers have created a game that is all about using setting as the primary influence on both gampelay and narrative. Silent Hill, the eponymous town, is a nightmare world full of symbolic monsters that represent human failings and fears. In all the Silent Hill games, but especially Silent Hill 2, the emphasis in the game is not necessarily on combat, but often on exploration and escape; indeed, some of the monsters in the game cannot be killed at all in the traditional sense. The environment itself can and frequently will kill the player character. Sometimes, the best thing that the player can do is survive by running away. The only way to successfully get away is to pay close attention to all the horrifying things in the environment and wisely choose battles in order to survive. In a narrative sense, this is stressful and demoralizing; the player is forced to carefully examine a horrifying wasteland. The gameplay is very similar in that regard; it is about limited player resources, evasion, knowing your escape routes, and recognizing environmental clues when something is about to go horribly wrong.

It would be difficult for a medium other than videogames to express so acutely the particular feelings of powerlessness, isolation and malingering dread that Silent Hill is able to evoke. Books, films and music proceed one second at a time; even when a scene seems interminable, this is just an artistic trick by the authors of the work. With Silent Hill, players can be quite literally trapped in a nightmarish situation without knowing how to get out of it. Until the player figures out what to do (and sometimes even for a while after that) he or she is trapped for an amount of time that varies greatly. And this is all a consequence of the merging of the narrative and gameplay aspects of setting specific to videogames.

World of Warcraft is another game heavily dependent on the depth and persuasiveness of its world; it has the benefit of being an ever-expanding world as well, with content updates and expansion packs. The first time through the game tends to be the best, from a narrative perspective. The structure of the quests (tasks with completion rewards) that guide gameplay are heavy on exploration, but often a bit short on variety, i.e. collect 10 quest items, for the millionth time. What makes these quests and dungeons compelling at least the first time through the game is that they are driven by a strong, interesting setting. One chain of quests in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion has the player flying up an impossibly tall tower on the back of a borrowed dragon. The gameplay isn  particularly innovative; it is a series of fairly standard one-on-one fights. But the fact that these fights are taking place miles in the air in a swarm of mythical creatures, and that at the end of the quests players arrive at the throne of a demigod hat makes it considerably more fun. Every location that the player visits suggests another turn in the story: from the ancient, flash-frozen battlefield to the corrupted temple of another god, each reveals another twist in the dark narrative. The quests, for the most part, are all about killing X number of enemies and collecting Y number of items; the setting makes it captivating.

Even getting lost in World of Warcraft can be a pleasure; in fact getting lost can be one of the greatest pleasures in the game. Enjoying the setting in one of the less-populated zones, finding obscure quests, achievements and bits of lore is a kind of enjoyment not really possible in other forms of narrative. This kind of exploration is possible because the world in WoW is huge; a huge and complicated world affords the artistic pleasure of rarity. It is certainly possible to notice things in a book or a movie that other readers and viewers don’t notice, even if everyone is seeing the same thing. But it is not possible to venture into a secret area of a book or a movie, to have the pleasure of finding something which never even flashed before the eyes of other viewers, who are reading the same book or watching the same movie at the same time.

Character

It is fairly obvious, and often argued, how videogames have an advantage over other forms of narrative: the player often is the character around whom the narrative is centered. From the simulated tension and excitement of racing away from the police in Grand Theft Auto to the grim scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, where the player experiences declining control of their character as he dies of radiation poisoning, games have certainly shown what they can do with a simulated incarnation. Some might argue that books and films can convey any of these experiences just as well if the author or director is sufficiently talented. That argument might be true, but there are two ways in which videogames use character as a narrative element in a unique and compelling way.

The first of unique approach to character in videogames is that videogame characters can be customized. In fact, as gaming technology is progressing, character designs are coming closer to being pulled straight out of the player imagination. And this is not just true of the appearance of a character, but also the behavior of the character. Games like Fallout, BioShock, and Mass Effect all allow the player to choose the path of their character development. This obviously presents an enormous amount of narrative potential. If characters n indispensible part of any narrative an be made by the player with creative freedom, the player is in control of their artistic experience in a way nothing else can match. And when a player chooses the path of character development, they are choosing a narrative; the depth of the narrative is often equal to the effort a player puts into developing a character.

But character customization and multiple paths of character development do not automatically create a form of perfect narrative unique to videogames. Sometimes character customization is just cosmetic; and usually the appearance of the player character doesn affect the narrative at all. Moreover, choosing a path of character development is ultimately just a way of choosing one traditional narrative out of several traditional options; those narratives are all prefabricated by the game writers. A truly idiosyncratic videogame narrative would be an entirely player-created narrative that takes place inside the world of the game. That kind of narrative, however, would require some serious innovations in game design. Either there would need to be a near-sentient form of artificial intelligence which could handle an extremely dynamic story, or there would need to be full-time human dungeon masters available in an online setting, with large toolkits for quickly building custom stories for players.

Characters in a videogame have a more important narrative advantage than customization, one that mirrors reality: they are useful. Players very often need the characters in their games for play reasons, particularly in games where the player controls more than one character. This causes a range of narrative situations that will be instantly familiar to even to those who don play videogames. There is the talented jerk character; their personality is atrocious but they are so useful the player puts up with them. There is the neither-do-well friend, who is very likeable but practically useless; carrying this character through the game is often a burden, but the story is more interesting with them in it. And then there are characters who are simply awesome in ability and personality, and players hate to see anything happen to them. These are fictional people with whom players have a practical–not just voyeuristic– relationship; in what other form of art is this possible?

The death of a character in a videogame can replicate the real-life, practical effects of death better than any other form of narrative. In any book, film or stage drama we may find that we were very attached to a character, and that their death has an intense emotional effect on us. But in a videogame, if the player loses a character to a plot-related death, they feel a realistic second sting: the player needed that character in a practical sense. In the real world, someone will grieve for the loss of their friend and business partner because they miss his friendship, but they have the additional burden of now having to run the business without him. If you were unknowingly using Aeris in your party before her death in Final Fantasy VII, you feel this in a smaller sense. The player misses her not just because she was likeable, but because she was useful; the hard work put into learning and developing her abilities is now in ruins. There is also commensurate anger at the antagonist who kills a videogame character; the enemy has not only killed someone the player likes梩hey have made the game harder by doing it.

Challenge

Challenge is the final aspect, and perhaps the most idiosyncratic aspect, of how videogames use unique narrative tools. For instance in Mass Effect 2 the game ramps up the difficulty during encounters with the narrative抯 primary antagonists: the alien Collectors. It is difficult in other media to express the difficulty and drama of an action when both we and the writers know that all the characters are going to survive because of their actors’ contracts. (This is particularly true in television.) But even in that all-must-survive scenario, videogames have no trouble conveying difficulty. Mass Effect kills the protagonists when the player fails. When players finally do succeed, after many restarts, they alive and well but the fearsome power of the enemy is unforgettable. This is particularly true when the game achieves a severe flow state and the enemy power isn’t made of heap shots but rather well-designed difficulty that the player has been prepared for. That is possibly the height of videogame artistry, and any plot rewards found after seem doubly sweet for the effort.

Greater Artistry in Videogame Narratives

The purpose of studying videogames is to enrich videogame design. The various purposes of videogames themselves might be entertainment, fun, artistic catharsis, and so on; but the purpose of studying videogames is to make them better. Therefore the last thing this essay should do is to suggest ways that narrative can be used most effectively in games.

First, we have learned from studying setting in games that too much linearity in games is a bad idea. The freedom of a game world is key to its persuasiveness; so even in games that have linear narrative or linear gameplay, it would be wise for designers to add even a few small, diverging paths, extra content, and secret areas. This does not mean turning every game into a sandbox game; rather it just means that a little freedom to move around in a game is usually a good thing.

Second, while customization of characters in videogames is fun, it is much more practical right now for the usefulness of characters in a videogame to be emphasized. Custom character models and diverging plot lines are great; many quality games take advantage of these design ideas in unique and interesting ways. But until we either have a radically advanced kind of artificial intelligence or full-time, in-game dungeon masters for online games, customization is not going to be developed much beyond where it is now. Character usefulness, integrated into the narrative, can see considerably more development. Any time the friendly AI characters are completely incompetent (this happens quite often) they have lost much of their appeal as characters. If those characters are also immortal, revived at the end of every level, the player might actually want the friendly AI dead because they get in the way. It would be far better for the narrative if the friendly AI characters are:

1.At least moderately useful; the player must notice the difference these characters make in the process of gameplay

2.Mortal they can be killed or wounded in gameplay, in some cases forever, if the player is not careful, making the game harder

3.Equipped with a significant personality, likeable or unlikeable

These conditions are not always possible in every game. Indeed some games might be worse if they try to observe these rules. Still, it seems that most games could benefit from at least experimenting with these rules, as they have great potential to make a game narrative stronger and more idiosyncratic to videogames.

The third and final design element to pay attention to is challenge, because it possible in videogames to convey the intensity and drama of a situation directly through difficulty. The primary guideline in this case is that difficulty should not always be a smooth upward curve. Games with narrative must not get more difficult with each passing second; rather, the narrative and gameplay must cooperate so that the most dangerous enemies in the narrative are clearly the most challenging enemies in gameplay. This requires three things.

1.The challenge level across the game must go up and down in sync with the narrative. This may result in sections that are easier than what came before, but this is okay. These are good for “catching your breath,” in a figurative sense, as well as introducing new gameplay skills.

2.The spike in difficulty must not be caused by the appearance of enemies who are unfair or heap.The new challenge must be organic and somewhat familiar, even if it arrives suddenly

3.Use of checkpoints and auto-saves; if the game is suddenly going to get harder, the player must not always be punished by having to start back in the easy section again

Obviously these suggestions don spell out every step necessary in using challenge to enhance narrative, but they are functional as a basic guideline worth being aware of.

Final Thoughts

Although today videogames use both design elements from traditional games and narrative elements from traditional works of art, they are fundamentally different from what has come before. Certainly, nothing in the ancient world predicted videogames; it is absurd, therefore, to use a Greco-Latin term like ludology or narratology for the study of them. I suggest we simply settle on the name videogame studies. Videogames are what we are studying, and any attempt to add to or subtract value from our subject through a name in a dead language is entirely unneccessary. Our discipline is alive in the here and now.(source:thegamedesignforum


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