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    A great many words, but I have no idea what was said.

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      Let me attempt to summarize the core argument of the article:

      Scripted narration in a medium that’s supposed to champion interactivity is a fool’s errand. Instead, narratives should be emergent via mechanics of the game that fosters discovered self-narration.

      Put more crudely, the author would like gaming to be akin to a child playing with toys. The toys offer zero narration of their own–it’s all in the player’s head!

      Though games like “Minecraft”, “Dreams” and “The Witness” are not mentioned by name, I would imagine the author very much would like to see more of these, and less of the… well, other games.

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        My generous summary of this is:

        1. It’s a positive review of the the game What Remains of Edith Finch, which argues that this game helps show us the way forward for the medium,

        2. Secondarily, though this gets more space, headline, and attention, what some other people have argued is the way forward for the medium, the ol’ Interactive Storytelling dream of folks like Chris Crawford, Janet Murray, and David Cage, is maybe a dead-end, which we can definitively realize now that we’ve seen what the better way forward is.

        Admittedly, this is reading between the lines a bit and he doesn’t quite make this argument as I’ve reconstructed it (he seems to be hitting in various directions other than David Cage, who I personally would’ve chosen as a better foil). Bogost’s a personal friend who I’ve known for a little over a decade, and I like much of his writing, but this isn’t my favorite piece of his, even if I’m sympathetic to the form of the argument I’ve reconstructed.

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          OK. So among the games I’ve played, Doom and Bioshock, which is better? I can accede to the idea that a hypothetical Libertarian Atlantis movie would tell a better story than Bioshock. But does the addition of story elements make Bioshock worse than Doom? Would eliminating all the voiceovers from Bioshock and reducing it to “kill stuff and push buttons” like Doom make it a better game? Not inclined to agree.

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            I don’t think it’s really arguing at the level of “game A is better than game B”, but more about future agendas. It argues that the holodeck “interactive narrative” dream, which views true interactive storytelling as the way to take the medium to the next level, isn’t promising, and is in favor, instead, of an alternative path forward, which it argues the game What Remains of Edith Finch embodies. Now, it’s hard for me to judge this last claim, because I haven’t played that game.

            (The “holodeck” reference has an outsized significance in academic game studies, perhaps not obvious to the average reader, because the metaphor was used in an influential 1998 book by Janet Murray entitled Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. In addition to referring to the Star Trek holodeck, of course.)

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              Ok, thanks, this helps put the article in perspective.

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            Secondarily, though this gets more space, headline, and attention, what some other people have argued is the way forward for the medium, the ol’ Interactive Storytelling dream of folks like Chris Crawford, Janet Murray, and David Cage, is maybe a dead-end, which we can definitively realize now that we’ve seen what the better way forward is.

            I’m curious what the “better way” is, in your opinion?

            “Better” is in the eye of the beholder, as well. As much as I’d love (I don’t, actually…) to play Halo 15 and Call of Duty 26’s multiplayer portion and weave my own narrative devoid of any scripted narrative–such that no two players will experience the same arc of encounter and will each walk away with their own unique experience–I’d much rather experience the works of David Cage, et al. rather than play for play’s own sake (I, for one, cannot wait for Detroit to be released!).

            I enjoy games the most when it makes me think and relate back to something in the real world and case me to appreciate it more, or see it in a different light.

            Without any spoilers, the latest game I completed (Horizon: Zero Dawn), made me truly appreciate the design behind Erlang (yes, a seemingly out-of-the-left-field connection!).

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              I’d really like see what connection you made there. I don’t know if we have a spoiler tag, but maybe something behind a link?

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                I don’t have strong opinions on the better way personally. I actually started my academic career building AI support for interactive storytelling, with the goal of making games that were non-scripted but still heavily story-based. So I have some sympathy for the Grand Interactive Storytelling dream, enough that I spent a few years working on it (albeit on the backend tech side, since I’m not a writer or game designer), and occasionally still go back to it. But I also have some sympathy for arguments like Bogost’s that argue this is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. I suppose I should stake out a strong opinion on this, given that it’s close to my research area, but I’m somehow just very undecided about it.

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                I really appreciate you adding context to the article. It sounded like something interesting, but I had a hard time making out the thesis. Clearing up the holodeck reference, in particular, helped

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              I almost entirely disagree with this. The only thing I’ll grant is that you can’t always tell the exact same story in a video game as you can in another medium (Doh!).

              For instance, Papers Please is a game about checking paperwork as an immigration inspector. It would make a fairly boring book or movie, but as a game, it tells an interesting story that’s entirely influenced by every one of the player’s decisions.

              There are plenty of other examples of this type of game, and its really a disservice to the medium to choose a small subset of AAA action games that are attempts to copy Hollywood films, then blame video games for being poor imitations of Hollywood films.

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                Papers, Please gives you an emergent story, which I love and which games can do better than any medium. I think the article could have been better titled, “Video Games Are Better Without Scripted Stories.”

                Even then, there are a few scripted games stories that I love. I do feel like they’re the exception.

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                  I think this critique misses the crux of the article, which criticizes specific movements in artistic video game storytelling through understanding the relationship of storytelling to the rules and problem solving we consider gameplay. Specifically, it’s exploring the investigatory style of facade-like “storytelling through environment” techniques that dominates game storytelling (Papers Please still falls under this kind of storytelling), which holds its own shortcoming by creating a foundational contradiction between the mechanical and fictional.

                  AAA games especially suffer from this contradiction because of their publisher’s interests in cinematic industry profits and disinterest in conceptual artistic problems related to storytelling. And this is made especially interesting because of the massive influence and cultural importance of AAA games. It’s a useful examination.

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                  Without reading this article (too many words, as noted by others), I have to make a fly-by comment just based on the title and opening sentences. I highly recommend anyone looking for a very well written story that can only be told as a video game to try out NieR:Automata (for PS4 and Steam). The article seems to be written entirely around the assumption that these can’t or don’t exist, which is patently false.

                  If you play NieR, please heed the message after you “beat” the game and keep playing using the same save file. You’ve only scratched the surface of the content at that point.

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                    NieR: Automata is one of the best games to be released in a long time.

                    Much like the Metal Gear Solid series, NieR: Automata can succeed only as a game because it effectively uses the medium to convey something much more than a narrative despite occasionally ham-fisted writing. In other words, the strength of the entire presentation overcomes the weaknesses in writing. To truly appreciate these games, however, you need at least a cursory ‘education’ in video games. A lot of what makes them brilliant is their willingness to tamper with players’ expectations. You just don’t see that happen much.

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                      Can confirm!

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                      This is going to somewhat a lengthy response so I’ll split it off into headings…

                      1: In response to first impression responses; also, an explanation

                      The comments here are mostly in response to the lede. Something link aggregators and online news/journals tends to suffer from, I guess.

                      The essence of the article, as I interpret it, is that story telling in video games is kind of a distraction (think how the story is told in conventional games, as something to pace and paint a picture of the game being played; Ian uses Bioshock as a great example; NieR is mentioned here, although it falls within this category of the critique), and games that try to place storytelling in the front seat as game mechanics (Ian revisits “walking simulators”, such as Gone Home, Dear Esther, and at arm’s length, What Remains of Edith Finch), tend to suffer from being unable to answer the question, “Why tell this story using a video game?”.

                      2: A short engagement with the article

                      At a high level, I agree in every way with Ian’s critique. On the whole, the game industry is obsessed with the money in the world of cinematic art, but not so much with the conceptual issues of the functions of that art in interactive mediums. Any experimentation or deviance that isn’t a new clever way to portray non-mechanical storytelling veneer almost always tries to simply exchange the positions of “game” and “story” such that the “game” is now veneer.

                      In essence, the existing art of games has on the whole (there are exclusions I’m going to mention), failed to fuse storytelling into the mechanics of “gameplay”. We should ask the questions:

                      • Could storytelling through the backdrop/veneer of 3d environments ever be as powerful a way to tell a story as cinema is, when it is distracted by gameplay?
                      • Will the experiments in story-focused games, often forsaking the more basically mechanical rules of gameplay, come to better terms with their medium, whose foundations (in terms of both function and audience) they seem at odds with?
                      • What works or artists have broken through the antagonisms of the above questions?

                      3: Finally, critique

                      I think Ian makes the mistake here to mention several games and artists that understand storytelling in a less than traditional sense, especially through the lens of video games. I think the best place to start would be with something many of us are probably very familiar with: Dungeons and Dragons. D&D may not be digital, but I think mechanically, it’s probably one of the better places to start when it comes to understanding a more organic interaction between the mechanical rigor of games rules and the passion and flexibility of story telling.

                      Perhaps, in the digital world, we’re failing to translate these roles, such that the game designer or their software could act as a dungeon master for the audience, while writing rules for these worlds that enable the storytelling to better become a product of the audience’s engagements and experience. Or maybe, the technological restraints are too much to overcome to possibly approach the color and excitement associated with a great D&D session that few get to experience (I believe that Ian makes a passing remark about this).

                      4: Current art

                      In my opinion, one of the few artists in the medium that has put a remarkable effort into solving these questions would be Chris Crawford. “Trust & Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot” was an early (and very cool) attempt to tie language and social interaction into a game’s mechanics. He also wrote quite a bit on “people games”, which is published on his website (along with source code for a lot of his old games; nice!) although I think Chris’ concept of a “people game” doesn’t completely answer our questions above, but that’s it’s own long-form writing and I don’t have the thoughts together in my head on it.

                      Maybe a less straightforward answer in current art would be Dwarf Fortress. We’ve seen it find its way onto the front page here a number of times, so I’m sure most of us are aware of it. Perhaps an adaptation of its massively complicated Game of Life approach to using the mechanics of game rules to create the conditions necessary to tell stories is the path forward? How do you take the next step, though? How do you cross the bridge from having a player, who is God (or in D&D terms, Dungeon Master) of their world, telling their stories from the moments these rules create, to having these stories created by those rules, to be told to the audience, lowered (although not completely) to passengers to the fates their save files hold for them.

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                        Could storytelling through the backdrop/veneer of 3d environments ever be as powerful a way to tell a story as cinema is, when it is distracted by gameplay?

                        I think what we call “games” is actually at least two different media. I thought Life is Strange was an excellent cinematic storytelling experience, one that benefitted greatly from being told in a 3d environment that the viewer was free to walk around and explore at their own pace. But most of the video game elements - the puzzles, the “get these x items and talk to y and z” sequences, the stealth movement sequences - detracted from the storytelling experience.

                        Storytelling in 3d environments has a future. Skill-based interactive experiences have a future. But they’re not the same future.

                        Stories that are fundamentally about making choices have their place too. (Phantom of Inferno is my favourite example of this because it’s devoid of the usual tricks: you get a genuine choice and can get what you want as a result of your choice, but you can’t have everything you want. Saya no Uta is probably a more accessible example: it’s a decidedly unsubtle short story that exists to make one simple point, and it’s a point that relies entirely on reader having chosen that narrative). But again I think it’s an accident of technology that this kind of narrative ends up being conflated with 3d environments and with gameplay.

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                          Great answer! Perhaps the existing friction lies in the sloppy synthesis between what could be three evolving categories of “video game”:

                          • Orthodox Mechanical
                            • Storytelling as a veneer for the mechanics
                            • Bioshock, other orthodox games
                          • Interactive Cinematics
                            • (mostly) Orthodox storytelling with digital mechanics as veneer
                            • Visual novels, Heavy Rain, “Walking Simulators”
                          • Roleplay Automata
                            • Mechanical storytelling
                            • The “Holodeck”, Dwarf Fortress
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                        I’m guessing he’s never played Planescape or King of Dragon Pass…

                        At their best game stories can be very dynamic, unfolding as you progress, sometimes evolving in unexpected ways, using the games internal systems to generate new stories or twists as time goes on.

                        Anybody who has played Crusader Kings 2 or similar games will know what I’m talking about

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                          Most people that write about video games haven’t played many of them.

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                          Interesting—I mostly play games for the story. I don’t care for multiplayer games or things like Minecraft. Instead, I prefer games like Final Fantasy series and Persona 5 that tell an interesting (to me) narrative.

                          Only exception is Phantom Pain. Story was awful but the gameplay was incredibly fun.

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                            I watched Persona 5 as a Youtube Lets Play. It works fine as an animated movie as well, if you skip over the tedious fighting.

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                            The advantage of video games over movies/books is that the immersion can be higher, because the player has invested more into it. The cost is that the designer must plot all the possible story lines instead of perfecting only one. This cost is probably one reason why the plot in games is usually not on the level of a novel. Psychologically, the Endowment Effect makes the game feel more valuable.

                            Personally, I would like the games industry to invest more into story generator games like Dwarf Fortress or Crusader Kings 2. Using the definition more generously even Minecraft fits. Essentially, these games mostly provide a sandbox which generates an infinite number of stories by simulation. Psychologically, Pareidolia and other effects enable this. Humans cannot help but make up narratives about everything. Consider stock market or sports reporters. For the most part they invent stories from random number generators. We play Pacman and characterize the ghosts.

                            Especially the role playing genre could improve. I intentionally avoid the term “RPG”, because it mostly means hack-and-slash and is not what I’m talking about. Dwarf Fortress adventure mode comes close. There is no predefined story. Just a big world to explore with lots of NPCs. The hard part is to generate a story where antagonists, sidekicks, etc emerge from the simulation. If anybody knows games in this direction, please tell me.

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                              Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Mass Effect solidly call massive bullshit on this. Also, BioShock was the best example author could come up with on stories in video games? Seriously!?

                              EDIT: Added Final Fantasy thanks to sotojuan. Damned memory haha.

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                                I feel like those are stories that are still more or less on rails. I think Bogost is looking for something like minecraft, or dayz or dwarf fortress, where there are mechanics, but the meaning and story is brought in by the player’s interaction with their environment.

                                Like tinkertoys for story building, but on a computer.

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                                  Hey now, the stories have plenty of interesting characters with emotional impact on top of it. It’s a good thing in games. Some games that is. I agree with the need for the other kind of game where story/meaning emerges from gameplay. I enjoy both. I know most others enjoy both although the proportions vary. I’m only rejecting the idea that we shouldn’t have the former.

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                                    Sure, fair enough. I also like games with stories on rails (like MGS), and branching stories (like Skyrim). I might be putting too much of myself in the article, but I think the article is looking for the recognition that a game can have a story even if it doesn’t have a script.

                                    I suppose Eve Online is a good example of a game with a story, but no script, now that I think on it

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                                The only games that have ever held my attention long enough to play for an appreciable amount of time (MMO Skinner Boxes excepted) are the ones with great stories.

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                                  I like ones with short yet emergent stories - like Faster Than Light. You start to care about your own people and want them to survive. You really feel regret when one gets eaten by a randomly generated mutant spider attack you could have avoided :)

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                                    I tried to like FTL, but it’s too random (and capriciously so). Every star: do the thing? No -> you’ll never gather enough loot to win. Yes -> 50/50 get some loot or random crew dies. The only choice is to pick yes and hope for the best. The game basically reduces to flip a coin 30 times and win if you get heads more than 20. I ended up not caring at all about crew because the mutant spiders can’t actually be avoided.

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                                      Side note, the only game I actually liked recently since FTL was factorio, which has essentially no story at all.

                                      Debugging a factory in that game gives such a different experience to how we normally do software debugging it made me think there must be something to be take away from that and put into regular development.

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                                  The premise of his article is…

                                  The best interactive stories are still worse than even middling books and films.

                                  Gameplay is the core differentiator of games from other mediums. If a game is all story and no gameplay, games might not be the right medium to tell the story (see: Gone Home, Telltale games, etc…). Likewise, if a game works well on gameplay alone, story isn’t necessary and can be intrusive. I don’t disagree with the author here, but he cherry-picks a few bad to mediocre examples of game storytelling where it’s a bit ham-fisted.

                                  Here are a bunch of examples of how games and storytelling work well together:

                                  • Some stories work best as games. NieR: Automata is a great recent example. The Last of Us is another one where the story is great on its own, but is deeply enhanced by the fact that you’re playing through it. Scenes that would work fine in a movie become deeply intense when you’re taking part. These are stories that I would argue are better than a lot of “middling books and films” on their own, and in a game setting provide a narrative experience approaching the best of those genres.

                                  • The Witcher is a great example of a series where the story may not be best-told via gameplay (the books are better, story-wise), but the stories are fantastic and support the game play and immersion. Story absolutely has a place in a game like this, and is only additive to the experience.

                                  • Some games have stories that don’t work outside of games, but only add to the fun of the game itself. The most recent Doom is a great example of this. Nobody cares about the story in Doom, so it didn’t need to be great, and it wouldn’t be much of a novel or movie, but it’s a fun narrative to follow and makes the game better. Superhot and Portal are a couple of games with fun stories that could only shine in a game setting.

                                  Yes, many games fail at storytelling, but it doesn’t mean the medium isn’t suited for it. Not every game has to be 100% emergent.