You take games too seriously.

Trapped in the Sandbox

 First off, big thanks to N’Gai for the link. We knew appealing to the vanity Google Alerts of our heroes would pay off (right, JEREMY PARISH?).
But back on the subject of narrative – Chris suggested last that maybe the answer is that narrative is what brings us into a game, teaches us how to use it and what it is capable of. He then suggested that maybe what the gaming could eventually reach would be an end of the strict, linear narrative – that once we had our tools, the player would define the story.
While I’m not going to pick on him for using Portal as an example – a game that really couldn’t function in a open world, because its joys are being faced with one brain-melting puzzle at a time – I do need to disagree with a big part of his point.
The open world, one of the much-vaunted accomplishments of next-gen games… Just isn’t as much fun as it should be. And I feel like it will be even less fun when we move into a zero-narrative mentality.
An open world in a narrative game (leaving out Burnout Paradise, for example, as a non-narrative), as far as current design is concerned, means one of two things. In one, we are going from mission to mission, location to location. This is the Grand Theft Auto or Zelda model – where there are side quests, but the world really only functions to get us from one point to another.
Or, there’s the model of a Crysis or Deus Ex – where there are a bunch of different ways to accomplish one objective – knock down the hut, sneak into the hut, create a distraction outside the hut, but you BETTER BLOW UP THAT HUT.
Both of these are satisfying, in their own way, but their self-imposed limitations are the story. We know we have a goal because we have a goal.
Zero-narrative means a world that’s not a sandbox as we know of it – it would mean that in Grand Theft Auto we can have our character join the police force. Or work at the porn theatre. Or beg for change. And all of that means writing, and story. What you seem to be looking for isn’t zero-narrative, it’s mega-narrative, a bigger and bigger sandbox, where you can take a number of paths out of, say, Portal’s Aperture Labs.
I’m asking for one well-defined story, whose narrative development parallels the development of the way I play it. Sure, it might not be innovative as a narratological (… I’m trying to use the buzzwords, Chris, I really am) form, but I feel like the best games follow that model, and for a damn good reason.

Filed under: Commentary, Story Analysis

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this is a blog about video games by chris plante, sam ryan and chris littler.

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