Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What is a good game story?

It has been the case -- or the assumption -- that since time immemorial a good story is something universal. A good story in a play will be a good story in a book or in a movie. This is, of course, assuming it is not a ham-handed adaptation from one media to another.

In other words, the assumption has been that a well-executed story in any medium, if it is taken up and placed down in a well-executed way in another medium, will still be a good story. Sufficient adaptations of Shakespeare plays exist, for example, across numerous other media. When they are well done, they are good stories. "Macbeth" becomes "Throne of Blood," "Romeo and Juliet" becomes "West Side Story" or Fellini's "Romeo and Juliet." Good stories have always been (and I shall repeat the critical caveat: 'If well executed') good stories across other media.

Yet with video games I am no longer so sure that this assumption is valid. How would one make the Macbeth game? Start off hunting ingredients for the witches, then accepting or not their interpretation of your fate? Kill Banquo or let him live, and if you live, what happens during the feast scene?

I need to think about this, because players and critics alike clamour for 'good stories' in video games, and I am one of those who is paid in order to deliver it. So the question breaks down into a few sub-topics:
  • What is a good non-video game (traditional) story, and why?
  • What is a good video game story, and why?
  • Is there common ground, and if so, what is it?
  • If there is no (or minimal) common ground, what should I be writing?
The two nouns that are coming to me, as I think about this topic, are "purpose" and "shape." I am beginning to like these two nouns. I will mull them over, and perhaps bring other friends over to meet them as I ponder these topics.