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Narrative and Genre

So here’s something new I’ve been pondering:

I’ve been getting back into the point-and-click puzzle solver recently. I got a copy of the remastered Grim Fandango, was given a copy of a game called Amazone. I found myself considering their stories more deeply, the way they allude to future events early on, spin threads of narrative across chapters, acts, ages…

A P&C has a tendency to be a fairly linear game-style, moving from puzzle to puzzle, unable to progress to the next until the first is complete. More often than not you’ll be able to resolve multiple puzzles alongside one another, so if you’re stuck on one you can move to another for a while, so on, so forth. This kind of progression is not for everyone but it offers the genre one fantastic opportunity, cohesive and consistent story telling.

Discworld 2 - Morality bytes_3

RPGs offer a similar experience, although rarely is the story quite so imperative. As in the film industry action often draws some of the priority away from the story, although time constraints aren’t a factor as they are in films, story requires a break in action, and the more story the greater the pauses in between action opportunities. It’s very difficult to weave both together simultaneously, and doing so often detracts from one or the other experience anyway.

That’s not to say of course that puzzle-solving is not without its’ deficits. Getting stuck on a puzzle can often lead to rage quitting which has a tendency to break the flow of narrative rather devastatingly, but they are advantaged heavily by the fact that the entirety of the gameplay (at least in a well designed game) is part of the story itself.

Myst III Exile is a prime example, each age visited is supposed to teach a valuable lesson that led the boys Sirrus and Achenar to a corrupted conclusion, and their vengeful victim Saavedro uses those lesson ages to teach Atrus a lesson of his own.

Each puzzle develops the ages as a rich and living world, every step uncovers some new dark truth about the arcing legends surrounding the series, and of course as with every Myst game there are books dotted around to add to the experience.

I think one of my favourite aspects of any game are things like books and journal entries. The Elder Scrolls games have the richest library to choose from, but Dishonored, Myst, the Witcher, and even the occasional FPS often have material worth the read or listen to. The sad fact is that in most games the introduction of book stops the flow of play altogether while you take a break to read, that’s why in the Witcher and ESO the effects of reading said book are immediately noticeable: “Block skill increased”  or “Information added to journal”

That’s not to say that the relaxed pace of a P&C makes the storyline any more memorable, indeed RPGs and FPS games have the advantage when they successfully blend action and narrative in creating more dramatically tense moments that stay in our minds that much better, but depending on how you play can make those moments few and far between, or readily clicked-through distractions to the bloodshed and looting.

And what of other gaming genres? Is the platformer limited entirely to the story of “Try the next castle, swear I saw some shady looking dragon-turtle going in there!” Does strategy remove you too far from the personal experience to offer a rich storyline? Or does the scale of forces only add to the opportunities for grandiose moments of significance?

I open the question then to you, humble reader (or arrogant reader, I don’t judge), what narrative devices do you enjoy in games? What genre do you think best suits the story tellers art?

Naah! I’ll just tell you. It’s tabletop, it’ll always be tabletop! But hey, the question’s out there.


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