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Do you play video games for the plot? Given that most people don’t actually finish most games, it would be unexpected if storytelling were the most important element. Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by former video game professional (current TV development exec) Donald E. Marshall to talk through types of plots (linear, “string-of-pearls,” and branching), ways of weaving story into a game, balancing gameplay and storytelling, and more.
We touch on Death Stranding, Overwatch, The Last of Us, Skyrim, Fallout, Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, Erica, Bioshock, Telltale Games, Journey, Bandersnatch, Days Gone, Portal, and more. (That casual game Mark jokes about is Simon’s Cat Pop Time.)
Some articles and other sources:
- “When Video Games Tell Stories: A Model of Video Game Narrative Architectures” by Marcello Arnaldo Picucci (2014)
- “The Evolution of Video Games as a Storytelling Medium, and the Role of Narrative in Modern Games” by Chris Stone
- “Writing for Video Games: A Conversation with E. Lily Yu, Yoon Ha Lee, Robert Reed, Seth Dickinson, and Karl Schroeder” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
- “How to Write a Video Game Story” by Colin Campbell
- “A Hugo Award for Best Game or Interactive Experience” by Ira Alexandre
- The Dialog Podcast: s1e08 “Video Game Narrative Design and Writing Science Fantasy Novels with Carrie Patel”
You can also read some lists of games that supposedly have the best plots at GamesRadar, Ranker, and The Gamer.
Don is also a podcaster, having previously been a host of GeeksOn and now on The Big Fat Gay Podcast. Here’s info about the Wheel of Time TV show. One relevant GeeksOn episode is #102. Do you skip the NPC dialogue?
This episode includes bonus discussion that you can hear now by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop.
This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by openculture.com.
Jacob Jarecki says
I loved the discussion in this episode.
I do think, though, that there is a certain class of games that have the gameplay mechanics tightly intertwined with the experience of the story, and I don’t think you happened to mention any of them.
The best example of this, in my opinion, is “Her Story”. It is also a game that is wonderful for newcomers to games, since it requires no reaction time, just the ability to type words and watch videos.
It’s a fun game to go into blind, since the mechanic is quite unique, but I will spoil it below since I am sure you don’t always have the time to dig into all suggestions from listeners blindly.
You are essentially a detective sitting at a computer, sifting through a database of witness interviews that are cataloged by the words spoken in them. Searching for “murder” will present you with the first five clips were the witness said that word. You listen to an interview clip, learn a bit of information, and, this is the key, decide for yourself what to search next that you think will complete your understanding of what happened. It thus winds up linking the mechanic of the game (searching), with your experience of the story, and furthermore with the setting of the game, since your character’s purpose is simply to understand what happened.
I hope you enjoy if you play, and otherwise found the idea of the game interesting!