Keep it interactive or kill your game
Video games tell stories, even when in the beginning they lacked of every narrative element, after the 90’s stories provided an objective to the player and an evolution on how the game is played, so the situations around us can be justified by information given as we play:
So we are walking through a world with bricks straight right, but why this way? Oh, theres a Castle, and when I go through the challenge in this place, someone tells me that the princess is in another castle, so I have to walk through other levels until I find the castle where the princess is.
The objective in a game will motivate the player to keep playing, and through its interaction, the player is able move through the evolution of the story that is given for him to follow. The importance of a narrative structure has overtaken the interaction in a sense of treating a game as it was a movie or a book to a point in which the game is forcing the player to behave in a certain way in order to connect with the behavior of the “avatar” (meaning, the game character controlled by the player), and even when the game developers need the player to go into a very specific situation, they take away every type of control he or she might have over the avatar while there is a cutscene being played or quick time event in which the player has to follow a pattern of buttons that’s given to him as if he was playing a rhythm game with no music.
As a video game consumer, it’s disappointing to be stuck in a game that is playing itself, and seem undecided between becoming a movie or keep it a game, as I cannot play because it keeps me walking from one cutscene to another, and I cannot buy myself some popcorn and enjoy the “movie” because once the cutscene is over I will have to grab the controller again with my fingers covered in butter. There are even games that tend to tell the story and use some quick time events as a tool to keep the attention of the audience.
Alan Wake is a game in which the main character has to stop a Dark Entity that kidnaped his wife and is trying to reach the human world, using Alan to write the story to its benefit. Even frames are set in a way that it feels like it’s a movie, the selected soundtrack that creates an awesome atmosphere of suspense and mystery that matches the plot. Different elements refer to famous thriller and horror movies and books, and it’s all cool and pretty until you realize that you are just walking from one cutscene to another, and your interaction is not relevant to the game as long as you keep moving forward.
Interaction is what defines the industry and differentiates it from other forms of narrative. A game with no interaction is a game that doesn’t need to be played.
Let’s take a look at the following image:
In Pokemon, the game developed by Creatures Inc., we find ourselves in a world of creatures co-existing along with humans as partners or even assisting in different jobs; they even get to battle the fights of humans. The picture is set beginning the game, explained by a professor who will introduce the world to us, but it is us (players) who will have to discover it ourselves through our journey.
Walking the Pokemon world, we will encounter different situations like the picture we’ve just seen that may not have an impact to the plot but let us be aware of a world that’s existing whether we decide to be part of it or not. It’s an invitation to explore, and the way you explore, the way you play, the decisions you make, will be different from the way other players do, so each of them is crafting their very own story; even the avatar would have your name.
Am I saying that games with a linear story are bad just for their structure?
There’s a game called “Momodora: Reverie under the moonlight” released on 2016 and developed by the independent video game studio called “Bomb Service”. The game is actually short as the main story can even be played in less than 3 hours if we go straight to the objective, which has a linear story, so we can get a sense that the map is limited to some areas. Well, that didn’t stop the series to set up the story in the Lun village, where we have to stop a curse from spreading to the entire kingdom; people living in fear can be seen, and we also follow the story of another character from which we can imply is already dead as he's walking bones looking for his wife. It is in the grave of his beloved one where we see the guy for the last time.
These stories don’t impact the main character, and sometimes we as players cannot do anything but see some characters collapsing to their death. We are not forced to watch a cutscene, so players might try to save them just to see that attempts are useless. This motivates the player to go deeper into the darkness giving us a compromise to the defeated ones. Yes, we play in the shoes of the main character, but we are never taken away from this role, so we adopt her story as ours.
The emotion that triggers the strongest reaction of the audience is the loss, when I studied Script writing, teachers used to say that over and over, but they didn’t mean a loss for the main character, but for the audience themselves; you have to build a connection with the character first and then take it away from them. Imagine how powerful this reaction will be if the audience adopt the story of the avatar as their own.