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Googleshng
09-29-2010, 11:42 PM
Someone said something in the Other M thread that reminded me of my thoughts on that whole bit where Ebert was trolling everyone saying games can't tell stories a while back:
But that is also why people say that Samus is poorly defined. Because that's what she did when you were playing. When I fight Ridley Samus first checks to see if she can get back out of the door, then proceeds to fight with a combination of spastic jumping and erratically fired missiles, just barely eking out a victory. Not at all the picture of a stoic badass.

I didn't want to just reply over there because, well, I'd kinda like to get talk going on this on it's own rather than poking the hornet's nest again. Anyway though, here's why arguments like that quoted above don't really hold water: When approaching a game as a storytelling medium, the correct means of parsing the narrative is to play as skillfully as possible.

That might not sound fair at first, but it's true. Let's say I pick up some manga, never having seen one before, and try to read it. Being inexperienced with the medium and its conventions, I will most likely start trying to read it from left to right. If I'm TOTALLY doing it wrong, and I'm looking at every page in the wrong order, I'm not going to get anything out of it, and probably come off with the whole sense that there isn't any actual story in here at all. If I have the pages right but not the panels (I've seen people actually print things in a way that encourages this surprisingly often), odds are it won't affect me all that badly. I'll generally get the main gist, but a lot of the specific details I'll get wrong, like if someone character A is actually answering a series of character B's questions, I might misinterpret it as character A just rambling on, and character B repeating phrases that confuse him questioningly, or vice versa. If I get that down, I should pretty much be good to go, but if they start throwing around some complex panel layouts, or spill word balloons into other frames, or throw around conventions I'm not familiar with like nosebleeds of lust, sleep snot bubbles, those NPC ascii-art faces, I'm not likely to understand things as they are meant to be understood.

Same deal with games. If I keep falling into holes, that doesn't mean it's part of the story that Mario keeps falling into holes. It means I'm doing it wrong. If I do it right, I am rewarded with the correct version of the story, wherein Mario leaps and bounds through a surreal landscape of giant mushrooms and gaping chasms with eyes on all the clouds and bushes.

The downside is that while learning how to read manga is a reasonably easy thing to do, games go out of their way to make it hard for you. Play enough games and you'll be able to play any game well enough to get the gist, but most games are idiosyncratic enough that you'll need to familiarize yourself with all their unique quirks before you can make your way through.

The upside is that while having a book or a movie that's hard to parse doesn't accomplish anything besides making the people who get it feel smart and letting the whole thing go over everyone else's head (ever watch Memento with someone who just can't get their head around the the middle-out structuring?) with a game, anyone who reaches the end of the story should get a pretty good understanding of it, and the difficulty in reaching the end mirrors the difficulty the protagonist faces in a way that REALLY helps you identify with them on an emotional level other media just can't touch.

Incidentally, with the manga analogy, Ebert is appalled by the notion that he actually has to TURN THE PAGES, with his HAND. Although in his defense, I guess the pages are all stuck together or something.

Peach
09-30-2010, 01:00 AM
I didn't want to just reply over there because, well, I'd kinda like to get talk going on this on it's own rather than poking the hornet's nest again. Anyway though, here's why arguments like that quoted above don't really hold water: When approaching a game as a storytelling medium, the correct means of parsing the narrative is to play as skillfully as possible.

I'd argue that it's, more specifically, to play as skillfully as possible within a reasonable range of the creator's intent. When you break a game in half or goof around, it works at cross-purposes with the intended narrative just as much as when you fail spectacularly. Luckily, we play games for more than the narrative, even if I still always reload after, say, the occasional bout of GTA vehicular homicide wackiness.

Also, I've never interpreted player death in a game (that doesn't offer a narrative context for it, like, say, Maximo) as more than a non-canon end. Remove the deaths from a completed Mario playthrough, for instance, and you have a narrative completely in keeping with the game's loose dream logic.

Kayin
09-30-2010, 01:13 AM
So us metroid guys are mad in the Other M thread because we're good at Metroid and our Samus is badass. AWESOME.

But seriously yes, I think you're mostly right. Understanding conventions is a big deal. God, my sister is always confused by anime stuff (like if I draw someone blushing and the blush crosses the nose, she's like 'what' and I'm like 'nono, it's acceptable in this style' and thats just the art!). I wouldn't say the 'truest game' is one played perfectly or reasonably perfectly, but it often is. We know Solid Snake is less incompetent then our play skills can lead us to believe, but a weaker protagonist can infer more... hiccups. It all comes down to just understanding the convention of games and thats a lot of the reason why old folk don't get gaming. You need to live it awhile before you truly speak the language. Now even then, we'll each interpret things different, but thats not much different from other media, it's just a lot more apparent. Still, two people can have a totally different interpretation of a character on a SHOW or MOVIE or BOOK. It's not that far off.

Googleshng
09-30-2010, 01:20 AM
Right, looking for crazy bugs/exploitable weirdness the designers didn't expect you to work out isn't "playing skillfully" it's just... picking the game apart like an obsessive weirdo. Not that that's a bad thing to do. The literary equivalent would be like, stopping every page to try and figure out what inspired the author to write this particular chapter, researching that, and predicting how things will unfold based on that.

Basically playing skillfully is- You actively pursue reaching the end of the game at all times (not speed running, just staying goal oriented), never dying, never getting stuck, and, you know, generally maintaining a consistent level of general competence where the easy bits you breeze through flawlessly and the hardest bits you barely squeeze by (or also breeze through if it's just a generally easy game).

How well you can manage that is partly dependent on how well the game is designed, but again, that's not really exclusive to the medium. If someone's a terrible game designer they'll make an unfair roadblock boss right up front, if someone's a terrible artist they'll paint some vague blob that's supposed to be a clock but looks more like a pear or something. The biggest difference being that it's a whole lot easier to find people to teach you the fundamentals of, say, 3 point perspective, or how to light a dramatic scene than it is to find people to teach you how to lay out an EXP curve or pace a platforming sequence.

Bongo Bill
09-30-2010, 02:51 AM
guhhhhhh

Can't you assholes keep this in one thread that I can ignore?

Kayin
09-30-2010, 02:54 AM
guhhhhhh

Can't you assholes keep this in one thread that I can ignore?

This is thread racism.

Silver
09-30-2010, 03:09 AM
This goes far deeper than just the mechanical aspect of absorbing a mediums narrative, like understanding how to turn the pages of a manga or how to play a videogame.

The way we interact with videogames is just unique. With videogames, apart of what defines the narrative is how you absorb it. It's about relating gameplay experiences. There's no escaping this.

As an example, Etrian Odyssey 3 has a storyline, but I find that the real story is my own personal gameplay experiences; my choices, my method, my party composition, my failures and successes. Every Metriod has some form of narrative, but the larger narrative is your own interactions within the game; exploring, adapting, learning, conquering, or failing, the experience is independently yours. Every Mario is this way. Every Legend of Zelda is this way. Even the most rigidly narrative driven JRPG's offer this particular quality.

Movies, novels, plays, music, don't have to contend with this in the same way. The difference is that the narrative is always the same; there is no mechanical manipulation of that narrative. You either get it or don't. The experience is different based on personal opinion.

To that end, the way we define a videogames narrative, and certainly, the way we interact with videogames as a whole is more organic and harder to pin down.

Googleshng
09-30-2010, 04:19 AM
A big component of that is that branching narratives are actively encouraged in games while in other media (choose your own adventure books, interactive DVDs, improv theater, karaoke bars) it's generally considered a sign of dirt poor quality if anyone is even mentioning the idea. That's just an interesting side effect of that whole bit where it's inherently easy as hell to empathize with the protagonist in a game. This is kinda getting into semantics though, where really I'm trying to get into the whole notion of game design as a direct means of creating an emotional state and understanding of events and characterization if properly approached. As opposed to having some gameplay with a movie grafted onto the side of it.

I'm not going to use Super Metroid as an example because I kinda specifically created this thread to not do that, so let's look at Shadow of the Colossus. It's great for this. HUGE SPOILER WARNING if you haven't played it. You are, for fairly simple reasons, exploring a huge desolate wasteland, looking for these giant creatures and killing them to accomplish something. It very clearly comes across that this is a monumental quest which requires you to be really driven, and not too far in you should at least have the nagging suspicion that it is very wrong for you to be killing these things. This culminates with you accomplishing your goal, in the process being transformed into a giant monster not unlike what you've been killing, at which point a bunch of guys come along to kill you.

There's almost no dialog in this game. The visuals help, a LOT, but I seriously believe that you would still take all that away from the experience of playing the game if it conveyed only the bare minimum information to be playable. Strip out the soundtrack, take off all the textures, just have blocky polygonal constructs with flat shading and some really simple color coding so you can tell what surfaces you can grab and what points you need to stab, darken the sketchy stick figure that is the main character after each kill. The same plot comes across, all just from what you are forced to do if you want to finish the game.

Another game that WOULD make a great example of this if anyone was willing to actually play it is Siren. Seriously, that game is frelling AWESOME at the whole show-don't-tell approach in general. You just have to be willing to play a crazy hard 20 hour stealth/horror game with a weird non-linear meta-puzzle structure to it, and that's asking a lot. The important thing about it though is while the gameplay pretty much always boils down to Sneak Past Unkillable Zombies To Reach The Other Side Of The Map, Sometimes After First Grabbing A Thing, it jumps around between 10 or so characters with a pronounced difference in the mood to their gameplay.

My favorite example, especially for illustrating this point, is the doctor. You play as him in I think it's... 5 10 minute or so sequences over the course of the game. He really doesn't show up in cut scenes until after you're done with him as a playable character. With a slight exception on the ending of the last one, all 5 of his sequences go like this: You start here (where you reached last time, just kinda lost in the woods the first time). You have to reach the exit of this map section. That's about all you get in terms of exposition from the game. He has an awesome character arc though.

First sequence- You're alone in the woods, it's confusing and maze-like. You're unarmed. There's freaky zombies patrolling around, they will kill you. Subtracting out the many times you die before figuring out what you need to do, you're eventually going to get pretty good at running around, staying ahead of them, and hiding. You're eventually going to notice there's only two ways out of the woods, and they're both a bridge with a sniper in the middle. @#$%, you're going to have to get past one of them. Searching around, you can find... I think it was a tire iron, and a phone card. Great, a weapon, but they can kill you before you're anywhere near them still. Turns out you have to lure one of the snipers off the bridge using a pay phone, hide in the bushes nearby, then rush out and club the %$@# out of his head before he can raise his gun then run for it when he goes down. One of the tensest moments in the game.

After that, next time you play as him, they throw in a fair number of zombies in bothersome positions with their backs to you, set up some puzzles like the phone bit that amount to you having to set a trap and brain a zombie to advance (including the rather infamous frozen towel bit). The game trains you more and more (only while playing the doctor though) to ambush zombies and cave their heads in with blunt objects. You reach a point where as soon as you see you're playing the doctor, you start thinking like a murderer. Last sequence you play as him, the objective screen comes up? You're just actively going out to drop a particularly weird zombie pretty much just out of the sick curiosity/pleasure you've built up in doing this so far.

Again, pure gameplay character arc (reinforced by later cutscenes). Everyone in the game has one of these. The teacher ends up playing Badass Momma Bear for a little kid. That kid? Hiding in closets is her whole thing. Crazy old guy? @$#% it, it's kill or be killed. Etc. etc. And again, they never come out and tell you "here is how you play as this character." They just design scenarios where you're forced to work it out for yourself. Which is Good.

Thinaran
09-30-2010, 05:39 AM
If you don't fail any of the QTEs in Heavy Rain and do stuff correctly, every hero is alive at the end, you save the kid, you're not caught by the police, everyone is happy. A gamer will get the best ending during his first run.

It's kind of silly you have to play "badly" to get the other six endings.

Brickroad
09-30-2010, 06:21 AM
I almost made this point in the Other M thread, but then didn't because that seemed like a can'o'worms I didn't want to really touch.

But yeah, I basically agree.

Unrelated: I love Raiden because his response to waking up naked strapped to a wall is to spend the next two hours cartwheel kicking people while totally ignoring the fact that he might be insane.

Bleck
09-30-2010, 07:58 AM
Unrelated: I love Raiden because his response to waking up naked strapped to a wall is to spend the next two hours cartwheel kicking people while totally ignoring the fact that he might be insane.

I am agreeing wholeheartedly with this.

Also, since this thread has Fox in the title, you know what kind of story I like in games? The kind that doesn't interrupt the game play at all.

Look at Star Fox 64. In the opening sequence, it explains how Fox's father was betrayed by Pigma and killed by Andross, and only Peppy escaped. Andross is now some kind of monkey Hitler and wants to blow up the universe.

You then spend the rest of the game blowing up aliens with your lasers, the only story exposition being brief moments that explain;

a) Falco is some kind of ex-criminal associated with Kat
b) Fox was at some point in the Cornerian Flight Academy
c) Slippy is good at building things
d) Fox has encountered, or at least heard of, Star Wolf prior to the events of the game

Once the game is finished, you get a cutscene where General Pepper offers to induct you formally into the Cornerian Air Force - but you decline, as you prefer doing things your own way. You then run off into the sunset and fly your giant spaceship into some clouds.

All in all, probably not even ten minutes worth of scenes in the game. And yet, there's a whole bunch of story there that you can just think up by yourself. Why does Fox decide to leave the academy and take up his father's mantle? How does Fox meet Falco and Slippy? What's the deal with Star Wolf?

All of these things go largely unexplained, but when I was eight years old and playing Star Fox 64 at my grandparents house, I thought it was fun to think up my own answers and plot. Is it really that much of a problem for video games to sometimes leave most of the storytelling up to you? Does anyone here think that Star Fox 64 would have been vastly improved with the addition of two hours of cutscenes?

Parish
09-30-2010, 10:43 AM
I'm angry that this thread isn't an expository comic featuring Fox McCloud in a Zot! T-shirt deconstructing videogame storytelling. Screw you for instilling false hopes in the heart of an innocent young lad like me, Googleshng.

Wheels
09-30-2010, 10:45 AM
The Prof. in my flash gaming class has the last name McCloud. True story.

Kishi
09-30-2010, 10:53 AM
All of these things go largely unexplained, but when I was eight years old and playing Star Fox 64 at my grandparents house, I thought it was fun to think up my own answers and plot.

I think that's where you got this:

a) Falco is some kind of ex-criminal

Calorie Mate
09-30-2010, 10:59 AM
...trust your instincts?

Eddie
09-30-2010, 11:00 AM
I basically disagree with the idea that the 'correct' narrative is the one where the 'character' plays through it 'skillfully', but I think my issue is how Google is defining 'skillfully.' Google seems to define it as "you blow through the easy part, but have difficulty (but still prevail) in the hard parts" but that's so subjective that I fine such a definition worthless.

If the definition is that the correct narrative is one where the player never dies (ignoring games where dying is a requirement to continue), then okay. We're in narrative agreement. In such a case, then it's okay that I beat Toad Man with only a sliver of life left.

If however, the definition is that you play 'so skillfully that Toad Man doesn't hurt you' then we have a narrative problem. If Toad Man can't hurt you, then why is he a narrative threat?

- Eddie

Egarwaen
09-30-2010, 01:04 PM
I'm angry that this thread isn't an expository comic featuring Fox McCloud in a Zot! T-shirt deconstructing videogame storytelling. Screw you for instilling false hopes in the heart of an innocent young lad like me, Googleshng.

Don't worry, there's enough cartoonists around here that I'm sure someone will do it eventually.

Googleshng
09-30-2010, 01:25 PM
I'm angry that this thread isn't an expository comic featuring Fox McCloud in a Zot! T-shirt deconstructing videogame storytelling. Screw you for instilling false hopes in the heart of an innocent young lad like me, Googleshng.

It totally would have been if I could draw competently.

I basically disagree with the idea that the 'correct' narrative is the one where the 'character' plays through it 'skillfully', but I think my issue is how Google is defining 'skillfully.' Google seems to define it as "you blow through the easy part, but have difficulty (but still prevail) in the hard parts" but that's so subjective that I fine such a definition worthless.

If the definition is that the correct narrative is one where the player never dies (ignoring games where dying is a requirement to continue), then okay. We're in narrative agreement. In such a case, then it's okay that I beat Toad Man with only a sliver of life left.

If however, the definition is that you play 'so skillfully that Toad Man doesn't hurt you' then we have a narrative problem. If Toad Man can't hurt you, then why is he a narrative threat?

- Eddie

That's... exactly the point I was making actually. If you're just TOTALLY some crazy god of videogames who can get past anything without ever taking a hit or breaking a sweat, you're not getting the proper emotional impact of the game, but any game designer who's half-way competent should be able to design a game in such a fashion that they can intentionally make the target audience breeze through some sections, and seriously sweat over others.

It's subjective in that yeah, for some people, they're all hard parts or all easy parts, but there's a baseline of skill expected in the player that the difficulty of the game is anticipating. It's like saying it's unfair to expect someone to appreciate an H.P. Lovecraft story because seriously, who has that sort of vocabulary? The people the author intended to read it do, so we're cool, if you want in, learn a few $5 words (and then be disappointed by how it totally doesn't live up to the mental image people's abuse of the word "Lovecraftian" instilled in you).

Alixsar
09-30-2010, 06:44 PM
This thread makes my brain scream out in pain. That rhymed

Sanagi
10-01-2010, 01:10 AM
http://img37.imageshack.us/img37/8616/01bi.gif (http://www.scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/mi/mi-22/mi-22.html)

....