Author Topic: Emergent narrative: Do text-based games stop us from making up our own stories?  (Read 4048 times)


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I've played some XCOM recently, and I was excited to see that its capacity for emergent, gameplay-driven storytelling was not lost on its creators:

With XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the development team saw the game as a platform for players to create their own stories -- they wanted to encourage an internal narrative to unfold each time they play.

Games like The Elder Scrolls series also support emergent narratives; DeAngelis remembers a moment in his experience of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that affected him so profoundly he wrote about it in grad school: Short on cash, he was looting a regal armoire when he realized he wasn't alone in the room. He had to make quick work of the resident, but managed not to alert any guards.

"As I took his items, I discovered that he was a well-known aristocrat in the town," he describes. "I changed costumes and slowly made my way to the overworld, praying I could escape before anyone noticed. I was a dozen yards from the exit, when a guard made a beeline for me, sword still sheathed. He confronted me and whispered 'I've got my eye on you'... then he walked away."

Guards used random lines on players all the time in Morrowind. "In fact, they probably said that particular line to me before for no particular reason other than to sound dutiful, but because of the mini-narrative I was weaving in my head, that line of dialogue, at that exact moment, had an enormous impact on my experience," DeAngelis recalls.

Games naturally lend themselves to certain stories - stories of adventure, overcoming overwhelming odds, escaping by the skin of your teeth. My question is two-fold:

  • Can we - should we - get this kind of narrative in text-driven games? It rarely appears in most gamebooks and text adventures, because the story is so defined by the author's text.
  • How can we build a game that tells a story that's not traditional to a game?