One of the questions being asked in gaming today is how important is the storyline when a person plays a game? The answer to this question is up to debate as all questions are. In my search to find my answer to this question I am playing more games and different kinds of games than ever before and writing an interactive fiction game. To be perfectly honest, I am writing an interactive fiction game for a class on new media and rhetoric, but it is still helping me answer this question.
One side of the argument is that a game needs no, or very little, story in order to be a good game. To test this I played Candyland with my friend Emily. There is a skeleton of a story in Candyland: be the first player to King Kandy’s castle by moving to the color of the square on your card. The mad race that ensued was concrete evidence that a story really does not have anything to do with a game being fun. The mechanics of the game is just to pick a card from the stack and move to that color square on the board. To make this form of play more interesting are the pink squares on the board that are the home for assorted candies and pastries. With these cards in play, it is possible to skip to nearly the end of the board from the get go, but also possible to be closing in on King Kandy’s castle and get sent back to the start of the board. This makes for very fun, competitive game play.
But what happens when you do want to fill your game with a story? What does a game writer need to consider? To answer these questions and see how to tell a story in a gaming format, I am playing the interactive fiction (IF) game Metamorphoses by Emily Short. Her story is very interesting. It is based on the medieval the concepts of the four humors, alchemy, and magic. In the game the player is a being that is summoned by a master to bring said master items from all four humors. The player has to figure out how to play the game based on simple commands that are in all IF games and clues that Short writes into the surrounding landscape. For example, at the beginning the player is in a dark cave with a lake, a mirror, a bell, and rock. After almost of hour of gameplay, I finally figured out I was supposed to throw the rock at the bell to summon a boatman to carry me across the lake to my next destination. Here are a few things I learned from Short for when I write my IF game. First, the writer cannot be lazy when describing the landscape. S/He must remember every single leaf, worm, and blade of grass that is pointed out in the story. Pointing things out that seem significant and turn out not to be is infuriating. And when making puzzles for the player to solve, make the puzzle solvable in about ten minutes. Because spending an hour plus trying to get a key out of a magic apple and making no progress is infuriating.
So, in short, games with no storyline seem to be more enjoyable to me because it feels like you accomplish something. If your story is intriguing but you game extremely difficult to play, I’m going to stop playing.