Games as Story

I’m a fiction writer. I also have a thing for games, particularly roleplaying games. So, I’ve been reading about game design.

An essay I read this week struck me as funny. According to the author, games aren’t fiction. This is hilarious given that we’re talking about fantasy role-playing games! I’m planning a review of the entire book later, but I needed to say something about this one now.

Yes, they are different

Ok. Yes. Writing a book and designing a game aren’t the same thing, which is what the author meant. A story is under the control of the writer, with relatively little interference. But a game involves other people and (usually) random dice rolls. There are genuine differences in the use, writing and structure of the work.

But, unless your game is replicating events that actually happened, any story attached to the game is still fiction. And an exact replay of actual events isn’t really a game either…

But… There’s still a story

Games aren’t (usually) fiction stories. But, with the exception of games like checkers, there’s still some element of story involved. In board games, the story falls in the setup and rationale for the gameplay. In video games, it’s the same. But in video games, you’re often taking part in a prescribed series of events (which the designers might have drawn out on story boards…). And in first-person shooters (FPS) and roleplaying games (RPGs), you’re actually taking part in a story.

Player investment and participation are part of what makes writing a book and a game different, but it’s still taking part in a story. Particularly in the case of RPGs. Whether tabletop or online, roleplaying games require story. Many elements of story are integral to the game, even if all you’re doing is running around a maze killing things.

Why, when, and how we tell the story matters

Story matters in games, especially RPGs. Designing and writing a game isn’t the same as writing traditional fiction. But that’s because there are other people taking part in the storytelling process (or taking part differently at least).

The more I read about game design, the more I see a variation on a familiar theme. The book I’m reading has many familiar topics and elements, as I’ll show when I review the book. The differences are in the expectations and participation of the audience. When we have more people involved in the storytelling process, we have to adjust the way we think and write (less novelist and more playwright perhaps…)

I’ll follow up on this after I’ve finished the book, dear reader. But for now, good luck in the things you write and the games you play. And, I’ll see you next post.

Published by Farangian

I'm a writer (fiction and non fiction) with a Masters in Psychology. I am also a sculptor, metal smith, lapidary, tutor/trainer, and eternal student. The name Farangian comes from the name of a fantasy world I created called Farangia. That name comes from Farang with is a term that the Thai use for westerners.

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