What makes a metanarrative?

Talk about your skill passion! Ask questions, get feedback, post something cool!

Moderator: samw3

User avatar
HanClinto
Site Admin
Posts: 1502
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:37 am

What makes a metanarrative?

Postby HanClinto » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:42 pm

Not sure how many of you caught this blog post at Pixel Poppers back in November. I found it really insightful, and I've been ruminating on it for a while, and so wanted to post it to get all y'all's thoughts.

Play Me A Story, Part Two: What Makes A Metanarrative?
Whether you're watching a DVD or playing a videogame, you have control over the progression of the experience. You may hold a remote or you may hold a controller, but the action on the screen will start, stop, pause, and continue, in response to the buttons you press.

The fundamental difference is the degree of choice you hold. With a movie, you can only choose whether to proceed. With a game, you choose how to proceed. Even subtle or trivial decisions, such as on what path to move your character, or which weapon to use on enemies, or where to position the camera, engage you in the creation of your own experience.
"My older boys have been playing Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii since they were four and six, and there is more decision making in ten seconds of that game than there is in ten hours of Candy Land or Sorry."
—Danny Choo, The case against Candy Land

Yet few would argue that Super Mario Galaxy tells a story about the player, rather than one about Mario. It presents the player with choices, but this is not enough to make it a metanarrative - a story about its own audience - any more than crossing out a character's name in a book and writing in the reader's name instead will cause the book to be a metanarrative about the reader.

So what does make a metanarrative? What must the decisions be like in order to confer narrative power, responsibility, and focus to the player? What do they have to do?

A small handful of specific things, it turns out - which is not the same as easy things. Metanarrative is hard, more so because we're still figuring out what we can do with it. But that's exactly why it's so exciting.

It's a really good article, and I'm still trying to mull over it.

Are there any examples that come to mind for you where the game designer made a good metanarrative? How do you think Christian video game designers have failed to make compelling interactions in the past? How have they succeeded? Do you see anything in this article as being useful for our game designs here? How do you see it being applied (if at all)?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

--clint
""

._Image
User avatar
samw3
Site Admin
Posts: 1239
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Toccoa, GA
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby samw3 » Thu Jan 14, 2010 2:10 pm

First off, I just want to state that I don't think a metanarrative is always desired by the player, and it's not required to make a game deep or enjoyable.

Even so, it seems to me that the best example of metanarratives in games would be a pen-n-paper RPG. There is no dumb computer in the way telling you "sorry, you can't climb over that fence.", or "you can't pick up that rock and throw it at the monster", or "you can't kill that person because he's important to the story." Often DMs love the challenge of transforming the story around the players' whims.

However, back in the world of video games, it's really hard to do these sort of things because the game designer has to anticipate the players actions and keep the game bounded (and fun) based upon what they expect the player to do.

I'm not sure that making a compelling interaction is what's hard. I think the hard part is keeping track of the story along all the "parallel universes" you create at each decision point.

Also, is too much metanarrative(a.k.a Emergent Gameplay) a bad thing? :)
User avatar
RockinRickOwen
Posts: 407
Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 9:02 am

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby RockinRickOwen » Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:22 am

Hey, I just saw this thread, and I don't know it slipped past me, as the storytelling aspect of video/computer games is my primary interest.

That was a very good article, and some very good questions.

I think Sam has a good point: players don't always want a lot of "metanarrative." If I'm playing a Final Fantasy game, it's going to be linear, but the quality of the story is compelling. Would it be as compelling (or creative) if the player created the story? You can't predict that, because different playes will have different levels of creativity. Some may not be able to generate a compelling story for themselves.

On the other hand, in an mmorpg, and with all my "cosmic" designs, metanarrative is extremely important. The idea that not only should the player create their own hero, but their own villains and supporting cast, should generate a lot of narrative itself. My thought for a WoW killer is a game where all the cities are built and managed by the players (similar to Shadowbane), the "economy" is generated by the players (lots of game do this), AND the monsters are created/bred by the players. The dungeons would be built by the players. The trees, rivers, and all lands would be named by the players. By including time and death in the game, history is created, and remembered, by the players.

Part of the idea came from playing Diablo II. I began to be fascinated by all the named items I was finding. What was the history behind them? How did they get that dungeon? Who built the dungeon? How long had it been there? Who designed these items? So I thought it would be cool if players could actually make items. Not like Runescape where it's a laborious process, but something faster, and more memorable. What would it take to make a rare and extremely powerful sword like Excalibur?

And here's the thing: a lot of players do a lot of things in a lot of mmorpgs, but who remembers them? By including player-written histories/tomes, player-built statues & monuments, and player-named geographical features, the relationships (good and bad) that players build, and the adventures they have, would change the course of the game.

But this is easier in an mmorpg than a single-player game. I think it could be done, and I think it should.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" Then Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the Living God." John 6:67-69
User avatar
Mene-Mene
TALKer!
Posts: 2760
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 7:10 am
Location: Indiana, United States

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby Mene-Mene » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:27 am

RockinRickOwen, sounds a lot like Wyrm Online, and it's no where near a WoW killer. (But the combat is both realistic and boring)
M^2 out-
It's Time to get Terminal!
User avatar
HanClinto
Site Admin
Posts: 1502
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:37 am

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby HanClinto » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:52 am

samw3 wrote:First off, I just want to state that I don't think a metanarrative is always desired by the player, and it's not required to make a game deep or enjoyable.
Maybe I shouldn't have gotten too caught up in the importance of a metanarrative -- I think what I found most interesting about this post was the ideas on how to make a player's actions feel important and compelling.


samw3 wrote:However, back in the world of video games, it's really hard to do these sort of things because the game designer has to anticipate the players actions and keep the game bounded (and fun) based upon what they expect the player to do.

I'm not sure that making a compelling interaction is what's hard. I think the hard part is keeping track of the story along all the "parallel universes" you create at each decision point.
To be honest, I think you're making it sound a bit overcomplicated with this whole "parallel universes" thing. I realize that's what Mass Effect really tried to do, but I don't think that's necessary in order to make choices free, affirmed, expressive, and consequential.

For a dirt simple example, I'll point to Doukutsu.

WARNING: Spoilers for Doukutsu ahead. If you have not played it yet, go play it, then come back here and read the rest of the post. :)

For the most part, Doukutsu is a very linear story. There are extremely few dialog choices in the game, and many of them don't make a difference, and in some of them, the game cannot progress until the correct answer is chosen. However, for some of these choices, I think they follow the 4 principles (freedom, affirmation, expression, and consequence) quite well.

For instance, there is a point near the end where you can choose whether or not to leave the island with Kazuma on his Sky Dragon. It's the default response to Kazuma's question, and most people go to this ending on their first play through the game. If you escape with him, the game ends, and you "win" -- in so far as you survive... but you never hear what happened to the rest of the people. In order to find out, you have to re-load the game from your last save point, play again, and take the non-default answer when the dialog choice comes up. This is a bit of intentionality, but you're willfully signing up for more punishment when you could escape. It's a point in the story where you're rising to your calling as a hero, and while it may seem like a small thing, it's a very important choice that I think really helps bind the player to the character and the story. There are a couple of other points like this in the game, and they all work to similar effect.

In this way, Doukutsu builds a very engaging and meaningful choice. Whether or not it's part of a true metanarrative is up for academic debate, but the main thing I learn from it is just how important this seemingly small choice is to engaging the player into the story line, and helping the player feel invested in the characters.

There is no large parallel universe here -- just a simple choice that lets you leave the game for the "easy" out if you want, and yet still the choice is free, it's affirmed, it's expressive, and it has consequence.


So I've been trying to take this stuff to heart, and think about how it could be applied to my own game design. It's really challenged me to try and make engaging and meaningful decision points in the Endemia storyline, so that it doesn't feel like I'm pushing the player into heroism -- rather, I'm encouraging and engaging him to freely follow where I'm leading.



@RRO: Your post reminds me a lot of the post written by DanC a couple months back called "Three False Constraints" -- basically, it looks at how the paradigms and assumptions of single player gaming are really changed and broken when you look at them through the lens of multiplayer social gaming.

Your idea of such a player-run world also reminds me a lot of EVE Online.


Thanks for the discussion, all!

--clint
""

._Image
User avatar
RockinRickOwen
Posts: 407
Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2008 9:02 am

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby RockinRickOwen » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:02 pm

Mene, I just looked up Wurm Online, and wow, it looks incredibly dull. Runescape has a nicer balance of that, but the entire purpose of a "metanarrative" would be to get on with the narrative, not weight it down with mundane actions such as precise craftsmanship, forestry, mining, quarrying, etc. Especially if the time rate is 1 day real time = 4 years game time, and the player's character is going to die of old age in a few weeks at most. Who wants to waste their time with something that's not part of the story, or the adventure?

To create a history, and keep it going, I think fighters/paladins would be needed for such things as laws and taxes; clerics/prophets to establish religion and spirituality; mages to create monsters and "spells;" and rangers/thieves/merchants/pilgrims to establish trade routes and explore the world. Smiths and masons would be the NPCs the players would go to make items and build dungeons/castles/cities/etc. This would generate stories and quests galore. Missions wouldn't have to be programmed into the game, but would arise as players would want to get things done.

For instance, a fighter eventually becomes a king. He's got limited time, and he's dealing with all sorts of issues. He would like to obtain a "mega-item," like an Excalibur or a Holy Grail. He would also like to see a particular dragon or wizard slain. So he, the player behind the fighter/king, can commission another player to go on just such a quest.

The only time the developers would have to interfere with the player-generated metanarrative is "anointing" certain players as paladins, prophets or pilgrims to go on some "Holy Mission." For instance, let's say some player has decided to be a cruel tyrant engaged in the worst form of pagan idolatry and barbarism. So the GM/developer selects some player's cleric to become a prophet, imbuing him with spectacular Elijah or Moses level miraculous ability, and giving him a quest to preach against wickedness in the afore-mentioned nation, and prophecy against the kingdom's player.

A STRANGELY FAMILIAR STORY: Or perhaps some player decides to be an evil wizard who makes a powerful magical ring, as part of his own bid to take over the world. But he loses the ring in pitched battle against other players. Perhaps the ring is lost. Maybe the GM can subtly direct another player in the direction of that ring, so it may be destroyed and the evil wizard's power broken at long last.

Not that the game would be designed to violate copyright law, but that it would have a massive flexibility in terms of the stories being told. All that would have to be programmed are the possibility of quests, not the quests themselves. The players themselves would generate the quests.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" Then Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the Living God." John 6:67-69
User avatar
samw3
Site Admin
Posts: 1239
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Toccoa, GA
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby samw3 » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:34 pm

I guess I got caught up in the first one "free" choices.

I see your angle now. I think Chrono Trigger did a great job at this. I believe it has six different endings and one path kills off the main player and you start playing with your party members.

I recall having qualms about making a decision that I knew wasn't really who I was but would advance me in the game differently. These small "affect points" can help enrich the story, and they can evoke different emotions, but honestly, after the first play through, I just look at them like alternate stories--new areas to explore even. You even hinted at that by saying "you have to re-load the game from your last save point".

As far as Christian games goes. I imagine it would depend upon your audience and what sort of challenges and resolutions you want to present. For instance if you are toying with the idea of belief, perhaps it's best to start out with a spiritually "null" character that the player can make choices to define his/her spiritual bent.

But if the idea is higher spiritual concepts like trust or obedience, for example, you may want to start with giving the character an established belief and then present choices that allow for a potentially deeper belief and trust.

God Bless!

Sam
User avatar
HanClinto
Site Admin
Posts: 1502
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:37 am

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby HanClinto » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:52 pm

samw3 wrote:I recall having qualms about making a decision that I knew wasn't really who I was but would advance me in the game differently. These small "affect points" can help enrich the story, and they can evoke different emotions, but honestly, after the first play through, I just look at them like alternate stories--new areas to explore even. You even hinted at that by saying "you have to re-load the game from your last save point".
Yeah -- sortof like reading a Choose Your Own Adventure with a deep search tree algorithm so as to explore everything -- you're not choosing your own adventure, so much as you're exhaustively exploring options.

One of the most interesting things about Doukutsu is that while they're "alternative" endings, it's more like a series of progressively further endings. The more difficult endings are clearly valued higher than the other endings, and the game designer certainly placed a value judgement on them, and once you know the possibility of the higher endings, the lesser endings feel less satisfying. There's not much to explore down that path -- it's a choice between taking a cutscene to end the game, or facing a series of harder bosses than you've ever faced before.

samw3 wrote:As far as Christian games goes. I imagine it would depend upon your audience and what sort of challenges and resolutions you want to present. For instance if you are toying with the idea of belief, perhaps it's best to start out with a spiritually "null" character that the player can make choices to define his/her spiritual bent.
Yeah, this is the sort of thing I'm interested exploring. I want to know how we make spiritually meaningful interactions in games. While freedom, affirmation, expression and consequence aren't "gospel", I certainly feel like they're helpful guidelines that can give me a sort of litmus test to try and make better interactions in a game.

samw3 wrote:But if the idea is higher spiritual concepts like trust or obedience, for example, you may want to start with giving the character an established belief and then present choices that allow for a potentially deeper belief and trust.
Yeah. And it's interesting -- if you want to make a meaningful interaction about obedience, what this article is saying is that there must be a free and impactful opportunity for disobedience.

As Christian game developers, we seem to be unwilling to give that level of disobedience in our games sometimes. We don't want the game to proceed if the player doesn't click the "I accept Jesus Christ into my heart" button.


I'm very interested in knowing what FACE (Free, Affirmed, Consequential, Expressive) decisions would look like in the context of a Christian game. Are there poor examples of "decision" points in Christian games? Are there good examples?


Thanks for the discussion! I really value everyone's input.

--clint
""

._Image
User avatar
samw3
Site Admin
Posts: 1239
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Toccoa, GA
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby samw3 » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:35 pm

I think you would agree that players typically accept the fact there are things about the game and even their own character that they cannot change. But these things are normally presented as dialog or backstory, and shouldn't be as a question to the player.
Han 'Rocksteady' Clinto wrote:As Christian game developers, we seem to be unwilling to give that level of disobedience in our games sometimes. We don't want the game to proceed if the player doesn't click the "I accept Jesus Christ into my heart" button.
It's ok to not allow that "disobedience" if you don't want to explore that area or level of spirituality, just don't have have a choice. The player will accept that as a given--if it's written properly.

But of course if you want to toy with the idea of the player choosing if the character accepts Jesus then yeah, you'd better allow them to say no. You could present horrible game consequences if they do, but you need to give the option.

So, here's an example from a game idea I've had, and would still like to implement.

Say you want to present the idea that the closer we walk with God the more we experience God and his work in the world.

You are a missionary apprentice. You are a Christian, but you're not really sure about your direction in life and your calling. You are sent to some continent to help the mission there with various menial and mostly "social" tasks like delivering packages, getting visas renewed, taking a missionary to a village,etc. The game includes an interface to pray and read the bible. But you are not required to use it. What the player doesn't know at first is that this small, mostly ignored interface really directs the game play and how the story unfolds in various ways.

Free = you don't have to use it
Affirmed = real game changing things happen when you do
Consequential = negative things can happen if you don't (people die if you don't intercede)
Expressive = it's a little weak in this area, but makes up for it I think when you realize that your inaction is a really powerful expression.
User avatar
HanClinto
Site Admin
Posts: 1502
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:37 am

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby HanClinto » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:04 pm

Sam 'The Man' Washburn wrote:
Han 'Young Grasshopper' Clinto wrote:As Christian game developers, we seem to be unwilling to give that level of disobedience in our games sometimes. We don't want the game to proceed if the player doesn't click the "I accept Jesus Christ into my heart" button.
It's ok to not allow that "disobedience" if you don't want to explore that area or level of spirituality, just don't have have a choice. The player will accept that as a given--if it's written properly.
True. But is there any way to pre-script this without losing a serious element of identification and engagement?
Sam 'Right Stuff' Washburn wrote: But of course if you want to toy with the idea of the player choosing if the character accepts Jesus then yeah, you'd better allow them to say no. You could present horrible game consequences if they do, but you need to give the option.

So, here's an example from a game idea I've had, and would still like to implement.

Say you want to present the idea that the closer we walk with God the more we experience God and his work in the world.
Veeeeeery interesting. I admit, at first the idea rubbed me the wrong way ("is this turning prayer and Bible reading in a vending machine?"), but it's growing on me, and I think you placed it in great context with clearly stating what you were trying to communicate. The Bible reading and prayer doesn't automatically win the game, but it sounds like rather it opens up opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have been "unlocked".

Very cool. :)
Sam 'Ore Asteroid' Washburn wrote:Free = you don't have to use it
Affirmed = real game changing things happen when you do
Consequential = negative things can happen if you don't (people die if you don't intercede)
Expressive = it's a little weak in this area, but makes up for it I think when you realize that your inaction is a really powerful expression.
Great analysis -- I can see this being a helpful guideline for me in the future as I learn to write better interactive fiction.

Thanks again for the discussion!

--clint
""

._Image
User avatar
samw3
Site Admin
Posts: 1239
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Toccoa, GA
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby samw3 » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:24 pm

HanClintastic wrote:
Sam 'The Debased' Washburn wrote:
Han 'Kung Fu' Clinto wrote:As Christian game developers, we seem to be unwilling to give that level of disobedience in our games sometimes. We don't want the game to proceed if the player doesn't click the "I accept Jesus Christ into my heart" button.
It's ok to not allow that "disobedience" if you don't want to explore that area or level of spirituality, just don't have have a choice. The player will accept that as a given--if it's written properly.
True. But is there any way to pre-script this without losing a serious element of identification and engagement?
In many games (Doukutsu even), there is a meld that happens between what the game defines for the character and what the player contributes. The player has to accept this fact and embrace it even if he/she is going to assume the role and enjoy the game. So, yes, the player will lose some identification if that's the case, similar to when I'm playing Tomb Raider and I lose some identification due to the fact that I'm male. But I accept it and assume the role of Lara Croft.

Engagement on the other hand isn't necessarily lost. Imagine a game that starts with a dead woman lying in a pool of blood on the floor and the player's character trembling as a knife slips out of his bloodied hand. Instantly I've lost identification since I've never murdered someone, but I think the engagement is still there strongly.

Great conversation :)
User avatar
samw3
Site Admin
Posts: 1239
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:00 pm
Location: Toccoa, GA
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby samw3 » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:42 pm

HanClinto, The Enlightened wrote:is this turning prayer and Bible reading in a vending machine?
It's just a mechanic of course. The argument could also be made that pressing a jump button isn't a valid physical exercise like real jumping is. :)

Also, there doesn't have to be an earth shattering response to every petition either. Some time you use the interface you just read a Bible verse or two and there's not a lot associated with it. Some could even offer game hints like "Remember to give to the poor" and giving to some beggar somewhere in the game triggers something. And even though I'm highlighting it here, it really is designed to be a secondary mechanic to the regular game play.
User avatar
JeTSpice
TALKer!
Posts: 2423
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2007 10:39 am
Location: Coeur d'Alene, ID
Contact:

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby JeTSpice » Thu Jan 21, 2010 6:04 pm

the word says Obedience commands a blessing, so in this regard, it's like a vending machine. However, the type of blessing and when it occurs is not revealed. In ecc, it says that earthly prosperity is something that God gives out at his choice -- there's nothing a person can do to command that sort of a blessing. In the NT somewhere it says that whoever lacks wisdom can ask the Lord who gives freely.

It's been my own opinion that if a player causes his character to pray, there should be a measurable difference somewhere in the game, if for no other reason than to remind the player to pray in real life when faced with adversity.
User avatar
Kukanani
Posts: 258
Joined: Tue Sep 23, 2008 7:55 pm

Re: What makes a metanarrative?

Postby Kukanani » Thu Jan 21, 2010 8:30 pm

Sorry to jump back up to RRO's posts, but I thought I would mention Dawn, which is a non-existent MMORPG that has a lot of similar ideas to what you're saying: http://www.glitchless.com/dawn.html
"Blessed is the one whose way is blameless, who walks in the law of the Lord"
Psalm 119:1

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests

cron