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!