Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Destiny of Heroes: Narrative Elements from Linearity

I've often thought of non-linear and emergent stories as the true destiny of interactive narrative in games. However, there are some features of linear games such as God of War (and many, many others) that reinforce the narrative in a particularly pleasing way. Brett Douville has written a thoughtful post about God of War, which got me thinking...

In God of War, the player character is actually defined through the atrocities that he is forced to commit in order to advance through the game. One puzzle (the one that Douville focuses on) includes a human sacrifice that must be perpetrated by the player in order to advance. I would argue that this actually helps the player to feel the simultaneous savagery and horror that define the character of Kratos.

I wonder too if perhaps linearity might contribute to a sense of destiny or fate, elements often associated with heroes or antiheroes. In an interview with Eurogamer, Fumito Ueda has this to say about the idea of multiple endings (and therefore choice) in Shadow of the Colossus: "What I was trying to do, is each time you killed the colossi you can't escape from your own fate..." As the plot moves forward, the player cannot escape from destiny or fate.

Hugh Bowen's recently released study on the current state of emotion in games indicates that players experience a range of emotions during games and that role-playing games are the most cited genre for emotional experience. Far-and-away, the most cited series of games was Final Fantasy, which is heavily linear. In fact, most of the emotional elements of Final Fantasy take place in the cutscenes, which are about as linear as you can get. Is linearity in fact the key to emotion in games?

I don't buy that, but I do think that there are some interesting place to explore in this territory.

Perhaps linearity helps us feel like heroes. We follow the path which destiny (the game designer) has laid out for us. We forge on, courageous with little choice. Perhaps, when we have more choice, our actions reflect more on ourselves, and it is harder to feel heroic. The more choice, the more the game is like real life, in which there is no clear destiny.


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