Developers of late have been making an active effort to incorporate social media into our gaming experiences. Truth be told, it’s tough to say whether or not that’s a good thing. While it’s true enough that gaming has become a much more solitary pursuit of late, is social media really the way to address that?
The controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending is long-since dead and gone, but the lessons learned from it – both by fans and by developers – still resonate within the community even now, more than a full year after the fact. For those of you who need a bit of a refresher, things kind of went something like this: Mass Effect 3’s ending was rushed and awful. Fans expressed outrage that it was rushed and awful, and demanded that Bioware changed it. After one of the biggest media frenzies seen in the games industry, Bioware eventually acceded to its players.
Last week, I examined the concept of branching narrative in the context of gaming. Working from an interview with TellTale Games and using The Walking Dead as an example, I came to the conclusion that, ultimately, the choices themselves don’t matter. What’s truly important is that you make your players invest themselves in the dilemmas you’ve presented them; make them think and feel and agonize over which choice is the right one. If you can’t do this, it doesn’t matter how many different paths your story gives the players – they aren’t going to care.
Emotional investment is only part of the equation, however. Once you’ve got the players caring about their choices, you have to show them that those choices actually made a difference. Perhaps even more vital to any good narrative is player agency: essentially, allowing the player’s actions to have a real, noticeable impact on the world around them – and demonstrating to them that impact.
Last time, I mused a bit on the concept of linearity versus openness in gaming. Today, I’d like to continue that line of thought, with a look at narrative paths in game design. See, I was reading an article the other day – an interview with TellTale Games – where it was revealed that they almost cut Clementine from The Walking Dead. If you’re among those who’ve played the game, I’m sure you’ll agree that it would have been a catastrophic choice which would have resulted in one of the best features of the game – one of the game’s sole driving factors – being absent.
Today’s piece is all about meaning.