Storytelling Engines

The Story Arc Has Ended and Yet the Game Keeps Going

by Eric Swain

13 April 2016

The Vestal from Darkest Dungeon (Red Hook Studios, 2016) 

In most cases, we think of game stories as something that happen around the mechanics of a game or gives context to those mechanics. But around the end of the last decade, there was a movement by developers to systematize storytelling in games. Emergent storytelling was the term coined to describe when various mechanics in a game interact in such a way as to create unique stories in a game’s play session. However, in practice, the attempts didn’t create stories so much as they created anecdotes.

More recently, several games have been released that present themselves as storytelling engines. These games set up their circumstances and establish a theme, but the specifics of the story are determined by your play session. These storytelling engine games provide an arc-like structure for the player to fill in the details of, resulting in narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. This type of game can and does create personally affecting stories. A narrative remains in the player’s mind more when it exists solely because that player picked out the melody amidst the noise. Yet, I find most attempts at this type of experience eventually fall flat thanks to the fact that overall they are still chained to a narrative goal constructed by an author.

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