Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Stories We Tell

One of the most fascinating things about gaming, to me, is that all gaming is narrative.  Even Tetris, or Pong.  Why? 

Because players are always, always creating stories around their actions.  We are creatures of pattern, creatures seeking for reason, and for us even the most non-narrative game has a beginning, a middle, and an end we can tell.

Even in games with explicit stories, the stories we tell aren't necessarily the ones that are written for us, which is the really fun part.  In Fallout: New Vegas, for example, there's a clear story arc.  It's a game with a potent, well-defined setting and very clearly-written quests.  But I've been finding that the most potent moments are the ones I generate, not the ones the game does.

My favorite F:NV story so far?  There I was, level 3, on the road trying to get to the next nearest town.  I had a 9mm and a weathered 10mm and not much ammo for either.  And every time I tried to go anywhere, I'd be surrounded by a mob of big, fatal, deadly radscorpions.  Finally, in desperation, I clambered up a sloped rock.  And very suddenly, realized a few things:
  1. I can climb this rock
  2. They can't climb up this rock
  3. They are all gathered together in one clump now, and
  4. I have dynamite.
That was a great moment for me, because I, the player and I, the character had come up with a solution to a problem that wasn't explicitly carved out by the game.  It's a better Fallout story than, "oh, yeah, I did exactly the same quest that everyone else did in Goodsprings."

The other really strong moment for me, so far (about 12 hours into the game, level 8-ish; I tend to explore the whole map and do every side quest before wrapping up the main arc) was in a town where a man, a sniper, is seeking vengeance on the person responsible for his wife's death, and asks you to help.  You help by bringing someone in front of his sniper nest, and he does the rest.

Where that quest really got me was in the power given to the player character: as soon as you've accepted the quest, "Come with me to [sniper nest]" is a dialogue option for every single person in town.  The game doesn't force you to make a right or wrong choice, or indeed any choice at all.  The game leaves it completely up to the player to decide what kind of person her character is.

(For me, I was shocked at the thought of doing such a thing, and in fact even had trouble bringing the right person in... at least, until I found all the evidence. *shudder*)

So, yeah.  Playing Fallout: New Vegas in that way that addicts with a shiny new toy do.  And I don't at all mind that it's more of a Fallout 3: 2 than a Fallout 4, 'cause I really liked Fallout 3 and the real sequel will come soon enough!


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  2. so my roommate loaned me fallout 3, which i haven't played yet; sadly, i can't get it to work for longer than a few minutes before it crashes. i may just end up renting/buying it for ps3, since there are so many more things that can go wrong with pc compatibility. this means my foray into the recent fallout games will have to wait until a little later.

    i did, however, finally start bioshock, and boy is it good. i finally get why people have been raving so much about it--it's beautifully designed and executed (and scary as hell). i'm not far enough into it to comment intelligently on very much, but i will say that it has an impressive level of depth, not just in the story but in the way that the world is built. it kind of reminds me of my impression of the film "children of men"--the story is good, but what makes everything hit home is the depth of detail and authenticity in the environment. gritty and dark and immersive.

  3. I'm glad you said that, because I'm just starting Fallout 3 and I'm sure I'll play New Vegas in a few years :)

  4. Enstar,
    Fallout 3 keeps crashing for me too, even v. 1.7.